Speech – C-45 – Second Reading (Cannabis)
February 8, 2018
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts.
I want to begin by commending Senator Galvez for her thoughtful and science-based analysis of the public policy and health implications of this important bill, and I thank her for acknowledging the special situation of Aboriginal people, which has not yet been much discussed or examined. I agree entirely with her recommendation that the government must put health considerations at the forefront by adopting a real and not theoretical public health approach without promoting, intentionally or unintentionally, the emergence of an economic sector through legalization, attractive to many, to support an existing risky practice. Today I hope to give you some insights as to why this recommendation applies to Nunavut.
Nunavut is not ready. Senator Galvez is right: Bill C-45 is a complete repeal of prohibition with absence of regulations. It transfers a majority of the responsibilities of legalization to the provinces — in my case, a territory — which in turn may transfer those responsibilities to unprepared municipalities.
In Nunavut, this is a very rushed process due to several factors. First, Nunavut elected a new territorial government on October 30, 2017. The previous government made a decision not to deal with this issue beyond conducting an online anonymous survey on attitudes towards legalization, which I believe provides the Government of Nunavut with a baseline but does not constitute meaningful consultation, as this legislation warrants.
The new government was not formed until November 2017 and has only just begun working on this major social issue. The government has announced a series of community consultations, which will see public meetings held in only 11 of Nunavut’s 25 communities, and began in late January and will continue until late February.
The Nunavut Association of Municipalities put the subject of cannabis legalization on the agenda of their annual meeting in Iqaluit in early December 2017. As a federal parliamentarian, I was invited to attend and participate.
Honourable senators, there was a litany of concerns. No one in the room welcomed this legislation. The bill has been described by the federal government as representing transformative social change. Nowhere may this be more dramatic, I fear, than in remote communities in the Far North.
I found community members and officials to have great concerns about the apparent rush to implement the new legal regime, complaining about not having been consulted whatsoever, about not having the resources to enact bylaws and policies they may well wish to put in place.
They also lamented the absence of mental health supports in their communities and the complete absence of any alcohol and drug treatment facilities anywhere in Nunavut. “How will we treat residents and employees who may become addicted without community mental health or territorial addiction programs,” they asked.
Mayors had many questions about what powers they might be given to govern their own affairs. “Can we prohibit the use of marijuana in our communities,” some asked, in the same way that many communities have implemented controls on the use of alcohol, or outright prohibition following community plebiscites — a procedure allowed under Nunavut’s liquor act.
Will communities be able to regulate the age of possession given their strong concerns about the effects of marijuana use amongst vulnerable youth who are already absent from school in alarming numbers and displaying serious mental health issues associated with violent crime, armed standoffs — sadly, now commonplace in remote communities in Nunavut — depression and suicide?
What powers will communities have to regulate retail sales and the use of marijuana in public places? Will funds be available to assist communities in the complex task of drafting bylaws and the development of workplace policies?
The mayors had a briefing from lawyers from a Yellowknife law firm who suggested that the legalization of marijuana need not represent significant change, that it can be dealt with the way the municipalities and governments already deal with cigarette smoking. That glib assertion clearly did not provide comfort to the mayors at the meeting.
The lawyers’ advice clearly raised concern. They were told municipalities can further restrict the use of marijuana by bylaw. You may wish to enact bylaws to prohibit use on schools or playgrounds. You could also prohibit use in public buildings or in staff housing. Also, that could be a term for the use of land or other commercial contracts. It is unknown, they were told whether the Government of Nunavut will enact a law requiring a plebiscite to approve or restrict local use, but the legislation will allow online sales, the mayors were told. So there will be a lot of marijuana in circulation, it was forecasted.
They mayors were told that they should have an updated drug and alcohol policy if they have one. And to get one if they don’t. They were told they would also need guidelines for medical use such as the employer’s need to know, the employee’s duty to disclose. They were advised on the principles for such policies, how to deal with disciplinary issues. They were advised on the human rights implications of bylaw making and how a municipal employer must allow treatment of employee addictions.
Honourable senators, these municipal mayors are crucial levels of government in the scattered, remote communities of the Arctic. They already have their hands full in the harshest climate in the world dealing with water and sewer, roads, garbage and dogs.
