Excerpts from Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
concerning motion by the Hon. Senator Pierre Claude Nolin
to Establish a Special Senate Committee to Review Canada's
Drug Laws and Policies
(Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
1st Session, 36th Parliament,
Volume 137, Issue 149)
The Honourable Gildas L. Molgat, Speaker
Monday, June 14, 1999
. . .
Review on Anti-Drug Policy
Motion to Establish Special Senate Committee- Debate Adjourned
Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin, pursuant to notice given June 2, 1999, moved:
That a Special Committee of the Senate be appointed to reassess Canada's
anti-drug legislation and policies, to carry out a
broad consultation of the Canadian public to determine the specifics
needs of various regions of the country, where social
problems associated with the trafficking and use of illegal drugs is
more in evidence, to develop proposals to disseminate
information about Canada's anti-drug policy and, finally, to make recommendations
for of an anti-drug strategy developed by
and for Canadians under which all levels of government to work closely
together to reduce the harm associated with the use of
That, without being limited in its mandate by the following, the Committee
be authorized to:
review the federal government's policy to reduce the use of illegal
drugs in Canada, its effectiveness, and the extent to which it is fairly
develop a national harm reduction policy in order to lessen the negative
impact of illegal drug use in Canada, and make recommendations regarding
the enforcement of this policy, specifically the possibility of focusing
on use and abuse of drugs as a social and health problem;
study harm reduction models adopted by other countries (treatment programs
and parallel programs aimed at illegal drug users) and determine if there
is a need to implement them wholly or partially in Canada;
examine Canada's international role and obligations under United Nations
conventions on narcotics and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
in order to determine whether these conventions authorize it to take action
other than laying criminal charges;
explore the effects of cannabis on health and examine the issue of
whether decriminalizing cannabis would lead to increased use and abuse
in the short and long term.
examine the possibility of the government using its regulatory power
under the Contraventions Act as an additional means of implementing a harm
reduction policy, as is commonly done in certain European countries;
examine any other issue respecting Canada's anti-drug policy that the
committee considers appropriate to the completion of its mandate.
That the special committee be composed of eight Senators and that four
members constitute a quorum;
That the committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records,
to examine witnesses, to report from time to time
and to print such papers, briefs and evidence from day to day as may
be ordered by the committee;
That the briefs received and testimony heard during consideration of
Bill C-8, respecting the control of certain drugs, their
precursors and other substances , by the Standing Senate Committee
on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during the second
session of the Thirty-fifth Parliament be referred to the committee;
That the committee have the power to engage the services of such counsel
(researchers, lawyers, medical specialists, addiction
workers, and so on) and technical, information technology, clerical
and other personnel as may be necessary for the purposes
of its examination;
That the committee have the power to authorize television, radio and
electronic broadcasting, as it deems appropriate, of any or
all of its proceedings;
That the committee be empowered to adjourn from place to place within
and outside Canada;
That the committee be granted leave to sit when the Senate has been
adjourned pursuant to subsection 95 (2) of Senate rules;
That the committee submit its final report not later than two years
from the date of it being constituted; and
That the committee be empowered to continue to exist after the date
on which it is to conclude its work in order to inform
members of the Senate and the House of Commons, the Canadian public
and any other person or association interested in its
work, to disseminate the Committee's conclusions and recommendations
by means of press releases, press conferences,
information sessions or any other activity members of the committee
deem appropriate at a particular time.
He said: Honourable senators, before beginning debate on my motion,
I would like to introduce an amendment.
On June 2, 1999, after my motion was tabled, I was informed that this
motion would have to be amended by deleting
paragraphs 6 and 8 to conform to the Rules of the Senate.
I understand that His Honour may, with leave, amend the text of motions.
I am referring to the paragraphs that read as follows:
That the committee have the power to engage the services of such counsel
(researchers, lawyers, medical specialists, addiction
workers, and so on) and technical, information technology, clerical
and other personnel as may be necessary for the purposes
of its examination;
And paragraph 8, which reads as follows:
That the committee be empowered to adjourn from place to place within
and outside Canada.
I move this motion in amendment because I got a little ahead of myself.
In a later debate, I will bring forward a proposal
concerning these two paragraphs to the Standing Committee on Internal
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, Senator Nolin is asking for
leave to delete part of his motion: the two
paragraphs he just read. Is it agreed, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Nolin: Honourable senators, I am asking for leave to speak for
more than my allotted 15 minutes.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, is leave granted?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Nolin: Honourable senators, I move that this motion, as amended,
The Hon. the Speaker: The Honourable Senator Nolin, seconded by the
Honourable Senator LeBreton, moved that the
motion, as amended, be adopted. Do you agree to dispense with actually
reading the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Nolin: Honourable senators, on June 19, 1996 - for the benefit
of those of you who were not here at the time, and
that is why my introduction refers to a debate held three years ago
- during the Second Session of the Thirty-third Parliament,
during the final debate at third reading in the Senate of Bill C-8,
respecting the control of certain drugs.
I was strongly critical of the refusal by all previous governments,
not just the government that introduced this measure, to
consider a serious study of Canada's anti-drug laws.
At the time, I maintained that this was almost a deliberate unwillingness
to see. I am speaking not just about honourable
senators, but also about members of the other place. In my view, this
attitude has meant that successive governments of all
stripes have viewed drug use in Canada as a criminal rather than a
public health matter. My view of this has not changed.
Worldwide, the illegal drug industry generates annual sales of $400
billion U.S. This money feeds organized crime, corrupts
governments in many countries, contributes to violence, and encourages
parallel economic development.
In many areas of the world, the fight against drugs leads indirectly
to the spread of infections such as HIV, human rights
violations, environmental damage, and the mass incarceration of persons
charged with possession.
As you will read in the document you received, or will receive shortly
- it is a briefing paper to provide additional information to
those wishing to take part in the debate - an increasing number of
countries have given up the fight against drugs because of the
negative impact. However, in 1996, Canada passed prohibitionist legislation
with criminal provisions that seem to fly in the face
of Canadian and international human rights charters.
Let us look initially at the situation in Canada. The indirect effects
and costs of drugs far exceed the direct ones. They bear little
relationship to the level of consumption, and result not from the drugs
themselves, but from punitive laws and political policies.
The effects are felt primarily by the populations at risk, such as
native peoples, young street people, people living in poor
neighbourhoods and intravenous drug users.
Allow me, honourable senators, to elaborate on each of these four groups
of individuals, of Canadians at risk.
Among native people, alcoholism and drug abuse are rampant. Depending
on the location involved, between 65 per cent and
80 per cent of residents are affected by these problems. The principal
cause of deaths among the Amerindian and Inuit
populations are wounds and poisoning. The violent death rate is three
to four times higher than in the general population. The
number of deaths in which alcohol or drugs play a determining role
is five times greater among native people than it is among
non-native people. Two thirds of the native population dying an unnatural
death have alcohol in their blood, compared with 45
per cent of the non-native population.
Here are two facts. First, the rate of suicide among native children
in Saskatchewan is 27.5 per cent higher than among other
Canadian children. Second, young natives are between two and six times
more likely to have an alcohol problem than their
counterparts in the rest of the population. These two facts, honourable
senators, may perhaps explain the despair of their
A second group at risk is that of street children. They are also affected
by the use of illicit drugs. A number of adolescents leave
home to avoid physical, psychological or sexual violence or negligence
on the part of their parents. Once on the street, they
take risks, which include the use of illicit drugs and needle sharing.
A national study in 1989 revealed that one street child in four used
marijuana daily, 4 per cent use cocaine and 4 per cent LSD.
In a recent study, nearly ten years later, half the street children
in Montreal were found to use intravenous drugs and are hard hit
by suicide and overdose. The chance of their dying is 12 times greater
than that of their peers.
A third high-risk group is people living in poor neighbourhoods. In
large Canadian urban centres, these people also suffer the
consequences related to the use of illicit drugs. For example, in Vancouver,
a state of medical emergency resulted from a rapid
increase in the number of HIV cases among users of injectable drugs,
more specifically in Vancouver East, where the
prevalence rate of such cases went from 20 per cent in 1997 to 35 per
cent in 1998, that is in less than one year. This is
unfortunately a world record.
Vancouver also has the largest number of deaths by overdose in Canada,
with over 300 in 1998 and more than 2,000 since
1991. These rates of infection and drug addiction are related to poverty
and social disruptions in downtown Vancouver.
The use of injectable drugs poses a direct risk of infection with HIV
and other viruses such as hepatitis, through the sharing of
contaminated syringes. The absorption of drugs through techniques other
than injections poses an indirect risk, to the extent that
it may lead to unprotected sexual relations and to the consumption
of injectable drugs. The incidence rate, which is the rate of
new HIV cases, is very high in certain Canadian cities. It is 10 per
cent in Vancouver, the highest in the Western World, and 7
per cent in Montreal and in Ottawa. It is even higher in certain regions
of the country, including among aboriginals. The World
Health Organization estimates that there is a risk of a general epidemic
when the infection rate among injectable drug users
reaches 10 per cent in a given region.
