Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Debate

June 7, 2018

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-45.

Since the bill was introduced in our chamber at the end of November, we have had five committees study it. We have had over 100 witnesses appear and have had months of spirited debate over the bill and potential amendments. This is a credit to the Senate, in contrast to the rushed process in the other place.

Senator Woo talked about all the experts who gave evidence formally and informally. It is too bad their advice was so often ignored.

As you know, I personally travelled to every community in Nunavut and sought the advice of as many community members as possible to help inform my final vote.

What did I hear from the residents of Nunavut in my exhaustive tour? They said what Aboriginal people and leaders have told us from across the country, “Why the rush? We are not ready.”

I heard that municipal governments are not ready to deal with employees impaired by marijuana operating heavy equipment in adverse conditions. I heard their astonishment that there is no reliable method of testing for operating a vehicle when impaired by marijuana.

Every community also highlighted the urgent need for increased education on the effects of marijuana and the need to have that understanding and support in place well before legalization.

I heard their concerns that writing local bylaws, developing new human resource policies, training police and bylaw officers would be expensive and time-consuming. I heard their astonishment upon learning that the federal bill would allow persons as young as 18 to possess marijuana. They were amazed there would be no criminal consequences for people as young as 12 possessing up to 5 grams of marijuana. Yet, at the same time, the bill would severely punish persons trafficking to young people.

The people of Nunavut were, understandably, most concerned about protecting youth, a very high demographic in our population. One community I visited, Naujaat, had half its population under 14. I found them to be well aware of the potential dangers of this mind-altering substance on the developing brain. They were well aware of the risk of mental health impacts on people who have been impacted by trauma, a high proportion of the Indigenous population in my territory.

They talked knowledgeably about what we have also heard from medical experts: schizophrenia, anxiety, depression as certain impacts that would be especially felt in Nunavut communities with their fragile social fabric; communities already plagued by family violence, suicide and mental health impacts; communities where, sadly, stand-offs with young people with mental issues and police are becoming almost routine.

They were deeply concerned that there are no culturally-based community wellness and mental health programs, and no addiction treatment facilities in Nunavut or, indeed, in any of the three northern territories.

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Some expressed the view that this is all about money, and we have felt these pressures in this place, where the Government Leader in the Senate at first tried to negotiate a third reading vote for the end of April. “Why would the Trudeau government do this to us without consulting us,” they asked?

I fervently hope I’m wrong, but I have my doubts about all the promises we have been given, which have been eagerly accepted by supporters of the bill. So let’s examine the assurances we have been given.

We’re assured that this bill will put the dealers out of business. Colleagues, this issue came up in my community consultations. In Clyde River, Nunavut, an isolated place on Baffin Island, members of the hamlet council told me that unless the price was significantly lower than $10 per gram, suppliers from the South and dealers in the North will undercut the government price by selling in volume through the mail and even covering postage charges.

They also said that unless the government-supplied marijuana has high THC levels — and we’re assured by the government this won’t happen — the dealers will eagerly sell drugs laden with higher amounts of THC.

Others predicted that dealers would sell to young people or that they would move into new markets for harder drugs.

Then we have the bizarre provision in this bill that will allow unlimited quantities of marijuana in a dwelling house. Admittedly, this can be modified by a province or territory, but, where it’s not, this is surely be an invitation to trafficking. It’s not a far stretch to imagine a knock on a dealer’s door, who has been stockpiling due to a lack of limits on what is allowed in the home, to be approached by someone saying, “My package didn’t come in the mail. The plane didn’t come in. The store is closed. Can you sell or give me a supply?”

Another thing we’re told is that this bill will protect youth. Colleagues, I do fervently hope I’m wrong, but I fear — and many residents of Nunavut do fear — that there will be negative impacts from this bill. The current reality is that Nunavut residents, isolated in 25 remote communities, are commonly paying $50 per gram and up to $100. Making this mind-altering drug more easily available and cheaper in our remote communities will be catastrophic, many people predict. I share this fear. There will be casualties. There will be mental illness. There will be brain damage. There will be deaths.

Now, I may be accused of being alarmist. Some of you folks who live in the South don’t see the standoffs, the suicides, the violence that we must live with in the Arctic. In many communities in Nunavut, where half the kids are already not attending school, how will the easy availability of this mind-numbing drug affect school attendance? Just when we’re making progress employing Inuit in our fledgling but growing mining industry, how many more mine workers will fail the drug tests imposed by mining companies?

