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May 25th 2018 - Social Affairs Committee with Various Witnesses

Senator Poirier: I have a couple of questions for Justice.

First, legal experts such as the Bureau du Québec testified that the government was at risk of class action lawsuits if labelling and promotion provisions were not improved.

Did you anticipate a scenario of class action lawsuits against the government?

Ms. Labelle: This question was also asked of us when we appeared before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Also a government response was provided in writing to one of the senator’s written questions.

Justice examines every piece of legislation for consistency with the Charter and with the Bill of Rights. It also examines legislation for it to be consistent with any other legal rule or issue. The legislation will be applied when it comes into force, if passed by Parliament, consistent with the authorities set out in the legislation and in the regulations.

More than that involves solicitor/client privileged advice, which I cannot share with the committee because this advice belongs to the government.

Senator Poirier: Basically is it a yes or no if you anticipate a class action lawsuit against government? Is that possible?

Ms. Labelle: That is part of the legal advice that belongs to the government, so I am not at liberty to express anything more.

Senator Poirier: It probably would have been simpler to modify Bill C-45 accordingly. Anyway, I have a second question.

In its report the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs observed unanimously that the Government of Canada explore and adopt other measures to limit the intrusion of organized crime in the cannabis industry.

Can you share with us if the government has made progress on this issue? If yes, what have they done so far? If no, why haven’t they done more?

Mr. Costen: That’s a really important question.

Important new authorities are proposed through Bill C-45 that would allow a regulator before and during the process of vetting applicants to look carefully into and compel financial information.

To the extent I understand the nature behind the recommendation and the advice, it was really around financial interests and the role that criminal organizations may play behind the scenes and have an influential role in the operations of the cannabis company.

The bill proposes important new measures that would exist over and above those that exist today.

You’re likely aware that we do a careful vetting with the RCMP of all of the key personnel. We have proposed, through our regulatory proposals, a number of new measures that would further increase the scrutiny of individuals looking to enter the industry, specifically with a view to meeting the recommendation that the committee has identified.

Senator Poirier: My last question is a follow-up from Senator Petitclerc’s question on the 14 years.

In the same scenario of a youth giving something to another youth having the possibility of getting a penalty of 14 years, if that were not cannabis but alcohol, could you please tell me whether that would be the same penalty? Would it be as severe?

Ms. Morency: I would say first that under Bill C-45 a youth sharing with another youth would not be captured as an offence and with alcohol it is not a criminal offence. The treatment of it is dealt with through provincial regulation, so I couldn’t comment precisely on how that is addressed.

I am aware that the provinces address youth under 18 or 19, whatever the age of majority if the province, who access alcohol. There are offences in place for that and for persons who provide it to them or sell it to them when it’s prohibited.

Senator Poirier: In my understanding it’s a fine and it’s nothing compared to 14 years for an adult giving something to a youth. Giving cannabis is different from an adult giving alcohol to a youth, which is also illegal.

There’s quite a bit of difference from what we heard from witnesses.

The Chair: Could you comment on that? That’s a significant issue.

Mr. Saint-Denis: Again, many experts and witnesses point to the 14 years, and in their statements there’s automatically an innuendo that penalty will be imposed. In fact, it’s never imposed, except in the worst of the worst possible cases.

An adult, someone who’s close in age at either 18 or 19, who gives cannabis to a young person, someone below the age of 18, will likely never be penalized anywhere near 14 years.

Senator Poirier: If it’s never, why even put it there?

Mr. Saint-Denis: Well, because the cases you picked are the most innocuous ones. There are possibilities for much more serious cases of perhaps organized crime individuals distributing to youth for the purposes of the youth either selling or distributing to other youth, in which case then you might want to consider imposing a much more serious penalty on someone who’s working for organized crime.

Senator Poirier: That could happen with alcohol too.

Mr. Saint-Denis: It’s very fact specific.

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Senator Poirier: We’ve heard many times the concerns of Aboriginal leaders, police forces, municipal leaders, mental health groups and many other different groups about enforcing the four plants at home, whether it will be impossible to monitor and whether that aspect of the law should be scrapped.

We talked earlier about the plant itself and the cultivation of the plant indoors and outdoors. We mentioned that outdoors it had to be not in the budding or flowering stage, if I remember rightly.

I am also aware, being from New Brunswick, that New Brunswick has provision in its provincial law that home plants can be outdoors, but they’re saying that have to be within a closed or fenced-in area at the same time.

I am also aware that there are quite a few First Nations communities in New Brunswick also. This means this law will also be available for them to do the same.

Are the Indigenous people prepared to enforce and monitor home cultivation, and specifically with the outdoor parts of it? Maybe the police could answer.

Mr. Daley: Having served half my career in New Brunswick, I am very familiar with the First Nations communities there. I am not sure. I think you framed it, “Will the Indigenous people,” as opposed to the police.

Senator Poirier: Will the Indigenous police force be able to enforce and handle it in First Nations as much as the police force in the municipalities?

Everybody seems to be concerned about it. In New Brunswick I am hearing an awful lot about it.

Mr. Daley: As you know, in New Brunswick and within the other provinces the RCMP is contracted throughout, with the exception of Ontario and Quebec, to provide policing services including in the North.

As I stated earlier, when it comes to home cultivation my role in law enforcement is to enforce the law when it passes.

As far as being able to enforce that, again I made comments earlier. When I look at that situation, I look at public safety in general. I look at other things such as access to youth within the home. I look at potential for fire. Anything that I previously mentioned would all come into how I address the enforcement of home cultivation.

Let me be clear, though, that the RCMP will be ready to enforce legal cannabis, home cultivation or not. We are providing support across the country to the law enforcement community with awareness and training so that one would expect law enforcement across Canada, whether or not it be the RCMP, would be able to enforce the law on or off an Indigenous community.

Senator Poirier: Do you feel that we will have the manpower in the numbers of police officers needed to enforce this law?

I am hearing from the municipalities also that they’re fearing they may not have the finances to be able to have the numbers of RCMP or police forces they need to even look at monitoring this law.

Mr. Daley: What I can say to that is there are mechanisms. We contract through Public Safety Canada with the provinces. There are mechanisms in which to increase, if that is the need of the particular municipality or province. The RCMP, through our annual performance planning, meets with communities, Indigenous or not, and form the performance planning for that year. Those will be in consultation with the communities to determine their priorities.

Then we would distribute the enforcement capacity, people power, to be able to react as necessary.

Senator Poirier: If they can financially afford the extra costs.

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Senator Poirier: Most of my questions have been answered, but I just want to add to one.

When we’re crossing into the United States, if we need to have prescription medication with us, usually there’s no issue of bringing it across. Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada for a number of years. I am assuming it probably wasn’t questioned much at the border going through duty with it.

Coming forward, will it be more complicated with the ongoing legalization of marijuana to cross into the United States? What will be the issue with medical marijuana, even if they have prescriptions?

Mr. Costen: It’s a pretty simple question to answer. As it stands today, you can’t take it across the border, even if you’re an individual authorized to possess and use it in Canada for medical reasons. We’re not proposing to change that going forward.

Back to: Bill C-45 The Cannabis Act in Committee