The situation is so serious in Vancouver that a motion was brought forward
at the end of 1998 by Libby Davies, the NDP
member for Vancouver East, after the state of health emergency to which
I referred earlier was declared in her riding. Her
motion called on the federal government to cooperate with the provinces
in order to implement clinical, multi-centre heroin
prescription trials for injection to opiate users, including protocols
for rigorous scientific assessment and evaluation, as is already
being done to varying degrees in Switzerland, in the United Kingdom
and in certain German and Australian cities. There will
soon be such a program in place in Spain as well.
Honourable senators, let us look now at the application costs of Canada's
drug policy. This war against drugs does not only
have negative consequences on the lives of thousands of Canadians.
Drug abuse also involves considerable costs to our
society. The use of illicit drugs was responsible for the death of
732 Canadians in 1992, which represents 0.4 per cent of
Canada's total mortality rate for that year. Forty-two per cent of
those committed suicide, 14 per cent died from opiate
poisoning, 9 per cent died from cocaine poisoning, and 8 per cent died
from AIDS contracted through intravenous injection. In
that same year, 1992, the use of illicit drugs was responsible for
7,100 cases of hospitalization and 58,000 days of
hospitalization, half of which were the result of a psychosis caused
by an assault or by cocaine abuse.
Let us turn to the economic cost for Canada. All in all, drug abuse
cost Canadians more than $18.4 billion in 1992, that is $649
per capita or 2.7 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product. The
economic cost of the drugs themselves is estimated at
$1.37 billion, or $48 per capita. These estimates include $823 million
in loss of productivity due to morbidity and premature
deaths, $400 million in drug enforcement and $88 million in direct
It is important to point out that, although drug use is involved in
many crimes, its role is not clear. Users get their supply from a
lucrative and violent market where crime is ever present. The use of
illegal drugs contributes to the rise of crime and therefore
to law enforcement costs. It is one of the motivators of crimes against
property and violent crimes perpetrated to ensure control
over a territory, like what we have seen recently in Quebec, with the
biker wars in Montreal and Quebec City.
Canada has had three opportunities to put an end to some of the individual
and collective consequences of trafficking and use
of illegal drugs that I have just mentioned.
First, in 1969, the Le Dain commission held serious consultations on
the negative impact of the Canadian drug policy at that
time. Since the commission focused mainly on the non-medical use of
drugs, it concluded that hundreds of thousands of
Canadians found guilty of prohibited drug possession saw their personal
freedom restrained for the rest of their life because of a
The commission also concluded that the huge police resources used to
fight prohibited drug trafficking and consumption were
mainly aimed at young people. Under the circumstances, the Le Dain
commission recommended that sanctions against drug
users be gradually eliminated, that the use of marijuana be decriminalized
and that control methods other than criminal justice
sanctions be used.
That was almost 30 years ago. However, former commission chairman Gérald
Le Dain is still convinced that its
recommendations are as valid today as they were in 1971, even though
at that time there was no legislative follow-up of any
kind on its recommendations. According to this former dean of the prestigious
Osgoode Hall Law School at the University of
Toronto and former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, politicians
are the only ones to blame for not having taken
initiatives on this issue at the beginning of the 1970s. In 1998, in
an interview with The Edmonton Sun, Mr. Le Dain said, and I
It was a hot potato for all the parties and they didn't want to run
any risk. The position adopted by the politicians was to do
nothing. We saw at the hearings the public was worried about their
kids. The public saw those current laws as a tremendous
A bill to decriminalize the possession of cannabis, Bill S-19, was rejected
in 1975. During the 1970s, the number of convictions
for possession of cannabis grew from less than 1,000 to over 40,000
Second, in 1978-79, a Health Canada report, kept secret up till the
end of last year, recommended that the federal government
decriminalize the use of marijuana. This report, as you can imagine,
was shelved by the department.
With the advent, in the 1990s, of new legislation on narcotics, we could
have dealt with some of the problems left by previous
legislation and benefited from other countries' experience. However,
the new Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was
fundamentally prohibitionist and, far from dealing openly with the
drugs issue, it reinforced prohibition.