We’re told that Indigenous people were consulted. This is clearly skating over the reality. The Aboriginal people, including the Inuit of Nunavut, were given token consultation. First Nations were left out of the revenue streams. They were given no authority to decide for themselves whether they want this mind-altering drug allowed in their communities at all. This gives the lie to the stated intention of our current government to establish a new nation-to-nation relationship, to respect the inherent right to self-government, protected in the Constitution, enshrined in the Constitution, to respect the UN declaration, which calls for informed and prior consent, and to establish new fiscal relations. There have been no significant commitments or progress in developing culturally relevant education materials, nor in supporting community-based counselling and wellness programs, which will surely be sorely needed more than ever before. There were no significant commitments to providing addiction treatment services.

One organization and Indigenous leader after another has called for a delay so that they can be meaningfully engaged. Now, I do respect the fact that my Indigenous Senate colleagues were more or less satisfied with a letter from two ministers promising continued consultation and engagement on the many issues identified in the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, promising to address and accommodate jurisdictional issues, a new fiscal relationship, and so on, going forward. “Rest assured,” we’re told. The phrase is repeated twice in the ministers’ letter. “Pass the bill and these issues will be addressed. Rest assured.”

No, I will not rest assured. I will wait to see, even though we can’t afford to wait in Nunavut. If we get fluff and promises of more dialogue in September, I hope my Indigenous colleagues and fellow committee members will demand action on the promises made yesterday.

We have, colleagues, before us a bill that also creates a convoluted checkerboard regime across the country, with contradicting laws in neighbouring provinces and territories. I believe that we’ve identified too many flaws and have had proven to us that this bill will not achieve its many stated goals.

Colleagues, I participated in the Le Dain commission hearings as a young law student at Dalhousie University in Halifax. I made a presentation, actually, to Le Dain. I remember meeting with one of the commissioners informally at the time who said that marijuana will cause harms to what he called “the ship of state.” The question is: To what extent are we going to jeopardize productivity and mental health and weaken the watertight doors on the ship of state by this measure?

When I look at the rush to pass this bill late in the government’s mandate, the huge holes and inconsistencies in the legislation, which I have outlined, not to mention the blatant exclusion of Aboriginal people in the consultation and development of this bill, surely its biggest weaknesses, I have serious concerns whether this bill will be beneficial for our country, for Nunavut, and our broader Canadian society. I believe — and I do fervently hope I’m wrong — that we will pay an intolerable price that we will regret.

I told the people of Nunavut that unless there were guarantees of systems in place to deal with the predictable harms and negative impacts of easy availability of marijuana in Nunavut, I would vote against the bill. I am not assured. I will not vote for this bill. Thank you.

Hon. Sandra M. Lovelace Nicholas: Will the senator take a question?

Senator Patterson: Yes.

Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Senator Patterson, I believe that it would be up to each community to opt in or opt out of the government’s legalization of cannabis, so, wouldn’t your community have a bylaw not allowing cannabis?

Senator Patterson: I thank the senator for the question.

The First Nations communities, we know — we were told by a Justice Department expert — cannot opt out of the cannabis legislation because it’s not allowed in the Indian Act. The Indian Act only allows for local votes on alcohol prohibition. This is a law of general application that will apply to First Nations communities in Canada. In passing this bill, we are going to deprive those First Nations communities of the right to govern themselves, despite our government’s declaration of its support for the inherent right to self-government, as entrenched in section 35 of the Constitution.

Now, in my communities of Nunavut that are not governed by the Indian Act, I believe it may be possible for the Government of Nunavut to allow hamlets to enact local prohibitions. They do so now with alcohol, and they may do so with marijuana.

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In a discussion paper the Government of Nunavut issued leading up to the discussion of this bill, and before they introduced their own legislation, which is only at a very early stage, they said they felt that the power to prohibit cannabis use in communities would be difficult to enforce. So the Government of Nunavut’s stated position is that they won’t allow that authority.

I’m more concerned about First Nations communities because they’ve told us that they govern themselves. They have the responsibility to deal with education and with health and social impacts. They’re not getting any revenue because they have been left out of the excise tax, and they are not allowed to make a prohibition because of the Indian Act and because this is a law of general application.

So your community and First Nations communities are left out of this bill unless it’s fixed after the fact. I remain optimistic those issues will be addressed, but I’m a skeptic. I’m going to be holding the government and the ministers to account for their promises. I think it’s better to correct these things before the bill is passed, not after. That’s why I’m voting against it. Thank you.

Speech – 3R , C-45 (Cannabis) – Bill to Amend – Debate Continued