Bill C-15 Could Fill Canadian Prisons With Drug Offenders

Marc Emery (pictured with his wife, Jodie) says mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offences is a “failed policy” in the U.S.Marc Emery (pictured with his wife, Jodie) says mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offences is a “failed policy” in the U.S.On March 2, the Pew Center on the States, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank, released a report on the staggering growth of the American correctional system. Entitled One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, the report noted that “sentencing and release laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s put so many more people behind bars that last year the incarcerated population reached 2.3 million and, for the first time, one in 100 adults was in prison or jail.”

It also cited the tremendous increase in the number of people on probation or parole, such that “combined with those in prison and jail, a stunning 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent, is under some form of correctional control.”

Why is this relevant to Canada?

“We only need to go south of the border and see a nation that enacted mandatory minimums related to drug offences from the mid-1980s on,” criminologist Susan Boyd told the Georgia Straight. “It didn’t reduce violence and drug use. So here we are saying, ‘We’re going to do this.’ ”

Boyd—an associate professor at UVic and research fellow at the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.—was referring to the reintroduction in Parliament by the Conservative government of a bill that proposes mandatory minimum jail sentences for drug offenders.

If passed into law, Bill C-15 would, among its other provisions, throw people caught with one marijuana plant into the slammer for a minimum of six months. If growing a single plant is done on a property that belongs to another person or in an area where it may present a hazard to children, minimum jail time is nine months.

Worse, the bill seeks to increase the maximum penalty for this particular offence to 14 years.

Vancouver’s so-called Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, who is fighting extradition on charges of selling marijuana seeds to American growers, is a potential U.S. prison statistic.

Emery was handing out leaflets condemning drug prohibition, along with his wife, Jodie, on the south side of the city when the Straight asked him about Bill C-15. “Anything that puts more people in jail for drugs is going to fill prisons,” he said. “It’s a very expensive and failed policy that will only bring us more misery.”

The Pew Center on the States report pointed out that many states in the U.S. “appear to have reached a ‘tipping point’ where additional incarceration will have little if any effect on crime”.

In Washington state, which shares a border with B.C., the report stated, “from 1980 to 2001, the benefit-to-cost ratio for drug offenders plummeted from $9.22 to $0.37.

“That is, for every one dollar invested in new prison beds for drug offenders, state taxpayers get only 37 cents in averted crime,” it noted. “An updated analysis from 2006 found that incarceration of offenders convicted of violent offenses remained a positive net benefit, while property and drug offenders offered negative returns.”

Conservative Abbotsford MP Ed Fast deflected criticism that mandatory jail times haven’t worked in the U.S.

“First of all, on the issue of deterrence there’s contradicting evidence,” Fast told the Straight. “I don’t base my support for the legislation on the deterrent effect. I base it on the prophylactic effect of the legislation. Prophylactic means taking repeat, violent offenders out of our communities for longer periods of time.”

Bill C-15 is a reincarnation of Bill C-26, which the Conservatives introduced in November 2007.

In February 2008, a few months after Bill C-26 was tabled in Parliament, Boyd started sending Prime Minister Stephen Harper a weekly letter in an attempt to educate the Conservative leader about harm reduction and drug regulation.

Boyd did this for a year, and she sent her 52nd and final letter in early February this year. Bill C-15 was introduced on February 27, a day after the Conservatives filed Bill C-14, which toughens penalties for gang-associated violent activities.

As an educator, Boyd has this to say about mentoring Harper: “The prime minister gets a failing grade on drug policy.”

The economics of prisons in Canada
> Total correctional-services expenditures in 2005-06: almost $3 billion

> Share spent on custodial services or prisons: 71 percent

> Associated policing and court costs in 2005-06: more than $10 billion

> Number of correctional facilities in Canada in 2005-06: 192

> Annual cost of incarcerating a federal female prisoner in
2004-05: $150,000 to $250,000

> Annual cost of incarcerating a federal male prisoner in 2004-05: $87,665

> Daily cost of incarcerating a provincial prisoner in 2004-05: $141.78

> Daily cost of alternatives such as probation, bail supervision,
and community supervision: $5 to $25


Will Bill C-15 kill the twin scourge of illegal drugs and gang violence?

Libby Davies NDP MP, Vancouver East:

“There’s a lot of information, both in the United States and in Canada, that shows that mandatory minimum sentencing regimes for drug offences are ineffective. This is all about window-dressing for the Conservatives’ crime agenda. They want to impress people with their tough-on-crime approach. One thing that will happen is that it could very much overcrowd our prisons. We find the bill to be misdirected and based on a very faulty premise. It’s based on the U.S.’s war on drugs, which has been a complete failure.”

Ed Fast Conservative MP, Abbotsford:

“What Bill C-15 does is it’s connecting the sale of drugs to aggravating factors. If there’s a sale or production or growing of drugs that occurs and violence is present, we will put those guys behind bars. But we also want to make sure that low-level dealers that are dealing in drugs simply because they’re addicted can actually get the help that they deserve. We believe it’s a balanced approach. We’re not going after the marijuana users. We’re going after the guys who really present an ongoing danger to our community.”

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal MP, Vancouver South:

“Bill[s]C-14 and [C-]15? We have said that we’ll support both of them. We agree with tougher penalties for serious and violent and chronic offenders. But that alone isn’t going to do the job. That’s why we believe this government is failing significantly in their drive to deal with the issue of crime. They’re failing Canadians because they’re not emphasizing crime-preventing, they’re not providing resources for youth programs, they’re not providing actual police officers on the ground, [and]they’re not providing prosecutors.”

