Pubdate: Mon, 14 June 1999
Source: Debates of the Senate of Canada ( Hansard) 
Note: Posted in two parts. The debate is also available in French at the
above website. 

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 (continued from part one)

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

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 illicit drugs. 

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

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 abroad. 

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 Bill C-8. 

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 this country. 

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 each country. 

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

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 inthis 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 wasenacted in 1908, we were reacting to what
was going on in the United States. We always reacted to what the Americans

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 say? 

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 livelihood. 


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 Senator LeBreton? 

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 other. 

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 our problem. 


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 social conduct. 

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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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake