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Tuesday, June 5th 2018 - Bill C45 Cannabis Act - Speech on Senator Boisvenu's Amendment - Ticketing Regime

 

Hon. Rose-May Poirier: Honourable senators, I rise today in support of Senator Boisvenu’s amendment to add a ticketing option for our youth when it comes to single possession and distribution. One of the objectives and intentions of Bill C-45 was to protect our youth by changing the approach to recreational cannabis from a criminal perspective to a public health policy approach. When looking at the bill as drafted today and after hearing from numerous witnesses at the Social Affairs Committee, I am concerned that Bill C-45 doesn’t fully reach its objectives bringing our youth away from the criminal justice system.

I had the opportunity to be a member of the Social Affairs Committee throughout our study of Bill C-45, and as the proceeding went along the concerns over the impact of the criminalization on the youth’s socialization were growing. Whether it was the disparity of criminalizing a behaviour of youth but not for adults or having only the Youth Justice Act as an avenue when a youth has over 5 grams, Bill C-45 punishes and criminalizes a youth along the way. Not only do we need to protect their health, we also need to protect them from being criminalized due to a simple mistake of having 6 grams of cannabis on them instead of 4.

As Corey O’Soup, Advocate for the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth said on April 25:

Last, we have concerns about clause 8 of the proposed act regarding the criminal offence for cannabis possession as they relate to youth. The current legislation makes it an offence for youth to possess more than 5 grams of cannabis, while for adults an offence does not occur unless there is a possession of 30 grams or more. While we support the objective of reducing youth exposure to cannabis, we have concerns that this could lead to heightened criminalization of youth.

And I believe, honourable senators, that Mr. Kirk Tousaw from the Tousaw Law Corporation said it most clearly on May 24.

As a parent of four children under 18, this comes from my heart — we must not criminalize young people in our pursuit of our laudable goals of trying our best to keep them safe and give them the tools they need to make responsible choices.

I would also like to quote Emily Jenkins, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, who appeared as an individual on April 25.

Additionally, there’s strong evidence that the social costs of criminalization are profound and disproportionately affect youth, particularly Indigenous and racialized youth and youth in marginalized communities. These harms include stigmatization and exclusion, limited opportunities for meaningful employment, worsening levels of poverty and poor health outcomes, all while exhausting limited public resources.

As of right now, Bill C-45 only provides for the Youth Justice Act for a simple possession of over 5 grams. And with Senator Boisvenu’s amendment, we are reducing the risk of criminalizing our youth, protecting them from the path of the justice system, but mostly offering them a fair penalty without long-term consequences. For most of the youth with a simple possession, at 14 or 15, whichever age under 18, it will be their first experience with our justice system. Do we want them to feel the full weight of it from a young age?

As Mr. Tousaw again made the clear point on the impact of involving the criminal justice system for simple possession of cannabis:

We cannot make the impacts of that use dramatically worse by also involving them with the criminal justice system. Involvement with the criminal justice system for simple possession of cannabis provides no benefit to the young person. In fact, it’s all negative. You become fearful and resentful of the police. You become entangled with the criminal justice system. You might have a lifelong criminal record. You might not be able to cross the border into the United States. Future employers might turn you down. There are a host of negative consequences that arise simply because we’ve chosen to label that normal behaviour as criminal behaviour. We need to take a different approach.

And that different approach, honourable senators, in my opinion, should involve a ticketing regime like Senator Boisvenu is proposing. It is the right step to take into decriminalizing a behaviour and to protect our youth from the negative consequences of dealing with the justice system. The Youth Justice Act is there as an option but more is needed for our youth. And that is what Solomon Friedman, criminal defence lawyer at Edelson & Friedman, expressed on April 30:

Right now, to me, when I read this — and I’ve read the legislation, the legislative summaries and the commentaries a number of times — I cannot for the life of me understand what the possible argument is to deny youth access to the ticketing regime. It simply makes no sense.

It also tightens up the gap between youth and adults when it comes to sanctions. As some witnesses pointed out, there were some disparities in the bill where sanctions for youth were harsher and the lack of option, especially for ticketing were unavailable for youth whereas they were available for adults. As Michael Spratt, a criminal lawyer, said on May 2:

The ticketing provision also discriminates against the young. They are not allowed to partake in that and will be forced down the criminal path. There will are no discretion for police officers or prosecutors to afford youth the benefit of receiving a ticket.

Lastly, I believe Senator Boisvenu’s amendment would help with the concerns expressed during the Social Affairs Committee clause-by-clause examination. When we came to this observation, which was adopted unanimously at committee, everyone had some concerns. I will read the observation:

The committee concurs with the observation of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that the Government of Canada should examine Part 1, Division 1, clause 8 of Bill C-45 by which Canadian youth are criminalized for behaviour that is legal for adults.

We had government officials present, giving answers especially for the constitutionality aspect of the Youth Justice Act and the outcome for a youth who goes through it. And from reading the transcript and from memory of the proceedings, we were not fully convinced of the answer. Whether it was on the constitutionality of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, whether it was on the long-term implications, there were concerns around it. And again, with a ticketing regime such as Senator Boisvenu’s amendment, it gives that extra tool to the police and a protection from unnecessary criminalization of our youth.

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So again and again, honourable senators, Senator Boisvenu’s amendment is a fair and fitting amendment to improve the bill and to have Bill C-45 attain its objectives. The ticketing provides a path of non-criminalization away from the justice system for simple possession, giving another tool to the police officers when dealing with a young person, allowing ticketable offences for youth, not just for adults, and furthermore, protects our youth.

It is my sincere hope that senators will support this fair and reasonable amendment, because at the end of the day we all want to protect our kids, our youth, as best we can. With a ticketing system, I believe that’s exactly what we are doing.

I urge my honourable colleagues to think deeply before they vote. Do we want our youth to go down a path of criminalization due to a mistake of having a simple possession of 6 grams? Or do we want to help them avoid the criminal justice system by having a ticket? Let’s help them avoid a path of criminalization by adopting Senator Boisvenu’s amendment of a ticketing regime for our youth.

Thank you, honourable senators.

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