The problems arising out of the criminalization of drug users, out of
its economic and social costs and out of the non-decreasing
supply have still not been dealt with. Therefore, both human and financial
costs resulting from illicit drug use remain needlessly
high, whereas the costs created by the criminalization of illicit drugs
use keep increasing in a regular, foreseeable but avoidable
With regard to my motion of June 2, you will agree, honourable senators,
particularly when reading the document handed out to
you, that this situation is intolerable.
It cannot go on like this indefinitely. For this reason, on June 2,
I brought forward in this house a motion requesting that a
special committee of the Senate be struck to reassess Canada's anti-drug
legislation and policies. This committee will carry out
a broad consultation of the Canadian public to determine the specifics
needs of various regions of the country, where social
problems associated with the trafficking and use of illegal drugs are
more prevalent. It will also develop proposals to
disseminate information about Canada's anti-drug policy and, finally,
it will make recommendations for an anti-drug strategy to
be implemented Canada-wide, a strategy under which all levels of government
will work closely together to reduce the harm
associated with the use of illegal drugs.
I would now like to say a few words about the report of the Senate Committee
on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on Bill C-8
that I just mentioned. On June 13, 1996, the chair of the Standing
Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, the
Honourable Sharon Carstairs, tabled the committee's report on Bill
C-8, respecting the control of certain drugs and other
substances. In that report, the committee members, including myself,
recommended some amendments to Bill C-8. Thank God,
and this shows how much of a problem we had, we succeeded in allowing
the growing of hemp for commercial purposes in
Canada. After an extensive debate in the House of Commons and in the
Senate, we finally understood that we were quite
stupid to continue to prohibit this substance, which has nothing to
do with the Indian hemp referred to when we talk about
marijuana. This shows that many prejudices and myths I will now refer
to existed back then, prejudices and myths that, I hope,
do not exist anymore.
After a review that lasted over three months, the committee report proposed
several amendments to Bill C-8, but mostly
stressed that to carry out a proper study of the principles and provisions
contained in the bill it was necessary to complete the
inadequate technical, moral and sociological information provided by
officials from the health and justice departments, and other
agencies involved in the development of Canada's narcotics control
In order to fill this gap, the committee proposed to set up a joint
committee of the House of Commons and the Senate to
scrutinize every national drug act, policy and program. The first part
of my motion is a carbon copy of the committee's
recommendations regarding the mandate of such a committee.
As you know, since we tabled our report, no committee of this kind has
been put in place to answer senators' legitimate
concerns. The Canadian population also needs complete and non-partisan
information on this complex issue. And yet, the
situation in this matter keeps on changing.
Let us look at the change in the situation in the area of illicit drugs.
In the past three years, a number of clinical studies have been
done in order to scientifically measure the physical and psychological
effects of using cannabis and of methadone substitution
treatments. For the first in its history, the Quebec College of Physicians
officially spoke out in March in favour of the use of
methadone to reduce the risks of infection and the spread of AIDS and
hepatitis among intravenous drug users.
On March 17, 11 experts from the prestigious National Academy of Science
Institute of Medicine in United States published
the results of a study commissioned by the White House director of
drug control policy. The report concluded that there was
definite potential for the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In
November 1998, seven American states organized
referendums during mid-term elections in order to seek public approval
for measures to relax extremely strict regulations on the
use of cannabis in the treatment of patients. Six states, with the
exception of the District of Columbia, approved the proposed
On April 21, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police recommended
to the federal government that possession of small
quantities of drugs, including heroin, be decriminalized but not legalized.
The most encouraging aspect of the position taken by
the association is that it recommends the people of Canada and the
federal government take an approach that would treat all
matters pertaining to the consumption of drugs as a public health matter.
That was being said three years ago. We were saying exactly this three
years ago. Finally, little by little, things are moving
forward. It would be vital therefore according to the association that
a Canadian drug control policy be developed that would
lead to the development of treatment for the real problem created by
the consumption of drugs both for society and for drug
users. Such a policy would incorporate a damage reduction strategy
in an effort to avoid worsening the problem by trying to
ease it. According to the heads of the association, the justice system
and punishment are not the only solution to the problem of
the consumption of illegal drugs, and the resources allocated would
be better used in the fight against drug trafficking and
organized crime. This position was supported by the RCMP.
In recent years, a number of court rulings concerning the right to use
cannabis for medical purposes have tested Canada's drug
control policy. You are undoubtedly aware of the case of Jim Wakeford,
a Toronto resident with AIDS who uses marijuana to
quell his nausea. Until very recently, he was trying to get Health
Canada to exempt him from the provisions of the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act that make it a crime to possess marijuana.
