Open Letter to Senators on C-15

Honourable Senators:

I write in advance of your anticipated vote on the Report of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs regarding Bill C-15, an Act to Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Please forgive the mass nature of this communication but the exigency of the circumstance necessitated direct, and swift, contact with you all.

I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to reject the Committee Report as a prelude to rejecting the Bill entirely. I know this would be an unusual action for the Senate. Most legislation sent to you by your colleagues in the House of Commons is approved. But if there were ever a time for the Senate to fulfill its traditional role as the body of sober second thought, this is that occasion.

Bill C-15 purports to target organized criminals who produce, traffic and import large quantities of drugs into Canada. There is no evidence that it will do so. Indeed, all the evidence is to the contrary. This legislation will increase the power of organized crime in this country. It will increase the violence and danger associated with the prohibition-based black market. Bill C-15 will ensnare and jail primarily low-level offenders, many of whom are already marginalized and struggling with addiction and mental health issues. The testimony before your Committee was extensive and clear on these points.

Proponents of this legislation, including the Minister of Justice, did not even bother to attempt to provide empirical support for this legislation. This was unsurprising. Such evidence does not exist. Instead, these significant alterations of our historical sentencing practices was justified primarily because of the “message” it is believed it will send. But to whom?

Criminologists made clear that organized criminals will not hear this message. The caselaw is clear that high-level traffickers, producers and importers of drugs are regularly sentenced to jail terms well in excess of the mandatory penalties contained in Bill C-15. And the idea that a gangster who wears a bullet-proof vest and drives an armored SUV because of the risks associated with the prohibition markets will be deterred by the prospect of jail would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

Is the message for the international community? The most vociferous historical supporter of mandatory terms for drug offences, the United States, is currently going the other direction, restoring judicial discretion in an effort to save a crumbling corrections system. The United States also, your Committee heard, has learned that even 20 year or longer mandatory sentences do not deter criminal activity, do not reduce the supply of drugs and do not reduce the violence associated with the prohibition markets.

Canadians deserve better than this legislation. We deserve a criminal justice policy that is both evidence-based and supportive of the critical goals of rehabilitation of offenders and their re-integration into the greater community. Bill C-15 will not help us achieve those goals. It will not make us safer. It will not reduce crime. Indeed, it will likely have the opposite effects.

Honourable Senators, you do have a choice. You can chose reason over fear, evidence over rhetoric and justice over vengeance. You can vote to reject this legislation and to send a clear message to Canadians, including most importantly young Canadians growing ever-more disaffected with the political process, that government can be about more than politics. It can be about leadership. It can be about doing what is right, not what is politically expedient. And that is a message actually worth sending.

Kirk Tousaw, Executive Director
Beyond Prohibition Foundation