House of Commons Embraces Bill Despite Questions Over Harm Reduction
West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky MP John Weston once again reveled in uniting a rarely harmonious House of Commons during a presentation of his private member's bill Friday ( May 7 ) that would hinder the purchase of legal substances for the manufacturing of crystal meth.
Friday's debate was the beginning of third reading, the final stage of debate in the House of Commons before the piece of legislation is voted on again and sent to the Senate.
During his 15-minute presentation, Weston pointed to a chance encounter to illustrate how "the stars aligned" to make the bill a reality.
"I was on a flight from Ottawa to Vancouver when I chanced to sit next to a board member for [the Baldy Hughes Addiction Treatment Centre in Prince George], Kevin England, who proceeded to add to and encourage the efforts of the great team of people who support the bill," said Weston.
"When we meet strangers on flights who provide informed support for a legislative initiative, we know the stars are aligned and the idea is one whose time has come."
Targeted ingredients in the bill include meth's precursor chemicals, such as pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and Sudafed, which are commonly found in over-the-counter cold medications, as well as acetone, rubbing alcohol and iodine.
"The bill would give our law enforcement community a powerful new tool with which to confront the growing menace of two drugs which are attacking the health and welfare of Canadians," said Weston.
He said the bill addresses wrongful conviction by emphasizing the criminal's intent and state of mind when purchasing or in possession of the substances.
Members of federal parties across the board supported the bill, along with a long list of community groups, justice organizations and municipalities in his riding that Weston pointed to.
One such endorsement came on behalf of the B.C. Association of Police Chiefs in a letter from West Vancouver Police Department chief constable Peter Lepine, which Weston quoted.
"From lives lost and families torn apart by addiction to the fear and cost of drug-related crime, to the risk of fires and explosions related to meth labs. The public safety risks and methamphetamine are real, substantial and growing all the time," writes Lepine.
Although it was supported unanimously, questions over the Conservative Party's focus on law enforcement rather than harm reduction were nonetheless uppermost in critics' minds.
"The money for the drug strategy must not be put toward law enforcement initiatives alone. Prevention and awareness activities must be eligible for funding as well," said Meili Faille of the Bloc Quebecois.
"Would the member consider also supporting a proposal to tag some of the transfer payments to the provinces so that the long-awaited treatment facilities for crystal meth could be established?" asked NDP member Linda Duncan.
"It is one thing to run around trying to arrest people, but it is another thing to actually try to resolve the problem of addiction."
Weston said the Conservatives increased provincial health care transfers by six per cent per year since the 2006-07 budget, and three per cent in social transfer payments.
"Therefore, the government is standing behind the provinces in their attempts to deal with the problem," he said.
However NDP member Megan Leslie had her own numbers while pointing out that the government's 2007 anti-drug strategy removed references to harm reduction and put greater emphasis on law enforcement.
"What a big surprise," she said. "It moves Canada closer and closer to an expensive and failed U.S.-style drug system. Right now, Canada spends 73 per cent of its drug policy budget on enforcement. Still, drug use continues to rise. If we look at the numbers, there is 73 per cent to enforcement, 14 per cent to treatment, seven per cent to research, 2.6 per cent to prevention and 2.6 per cent to harm reduction."
Weston said rather than viewing this as criticism, he actually takes it as a "backhanded endorsement" of the government's actions.
"When the MP from another party stands up and says 'I'm going to support this bill and why can't we do other things too,' I find myself nodding and saying 'Well let's get this bill passed and see what we can do to build on it."