On May 11, the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled that
Mr. Wakeford was constitutionally exempt from the provisions of the
legislation and thus permitted to grow and smoke
marijuana for medical purposes.
Similarly, in 1997, Judge Patrick Sheppard acquitted Terry Parker, an
epileptic who used cannabis for therapeutic reasons, of
charges of possessing and growing the drug. He had been found guilty
of trafficking and sentenced to one year on probation. In
his ruling, Judge Sheppard said that the Narcotic Control Act and the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were too broad,
that they were unconstitutional, and that they violated the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In addition to challenging the law and the right to possess marijuana,
all these rulings are also, and above all, aimed at
introducing into the debate an element of compassion and respect for
the right of the individual.
I would like to say a few words about the motion moved by Bloc Québécois
member Bernard Bigras. This motion was
recently introduced and voted on in the other place. Naturally, it
captured the interest of parliamentarians. Mr. Bigras, the Bloc
Québécois member for Rosemont, called on the federal
government to undertake all necessary steps to legalize the use of
marijuana for health and medical purposes. The motion had the support
of a number of associations, including the Fédération
de l'âge d'or du Québec, and the Compassion Club of Toronto,
which supplies marijuana to those with serious and painful
illnesses. It was passed by the House of Commons on May 25. In response
to the results of the vote, the Minister of Health,
the Honourable Allan Rock, announced that the federal government would
move quickly to begin clinical testing of the health
benefits of marijuana, which may result in the use of cannabis by those
with AIDS, cancer, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis being
decriminalized within a few years. I think that we should congratulate
the minister on his action.
How do Canadians perceive the use of illegal drugs? On the other hand,
despite these recent developments in the use of
narcotics, the public's attitude and perception have not, generally
speaking, really changed. Prejudices against those who take
narcotics remain extremely strong. They are not new. They go back to
1908 when the Canadian Parliament passed the Opium
Act. The new Opium and Narcotic Drug Act of 1911 dealt with opiate
type drugs and cocaine, and marijuana was added to it
in 1923. Since then, prohibition of narcotics and international regulations
established by the 1961 Single Convention on
Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances have
increased prejudices even more against users of
Who, among us, has not heard that those individuals are criminals who
steal in order to buy drugs, that they are social
drop-outs who should be put behind bars? Some people are even shocked
by the needle exchange and bleach distribution
programs in prisons. Even though the goal of these programs is to control
the spread of AIDS and hepatitis among inmates,
which have reached an alarming level in correctional institutions,
a significant part of our society refuses to admit that drug
consumption is a health problem. Such an attitude can be explained
in part by the fact that our governments, whatever the level,
fail to provide objective information on the true effects of drug consumption
on individuals and on society as a whole.
Surprisingly, our leaders, who stoutly defend their repressive policies
against drug users by in seminars and information
brochures, are unable to explain why those policies do not give concrete
results. Those who, in the past, have dared to
advocate a different, less conventional approach to those issues have
seen their credibility questioned.
It is true that, in the absence of scientific evidence, most people
go along with these prejudices. These prejudices are being
reinforced daily by the legislation, the courts, police action, and
the media. However, these entrenched prejudices did not
prevent economists, physicians, lawyers, and political scientists from
studying the harmful consequences of drug use and of the
fight against drugs.
They have seriously questioned a number of our society's preconceived
ideas on this issue. Each year, new detailed studies are
being added to the literature on the subject. A wide consensus is emerging
on the need to review our anti-drug policy. In the
future, research studies could be convincing enough to eradicate myths
and prejudices in our political elite, interest groups and
our whole society concerning the benefits of this fight against drugs.
Marijuana is a good example.
In that sense, we are experiencing a change in attitudes toward the
drug control policies and their impact. Lots of things have
changed over the years, even if we do not have all the information
available to make a good assessment of the situation.
Canadians are beginning to realize that the hefty sums being invested
in the fight against drug use and trafficking are not yielding
the expected results. There is a need for more information on the negative
impact of drug use, on experiments being tried in
other countries in this area, and on cheaper alternatives to reintegrate
into mainstream society a segment of our population that
is marginalized at this time.
