Parties Trade Pot Shots Over Conservative Marijuana Bill

Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats took turns accusing each other of being soft on crime as the Harper government urged opposition parties to support its latest attempt to toughen sentences for drug-related activity.

One day after the Liberals announced they would no longer support the legislation, Bill S-10, adopted in the Senate, Nicholson staged a news conference with other Tory MPs and the president of the Canadian Police Association, accusing the opposition of blocking measures that would target drug traffickers and organized crime.

“The bill that we have presented to Parliament is very specific,” Nicholson said. “It sends out the correct message that if you’re getting into the grow-op business for the purposes of trafficking — again, that distinction is sometimes lost on some my opponents to this bill — if you’re into the business of trafficking, if you’re bringing drugs into this country, it’s very specific as well. If you sell drugs around a school, you’re not going to like this bill.”

Charles Momy, president of the association which represents 43,000 police members across the country, said the legislation would prevent instances when criminals re-offend very quickly after getting out of a short jail sentence.

“In simple terms, keep these criminals in jail longer and you take away their opportunity to traffic drugs,” Momy said. “It’s that simple.”

The Liberals had supported previous versions of the legislation that was actually killed by the Harper government when it shut down Parliament in December 2009.

But Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland suggested the current bill, if passed into law, could cost billions in new investments for expanded prison space, without actually discouraging organized crime or rehabilitating criminals. Instead, he said it could cause an increase in criminal activity for offences such as someone with a few marijuana plants or Tylenol 3.

“The problem is when you put in people for six months, they get worse, not better,” said Holland. “You take a kid who had a minor problem, you send him to prison and you create a major criminal.”

Bill S-10 would impose mandatory sentences on those convicted of possessing as few as six pot plants.

Holland said the Liberals were willing to consider supporting the bill if the government raised the minimum number of plants to 20 from six in the legislation.

But NDP justice critic Joe Comartin said the Liberal proposal was “ridiculous,” explaining that the legislation still represented bad policy that had already failed in American states that are trying to revoke it because it wasn’t working and costing too much.

“It’s just useless,” said Comartin, noting statistics that show only 20 per cent of people convicted of drug-related offences in Canada wind up as repeat offenders, compared with 50 per cent in the U.S.

– Article from The Vancouver Sun.

Liberals ‘flip-flopped’ on crime bill: Nicholson

by CTV News

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says he is disgusted by the Liberals, who will not support the Conservatives’ third attempt to pass a bill to impose tougher penalties for drug crimes.

“Every one of (the Liberals) stood on behalf of that bill and now they’ve flip-flopped,” he said Thursday on CTV’s Power Play.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party won’t support Bill S-10, saying it disproportionately targets youth and could add billions in prison costs.

Bill S-10 “isn’t tough on crime, it’s dumb on crime,” he said.

Nicholson countered, saying the bill “targets people who are in the grow-op business for the purpose of trafficking, it reclassifies the date rape drugs and that’s important for young women in this county, and it targets people who bring drugs into Canada.

“It sends out the right message.”

The Liberals originally supported an identical bill before Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in 2009.

One of the main concerns is the cost of the bill, but the government has refused a request from the Commons finance committee to release detailed cost estimates for its crime bills.

Just one of their crime bills — eliminating credit for time served before sentencing — will hike prison costs by $5 billion over five years, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says.

The Tories say all their crime bills will only add $2 billion in prison costs over five years.

The Tories introduced S-10 in the Senate, where the Conservatives now have a majority.

But the bill will be hard to pass without Liberal support in the lower house.

“We’re all in favour of cracking down on serious criminals but this bill doesn’t distinguish between massive grow-ops and a first-time offender with a small amount,” Ignatieff said Thursday.

“What’s more, the Conservatives won’t tell us what the fiscal implications of this bill are. How many billions will it cost? How many mega-prisons will have to be built?”

Nicholson said the bill differentiates between those who are trafficking and those who are using the plants for personal use.

“It’s not targeting against someone who is experimenting (with marijuana),” he said.

– Article from CTV News.

MPs drug-crazed over trafficking bill

by Bryn Weese,

OTTAWA – Where there’s smoke, there’s pot.

And sometimes a Liberal flip-flop, too.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson came out swinging against the Grits Thursday for pulling their support of the government’s proposed drug-trafficking bill, S-10.

