Sen Cttee Highlights: Mtg #1

Senate Committee – Bill C-10 Meeting #1
February 1, 2012

[Full transcript from Feb. 1, 2012]

* Senator Fraser wanted to know why growing six pot plants and giving some to your neighbour results in a mandatory minimum six month jail term, but giving sexually explicit materials to a child brings about a mandatory minimum 30 day sentence. There was no coherent explanation.

* Toews attacks Canadian judges as being in a race to see who can give out the most lenient sentence and then speaks in favour of the dysfunctional US sentencing guidelines wherein judges have very little discretion.  Foolish foul comments.

* Toews and Nicholson leave after an hour (supposedly they were needed for a vote in Parliament).  It appears they will not return.  Senator Nolin calls Toews chicken:

The Chair:  Senator Joyal, I regret having to interrupt you at this point.  I just received word that the ministers are required back in the house immediately.  As a result, that will be the end of the questions that we are able to pose to the ministers.The good news is that we do have the officials from both departments, some of whom are at the table now, and there are others who are here.  They are prepared to remain with us for an extended period, and we will continue.

Senator Nolin:  Officials cannot answer policy questions; is that right?

Mr. Toews:  That is correct.

Senator Nolin:  I have policy questions for the ministers.

Mr. Toews:  We will have to make that arrangement some other time.  We have a vote, I am sorry.

The Chair:  Perhaps we will suspend here for a moment.

Senator Nolin:  Chicken.  That is what it is.  Are you afraid, minister?

Senator Jaffer expresses concern that Toews and Nicholson answered questions for one hour and will probably not return at any later date.

Senator Jaffer:  I am really concerned that, with such an important bill, we would have two very senior ministers, they had introductory statements, and then you let them answer questions at length so our questioning period was so short.  Having such an important bill and two ministers for less than an hour has really tied our hands on the questions we wanted to ask.  Are we going to get the ministers back?

The Chair:  It is a complex issue, obviously, with nine previous bills being included within Bill C‑10.

Senator Jaffer:  Exactly.  That is just my point.

Senator Nolin points out that we are moving in opposite direction of the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Senator Fraser makes the point that trafficking includes a lot more than people in “the business of trafficking” (a term Toews and Nicholson kept repeating).

Senator Fraser:  This question has to do with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
In his presentation and in his remarks to us this afternoon, Minister Nicholson said several times that this portion of Bill C‑10, concerning the changes to the drugs act, is designed to go after people who are in the business of trafficking.  Now, to my lay ear that sounds like a commercial venture:  “The business of trafficking.”  I was caught up short because, if my memory is correct, the legal definition of trafficking in the Criminal Code includes giving or even offering to give a controlled substance.  “The business of trafficking” sounds as if we are talking about relatively high volumes to a lay ear.  However, I was reviewing a study the other day that was done for the Department of Justice on cases of prosecution for grow ops.  I do not have the study right in front of me, but my memory is that something like close to 10 per cent of those prosecutions involved fewer than 10 plants.  One involved as few as two plants, which I do not think would constitute high volume.Therefore am I missing something in this new version of this bill, which we have contemplated so many times, that would orient it solely toward the kind of people that ordinary folks think of when you use the word “trafficking” or “trafficker” as distinct from what is actually in the Criminal Code?  Have I missed something new here?

Mr. Saint-Denis:  No, you have not.  The provisions of this bill dealing with the amendments are virtually identical to the ones you saw before in Bill S‑10 with one modification, which was brought in play in the House of Commons recently, and that was to subtract the production of one to five plants inclusively from the possibility of obtaining a minimum penalty where there were aggravating factors.  The provisions in this bill tend to focus primarily on the business of drug offences, as you say and as the minister said, but not exclusively.  The minister focuses on that, but the bill is wider than that.

Senator Fraser:  I am sure the minister’s intent has been clear ever since this bill was first brought in that he does want to go after traffickers, but the bill itself, as written, can capture way more than just big scale traffickers.  It can capture quite small people.

Mr. Saint-Denis:  It can; that is correct.

Catherine Kane, Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice Canada indicated that the reports in the government’s possession were inconclusive as to whether mandatory minimums are effective in deterring crime.

[Full transcript from Feb. 1, 2012]