Adrianne Carr Deputy leader, Green Party of Canada:

“The Green party doesn’t support mandatory sentencing because it has proven to not work. It’s coming from this tough-on-crime perspective. What we’ve seen is that our court system wastes extraordinarily high resources in prosecuting the petty criminals involved in drug cases, particularly marijuana. We should be legalizing marijuana, which has been suggested by the Senate of Canada and the Fraser Institute, and these are hardly radical institutions. What we have to do is delink the profit
motive from drugs.”

– Article from the The Georgia Straight.



  1. Denekawa on

    The introduction of Bill C-15 by the Conservatives is blatant evidence of how out of touch they are with the general opinion of Canadian citizens. This hard line approach, obviously meant to appease the will of the American Justice Department is short sighted and in the long run will only serve to fill the prisons, further delay the abolition of unfair cannabis laws and unjustly criminalize young people nation wide, who’s only crime was in partaking in the use of this harmless herb. The Canadian people will respond in the next election by ousting Harper and his goons, who can no longer look to George Bush and his fascists for support on this issue. Times are changing and the cost to the Conservative party will be far more than they realize if they are intent on passing this travesty of a bill through parliament. Weren’t politcians elected to represent the people of this country and not the government of foreigners? The argument that busting the kid down the street for growing pot is part of a war on organized crime just doesn’t hold any water at all. This is a major outrage and people will and should respond extremely unfavorably!!

  2. renney b. on

    when i read the different points of view i just have to laugh or as my grandmother use to say, you take a bad thing and make it a joke…it seems like a lot of these politicians are joking with poor peoples lives… i dont believe the people that did not vote for a lot of them were wrong… however there are a few good men and women in office and i respect their support for the cannabis / hemp culture… they seems to be honest people that really agree that injustice have been committed here and it is time to write better laws to deal with the many disagreements in our society… to lock up somebody because you do not eat, drink, cloth or walk the same way they do is crazy… this bill c-15 that the conservative are trying to enslave canadians with is only gonna make canada a less just society… we canadians pride ourselves in human rights, democracy and the rule of law… around the world oppressed people respect us and run to our shores to escape wars, famines and poverty but, if left unchecked the right wing cons will change all of that… this conservative crime bill c-15 must be defeated if canada and canadians believe in life, liberty and the persuite of happiness … if it comes to a vote in the house of representatives it should be a vote of non confidence so that new leadership will emmerge in ottawa to take the country in a more progressive direction… this marijuana issue will not go away and it is full time our governments deal with it as adults and allow freedom and democracy to work once and for all… the majority of canadians support decriminalization or legalization of this non toxic herb for medicinal, nutritional, industrial and spiritual uses… there are many other benefits of this plant to the environment and the economy and to the planet as a matter of fact… i trust that this is the final debate to settle this matter once and for all for legalization will bring an end to this one hundred year bloody war on the people and the plant we love… peace and love , from; renney b.

  3. Anonymous on

    Well , equal society– its time to reduce spending on women in jail to be equal in every way with spending on male prison populations.. Sorry, as of today as a cost cutting effort- women will have a crappier jail life that they are used to, but isn;’t it better to be equal than special ?

  4. Anonymous on

    Really, look at how screwed up our system in America is. Check out and and see some of the victims of the war on drugs. There are some pretty lengthy sentences for small time offenders, all because of mandatory minimums. And they don’t take into account the facts of the matter. It’s always their word against yours. Every prison in America is overpopulated, most around 33% some up to 40%. And the prison industry is our largest industry. Doesn’t that sound like a bad thing? And it’s because we spend more energy on enforcing draconian laws than looking at them and saying, wow, big mistake, lets focus on the real criminals, the one’s who actually harm people. 65% of the computers found on the internet sharing child pornography go unpunished because they don’t have the resources and in most cases when they do go after those people they find a child being abused. This is a sad state of affairs when an adult’s personal choice of what to ingest is more important to intercede in than helping an innocent child because they dedicated their resources to an easy bust that will really do nothing in the long run. Yet, due to mandatory minimums it’s quite possible a drug offender could spend more time in prison than a murderer, an airplane hijacker or yes, the child molester. Charlie Manson gets parole hearings, but even a man who was involved in a “marijuana conspiracy” has life with no chance of parole, even though since he’s been behind bars laws have changed and he would have only had 20 years had he been sentenced at a later date. He’s now spent 25 years in a federal penitentiary, hoping for some ray of light. It’s sad how the priorities have fallen to the wrong areas. Don’t let them make your country as screwed up as ours.

  5. Bagseed on

    I totally agree! I think it is bullshit that we can’t say ” HEY DIPSHIT! This law here about how you can’t show a pack of smokes in public anymore or if I wan’t to smoke some freekin CLEAN plant… Hey don’t interupt me to take a drink of that scoth whiskey tequila cocktail you got there.. oh ya and could you put out the fat cuban or at least stop lighting them with hundreds you fukin twit Oh ya HEY DIPSHIT this mj law we all think it sucks so we the people say you there change it bitch. huh? jail. Let’s get em. Shit they got no qualms black booting our doors down and coming for us.

  6. Anonymous on

    yeah i was just wondering if 65 percent of canadians support legalization, is there some way to circumvent the do nothing douche bag polliticians and have some sort of reforendom or vote on it or is there blocks that are in place. Im sick of asking our polliticians to change the law, i think we should change it ourselfs, and if the ruling class dont like it off with there heads!