Given these facts, and in order to promote healthy debate on this whole
issue, I asked Diane Riley, in September last year, to
make a comprehensive examination of Canadian drug control policy. I
can assure you that Ms Riley is one the leading
Canadian experts in this area. She also has an excellent reputation
When I met her, I gave her the following mandate: to give an overview
of the narcotic drug consumption situation in Canada,
particularly among young people, the disadvantaged and the aboriginal
people, and of the economic and social cost relating to
it; to explain how legislation on legal and illegal drugs works in
Canada; to present the terms of international conventions that
Canada must follow in its own drug control policies and to ascertain
if Canada directly met these terms when it amended its
legislation by passing, in 1996, Bill C-8 on the use of marijuana,
methadone and heroin for therapeutic uses; to study the link
between drug use and respect for human rights as defined in the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, particularly with respect to the use of
narcotic drugs such as marijuana, methadone and heroin for
medical purposes; to present the experiments conducted in other countries
like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands,
Switzerland, France, the United States, Germany and Australia, to fight
drug use in their communities and develop harm
reduction policies; to examine drug use in Canadian penitentiaries
and verify whether prisoners have access to treatment and
syringe exchange programs, in conformity with their fundamental rights;
to explain thoroughly the workings of the strategy for
reducing wrongdoings and list the options that Canadians have available
to them to reduce the negative impact of drug use in
society; and finally, to develop alternatives to improve the current
drug use control system in Canada.
As you can see, the mandate that I gave to Diane Riley for the production
of this document was aimed at bringing additional
information on some points identified by the Standing Senate Committee
on Legal and Constitutional Affairs when it examined
I can say today that this comprehensive study, one of the most complete
ever done for the general public, will allow members
of the Senate and Canadians to better understand the real effects of
drug use and its impact on our society and on the future of
I should point out that besides Diane Riley's work, I asked - the Research
Branch of the Library of Parliament to analyse and
comment on Canada's international obligations under the main international
conventions concerning control and use of narcotic
drugs. International treaties included in the analysis are the International
Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, the Convention
on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, and the United Nations Convention
Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances, 1998. Canada has signed these three treaties.
The in-depth analysis compared the obligations
enshrined in these international documents with the Canadian legislative
provisions adopted accordingly, particularly those of the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The very surprising conclusions
of that study are included in Ms Riley's document.
For example, during debate on Bill C-8, the government contended that
the bill would allow Canada to meet its international
obligations respecting the three treaties I just mentioned. That could
therefore justify the repressive approach of Bill C-8.
The Single Convention of 1961 requires countries to impose criminal
sanctions for possession. More recently, Canada signed
the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs
and Psychotropic Substances, which requires countries
to treat the possession, buying and cultivation of narcotic drugs for
personal use as criminal offences. However, that obligation
is subordinated to the principles enshrined in the constitution of
Therefore, the Canadian government could justify departing from the
prohibition policy by stating that criminalization goes
against the fundamental principle of moderation in our criminal justice
system. The other obligation, that of criminalizing the
personal use of drugs, only applies when possession is contrary
to the provisions of the 1961 convention. In short, these conventions
explicitly provide for exceptions to prohibition. They also
allow signatory countries to have them amended or to terminate them.
On the basis of certain particular considerations, Canada
could use one of these two options to review its drug policies.
I refer you today to the document prepared by Ms Riley to support my
remarks in the Senate and to provide you with a
complete tool that will better prepare you to take part in the debate
on these issues. I hope it helps you analyse the drug control
policy from a different point of view.
We must stop using repression and criminalization to deal with our society's
problems stemming from drug use. This approach
can only make the unbearable situation of drug users even worse. Instead
of increasing their chances of becoming contributing
citizens, our current policies often have the effect of further marginalizing
them. An example of that is the failure of the repressive
strategy in the United States. In 1996, our powerful neighbour spent
$16 billion in its war against narcotics. What were the
results? More than 90 per cent of narcotics produced abroad and destined
for the U.S. market escape detection by U.S.
customs officers. Drugs are everywhere, including in the schools; they
destroy the lives of thousands of individuals and
undermine the social cohesion of large urban centres.
Fortunately, the situation is not that serious yet in Canada. However,
with passage of Bill C-8, our policy is increasingly similar
to the policy of our neighbours to the south.
The time has come to redefine our outlook on the problems caused by
drug use and its effects on the health of individuals. We
must change our frame of reference and understand that we will not
eliminate drug use by throwing drug addicts into prison.
The billions of dollars involved in the criminalization process would
be better spent on fighting drug dealers and organized crime.
From now on, when we develop drug control policies, we must consider
the problem as a public health issue, just as we do for
tobacco and alcohol abuse. These policies must, as much as possible,
be based on respect for the rights and freedoms of each
of our fellow citizens.