If passed, it would impose a minimum six-month prison sentence for anyone caught growing between six and 200 marijuana plants.

Having supported an earlier identical bill that died when Parliament was prorogued in December 2009, the Liberals now say the bill fails to distinguish between young people who make a mistake and hardened gangsters who should be locked up.

“We could have our prisons absolutely replete with young people who have made mistakes, which they surely shouldn’t have made, but shouldn’t be filling our prisons,” Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said Thursday.

The Liberals want the minimum number of pot plants before the mandatory minimum sentence applies raised to 20 from six, and also want to know what it would cost to implement the bill, a figure the government won’t release.

But Nicholson insisted the bill only targets traffickers, and that the six-plant threshold allows for young people who make a mistake.

(One well-grown pot plant can yield one pound of marijuana, according to police.)

“I am very disappointed that the Liberals have changed their mind on this,” Nicholson said. “I know I’m never going to get the support of the NDP on any of this stuff … I understand that, and the Bloc is the same way.

“I think he (Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff) has a lot of explanations to do as to why he has flip-flopped on this … if he flip-flops on this, he’d flip-flop on anything.”

The bill has passed the Senate, but still requires approval from the House of Commons.

– Article from

Conservatives denounce Liberal Leader’s ‘flip-flop’ on crime bill

by The Globe and Mail

The decision by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to stand against a crime bill that he once supported was a blow to the federal government’s justice agenda – one that allows the Conservatives to highlight the policy gap between the two federal parties.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson held a news conference Thursday to lambaste Mr. Ignatieff for his party’s about-face on Bill S-10, which would impose mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, including the cultivation of as few as six marijuana plants if the crop was intended for sale.

“What starker contrast could there be between our two political parties and our two philosophies on that,” said Mr. Nicholson. “I think he has a lot of explanations to do as to why he has flipped on this and I say, if he would flip-flop on this, he would flip-flop on anything.”

But, for the first time since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006, the Liberals are banking that the distinction emphasized by the Conservatives will work in their favour.

With a potential election looming, Canadians are being asked to choose between uncosted Conservative legislation that would take a hard line on drug criminals, and the Liberals’ view that the country can’t afford to throw an undetermined number of people behind bars when similar policies have failed in other jurisdictions.

Bill S-10 has been passed by the Senate and now needs approval by the House of Commons.

The Liberals, who supported an identical bill that died when Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament in late 2009, say they will not support this new piece of legislation because it would disproportionately target young people and would cause an explosion of mega-prisons.

They also point out that another Conservative justice bill, one that removed the two-for-one credit given for time served before sentencing, has been projected by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page to cost $10-billion over five years. The Conservatives originally set aside $90-million for that legislation, then increased their own estimate to $2-billion – far short of Mr. Page’s projection.

When asked why the government will not supply a cost breakdown of the bill as has been demanded by the opposition, Mr. Nicholson said the costs are just an excuse being used by the Liberals for voting against S-10.

He would not attach a dollar figure to the legislation when asked to do so by reporters. Nor would he estimate the increased number of people who would be incarcerated – a figure that would indicate how many new prisons would have to be constructed.

Don Head, the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, was asked at a Commons committee earlier in the day to provide estimates for how much the Conservative justice bills will cost taxpayers and how many more inmates they will create.

Although Mr. Head offered to provide those numbers for the bills that have been passed into law, he said he could not divulge the costs of legislation that has yet to be enacted. “Unfortunately,” he said, “I am bound by cabinet confidence.”

Mr. Head did tell MPs that he expected to hire 4,000 more staff over the next two years, and said that 30 per cent of federal prisoners would likely have to share cells with other inmates before prison expansion is completed.

Mark Holland, the Liberal public safety critic, said the problem with Bill S-10 is that it doesn’t distinguish between an 18-year-old who makes a mistake by growing six plants and a member of the Hells Angels who grows 200.

And without knowing what the bill will cost, “we are really walking around with a blindfold on.” Before Parliament votes on something, “Canadians would rightfully expect we know how much we’re signing on for,” said Mr. Holland.

The approach of the Conservatives has been tried many places and has always failed to make streets safer despite the cost, he said. “States like California find themselves near bankruptcy with policies they are desperate to undo and have little power to change,” he said.

– Article from The Globe and Mail.