Many mayors are from villages of very small populations and are struggling with the capacity to deal with an increasingly complex world. They’re now going to have to engage lawyers from distant places to help them develop bylaws and policies for legislation which they fear will become law imminently.
Who will pay for this? Who will train our bylaws or the RCMP? Here’s what some of the mayors said about those issues.
The Mayor of Resolute Bay, population 198 in 2016:
My concern is for my community. Today we are hearing that it will be okay and that we can deal with it. This is not true; 10-year-olds are using and skipping school. We will need help. Also when it is legal, like cigarette smoking in public places… people don’t follow that rule. How far from a building can you smoke? Nobody listens to that. Just an example. It will come with problems like enforcement, employees, bylaws, not enough funding.
The Government of Nunavut should ask for more funding from the federal government since they are making it a law. We have no choice but to go with it when it is legal. Who will enforce it? The GN or municipalities? It’s almost like we’re going backwards, she said, run by a government that was colonizing us years ago. Resolute Bay is part of Canada. We see problems first hand. We know our communities. Many people are impoverished. Many people are already dealing with these illegal products. We have concerns about our children.
Mayor of Taloyoak:
It will be a challenge. Seven months is not a long time to prepare… age limits and so on. We need to look at our bylaws. Those of us in the territory will need an awful lot of support.
The Mayor of Gjoa Haven:
We mayors will need to be doing a lot of work. If by July 1 we don’t have a plan past that date, that will be a problem. We don’t have bylaw enforcers, bylaws in place. We need more funding for the enforcement of the bylaws.
Honourable senators, having heard the strong and thoughtful concerns of the mayors of Nunavut about this federal legislation being imposed in Nunavut, I promised then and there to give voice to the concerns of Nunavut community leaders in the Senate. This was the impetus for me to plan to travel to every one of Nunavut’s 25 communities in the next two months, mostly during break weeks, although I will be away next week. I’ll begin my travel with town hall meetings and meetings with mayors and councils next week in south Baffin, then the seven communities in the western Kitikmeot region.
The Mayor of Taloyoak said it very clearly at the NAM meeting:
No one has talked to us. Who will hear our concerns? You have to come to our communities.
So I’ll be armed with more information and a better identification of concerns and recommended solutions when I return, but in speaking to the principles of the bill today, I want to signal what I’ve already heard and expect to hear.
I’ve spoken about this in Question Period already, but Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated spoke loudly and clearly at their annual general meeting last year about the solemn legal obligation under the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement, Article 32, that requires governments to consult with Inuit on social policy changes. Consultation with a national Inuit organization based in Ottawa does not meet this constitutionally protected statutory obligation.
The president of ITK has publicly stated that a few conversations with his organization is not adequate. In fact, that duty is owed to each comprehensive claimant group in Inuit Nunangat. Yet this week in her appearance before the Senate, Minister Petitpas Taylor cited meetings with ITK as evidence of the government’s consultation with Inuit.
I’d like to share with you other specific concerns identified by mayors. The Mayor of Gjoa Haven said:
How is it going to help by legalizing [marijuana] in small communities where it’s already bad enough?
Keep in mind, honourable senators, that yes, marijuana use is widespread in Nunavut communities. Anyone who has campaigned door to door — as I have done often over many years — knows this, but there are natural barriers to the widespread use of marijuana now in place by virtue of the North’s isolation.
In Iqaluit where I live, with daily jet service and a huge population of around 8,000 people, marijuana costs about $20 a gram. The Hells Angels or other criminal organizations are probably not present there. Those suppliers from southern communities undoubtedly have those connections. In the more remote communities, where there are intermittent scheduled flights over long distances, prices for a gram of marijuana can easily reach $50 per gram. What will happen when marijuana can be ordered online and mailed for a price of $10 per gram?
On the subject of education, the Mayor of Qikiqtarjuak said:
There are users under 12 years of age. They have dropped out of school. That is a concern.
Attendance in schools in Nunavut is a serious problem. On any day of the week inside an average Nunavut school, you might find only seven students attending class for every ten who are actually enrolled. The rate of attendance is dropping, not improving. Nunavut students generally only attend until grade 7. Students in grade 10 and 11 only average just over 50 per cent.