On this very sensitive issue, Canada is now at a crossroad - just ask
the Minister of Health, he knows. On the one hand, we
can choose to keep on using the punitive approach described in Bill
C-8. In that case, we give up defending the rights of
individuals suffering from serious illnesses who use cannabis to ease
their pain. We also give up the fight for the rehabilitation of
drug addicts and the protection of our social environment. On the other
hand, we can admit that we made a mistake - not only
us but a lot of parliaments also made mistakes - when we evaluated
this serious social problem, and that we are doing
everything possible to find alternative solutions to punitive measures.
The committee I am proposing will give us the opportunity to hear from
lawyers and physicians as well as from experts used to
working with drug addicts. We will be able to listen to what Canadians
have to say on this issue and rely on their suggestions in
order to recommend changes to Canadian drug control policies so that
they truly reflect our social values based on human
rights, compassion, mutual aid and dialogue.
I want to conclude by quoting Milton Friedman, winner of the Nobel Economy
Prize. In a letter to the director of drug control
policies in the White House, Mr. Friedman stated:
The path you propose of more police, more jails, use of the military
in foreign countries, harsh penalties for drug users and a
whole panoply of repressive measures can only make a bad situation
worse. The drug war cannot be won by those tactics
without undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you
and I cherish. Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But
criminalizing their use that converts tragedy into a disaster for society,
for user and non-user alike. Our experience of the
prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition
of alcoholic beverages. Postponing decriminalization will
only make matters worse, and make the problem appear even more intractable.
I wish you all a good reading of this document. I hope it will give
you food for thought and urge you to directly take part in the
debate I have launched.
Hon. Marcel Prud'homme: Honourable senators, I must say that I am a
little puzzled by the speech of my good friend. There
is so much truth in what he has said. On this issue, I am utterly conservative.
On this issue, I wish to be sure that we are doing the right thing,
because I have seen too much. It is all very well for some of
you who live in high-class surroundings where you have no daily contact
with the people who are more affected. However, I
live in a place such as that, where my sister must pass the broom every
morning in back of my own bedroom in order to clean
up the syringes. I am careful. However, I am not afraid to study. There
is no doubt.
I believe that the committee should be struck. If I am convinced, I
will become one of your best supporters. With all these
people you are thinking of summoning, with all the reactions this could
cause, could you consider reviewing the immediate
political reactions to any liberalization in Canada, in terms of our
contacts with the United States and of our common borders?
Would they let people from our country in or vice-versa? That is one
of the many concerns I have. I believe in this study, but
one must be very conservative and very cautious.
All is not black and white, but with respect to the underlying issue,
we could use this as a starting point.
Senator Nolin: Let me first say that I deliberately avoided this particular
mandate. When the Opium Act was enacted in 1908,
we were reacting to what was going on in the United States. We always
reacted to what the Americans did.
During the Second World War, commercial cultivation of hemp - that is
now allowed in Canada - which was prohibited up to
that time, was authorised for strategic reasons. It was immediately
prohibited once again after the war, because the Americans
were convinced that it should not be pursued.
I deliberately chose not to include a review of U.S. policies in the
mandate. I can assure you that when I talk about policy
review, that includes the way we react to U.S. policies and the way
they react to ours.
I wanted to make a more polite reference in the mandate that I will
ask you to approve and, in due course, we will look at
international laws that concern it. I will not hide the fact that our
American neighbours have a lot of influence when it comes to
formulating international treaties, especially those on drugs.
The answer to your question is yes. It is a cornerstone of the examination
we will undertake. I am not trying to convince
Canadians that we are right, that they know nothing or that they are
wrong. We must help Canadians. We must especially help
Canadian politicians look clearly at the situation of heroin users
in order to see what may be done.
You mentioned the shooting galleries located near to where you live.
These are not found just in Montreal, but in Ottawa, as
well. We must stop putting our heads in the sand like the Americans.
Yes, indeed. Are we going to force Canadians to accept
what we think is good for them? No. We must do this together, and this
includes our colleagues in the other House. We
proposed to them that a joint committee be set up for Bill C-8, and
they paid no heed. We gave them three years. Now that is
over with. I have waited long enough.
I will try to convince you in the coming months that we have waited
long enough. We owe this to Canadians. We will stop
fooling ourselves that our prejudices are good. In Switzerland, they
had the same problem we do. They began giving heroin to
users in special centres, where doctors, nurses and social workers
were in attendance to try and solve their problems. The
problems of heroin users concern society as a whole.
The day heroin is made available to users, they stop stealing for it.
Better yet, we help them find jobs. It is not too much to ask
politicians and parliamentarians, who are supposed to be wise, to consider
such solutions. This is the sort of thing I am inviting
you to do.
Senator Prud'homme: I have a supplementary question. If I said to you
that, without a thorough study of organized crime, it
would be difficult for us to come up with a solution, what would you
Senator Nolin: There is no doubt that we are going to have to come up
with a solution. And the way to do that is by going
after illegal drug users. This goes hand in hand with the issue of
suppliers. This is another difficult area, because there will not be
many witnesses willing to tell us what is going on. As I mentioned
in my notes and as Ms Riley's document points out, we are
going to have to examine the financial aspect. I mentioned a few figures,
but this is such a large market that, if it were to cease
operating overnight throughout the world, it would be tantamount to
an economic disaster.
You cannot take $400 billion out of circulation overnight without shaking
up the world economy. The document addresses this.
If the Senate agrees to strike a committee, we will have to examine
this situation. My focus of interest is not traffickers. It is
users, those who keep this illegal, underworld production line going.
My interest is ultimately in those users who die. They are a
danger to the Canadian social fabric. They have to supply their habit
and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve
that end. This is the problem facing us. When Switzerland began supplying
users with heroin, traffickers had to find another
Hon. Jerahmiel S. Grafstein: Honourable senators, I am curious about
an inherent contradiction between Senator Nolin's
comments on this motion and Senator LeBreton's comments earlier today
with respect to Bill C-82.
Liquor is a form of drug. Hash, marijuana and others are forms of drugs.
One is somewhat regulated, another is tightly regulated
and prescribed. Is there not an inherent contradiction between the
proposition that Senator Nolin is putting forward and that of
The object of Senator LeBreton's desire is for zero tolerance when it
comes to conduct emanating from a drug, namely,
alcohol. On the other hand, Senator Nolin is moving exactly in the
opposite direction by saying, "I do not want to get into zero
tolerance, I want to go in the other direction. I want to examine the
cause, rather than the effect, of drugs."
I raise that as a philosophic point. There seems to be an inherent contradiction
between the two senators who sit beside each
Senator Nolin: Honourable senators, Senator LeBreton is not trying to
prohibit the use of alcohol. She wishes to prohibit the
use of alcohol and driving. I, too, want that. There is a difference.
My proposition is to look the subject squarely in the face. We have
never done that; we have never looked at drug users face
to face. These people are Canadians and have fundamental rights. We
need to address this problem because their problem is
I beg to differ with you on that point. There is no contradiction in
our positions. I am sure that the technology exists to detect
when a driver is impaired by either alcohol or drugs. That is another
piece of the puzzle needed to solve some problems.
People are speeding while under the influence of drugs. They are jeopardizing
lives, just like those who drink and drive. I
believe that our positions are complementary.
We used to have prohibition on alcohol. Almost 70 years ago, the government
decided that it would be lucrative to remove that
prohibition. I am not suggesting that the government should do that
with drugs, but it should acknowledge the problem and do
something about it. It is not a problem of criminality but a public
health problem. We owe that to Canadians.
I owe it to my three children to look at that problem very seriously,
because they will be confronted with it. We need to study it
with all of our combined wisdom. It is a grave health problem.
Senator Grafstein: I appreciate the senator's response. However, I believe
that alcoholism is also a grave health problem. I
have been told that alcoholism is as serious an illness as drug dependency.
Therefore, some may be concerned that if we focus
on zero tolerance, we will lose track of the root causes of that unhappy
I will be very interested to hear the testimony before the committee
that studies the bill which Senator LeBreton introduced,
because it contains a fundamental question. I have detected a growing
desire in the country to move toward zero tolerance for
socially undesirable conduct. Yet, Canada probably has the highest
incarceration rate in the Western World, and the problems
accelerate. We have a serious conflict of social policies. I hope that
your study, and the reference of Senator LeBreton's bill to
the committee, will help us decide which way to go.
Senator Nolin: We already have zero tolerance in the matter of illicit
drugs, but we still have a big drug problem in Canada.
We are spending billions of dollars trying to cure that problem, yet
we are not succeeding. Perhaps we do not understand the
problem. Zero tolerance is fine if you have the proper techniques to
enforce it. We already have all the penalties in the Criminal
Code, but we are not curing the problem.
We need to redefine the problem. We are asking questions which other
jurisdictions started to answer 25 years ago. Perhaps
we should look at the answers they have found.
On motion of Senator Carstairs, for Senator Kenny, debate adjourned.
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