The Mayor of Arctic Bay told the meeting:
We created our own government so we can be more independent but rights we fought for are being degraded.
I’ve witnessed a six-year-old stealing drugs from their parents. I’m not ready for this. There are too many problems we’re facing now without it being legal. Elder abuse. No one can help them.
Honourable senators, Nunavut’s also struggling with a lack of alcohol and drug treatment options. The Chief Justice of Nunavut’s Court of Justice says that 90 per cent of the crime in the territories is linked to alcohol. He said he and other judges send people out of the territory for treatment, but that can be costly. It’s not always culturally sensitive, and it doesn’t treat the whole family.
It’s not cost effective to rely solely on jails when we really need some interventions at a family level, at a community level to address a growing problem of substance abuse in Nunavut.
The Mayor of Arctic Bay echoed these concerns at the meeting in December.
Now that we have alcohol, we were getting used to alcohol… now we have an additional challenge. The older generation is really intimidated…if it was available when illegal, imagine if it is legal. …I have friends and families whose minds have been degraded by cannabis. I am concerned about the next generation being adversely affected by the use of cannabis. Even if prohibited, our experience with alcohol prohibition is that there is still a lot of alcohol.
The Mayor of Kimmirut, population 389, followed by saying:
We are being burdened with additional challenges. Our young people will be addicted for sure. Good hunters are affected. They are not going out hunting.
The Mayor of Pangnirtung also displayed alarm:
Users are getting lazy. They don’t want to do anything. They don’t want to work. It’s bad enough with cigarettes. They keep taxing it, but nobody stops.
By the way, Nunavut has the highest rate of smoking in the country. Two thirds of residents already smoke cigarettes.
Now, Senator Galvez presented scientific evidence to support her concerns. We must have scientific evidence of the links between educational achievement and cannabis use. There are studies that show that rates of attainment are linked to cannabis use. One Australian study said:
Early cannabis use appears to be associated with the adoption of an anti-conventional lifestyle characterized by affiliations with delinquent and substance-using peers, and the precocious adoption of adult roles, including early school leaving, leaving the parental home and early parenthood.
People are worried about the mental health impacts of cannabis on a vulnerable population. The Mayor of Pangnirtung linked the issue of marijuana to mental health struggles in the territory. He said:
We’ve seen people that started to become schizophrenic. When we hear there won’t be much change, they’re wrong. There will be a huge impact.
The Mayor of Arctic Bay said:
We don’t have alcohol and drug institutions. Where are we going to send them? Nunavut doesn’t have what we need. They all have to go south. There should be —
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I’m sorry, your time is up. Would you like five more minutes?
Senator Patterson: I would like five minutes.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are honourable senators in agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Patterson: He said there should be rehab in Nunavut.
The Mayor of Resolute Bay talked about the challenge of time. Seven months is not a long time to prepare. There is evidence that cannabis use does impact psychotic or affective mental health outcomes.
I won’t mention the suicide problem in detail in Nunavut. It’s sadly well-known. In fact, one study showed that the rate of suicide among young men in Nunavut is the highest in the world, and the overall rates are 10 times the national average.
Is there a link between cannabis use and depression and suicide? I’ve seen some evidence, a study undertaken in New Zealand, that said cannabis use is associated with increased rates of a range of adjustment problems in adolescence and young adulthood: crime, depression and suicidal behaviours, with these adverse effects being most evident for school-aged regular users.
Honourable senators, I’m struck in looking at these issues by how little we know. We don’t know the extent of marijuana use in Nunavut. We don’t know about the effects this drug may have on mental health among Aboriginal people.
I want to say that I was really amazed that the Government of Canada had confirmed it to be the case that we don’t know the answer to a lot of these questions.
Minister Blair announced in January that Canada is going to begin to address what he described as certain knowledge gaps in this area, with a paltry investment of $1.4 million to fund 14 research projects across Canada. He said the research project:
. . . is expected to lay a foundation to develop further studies on the broader impacts of non-medical cannabis legalization and regulation in Canada, and help inform the ongoing development of policies, practices and programs involving cannabis.
I’m surprised, frankly, honourable senators, that a government that has promised to make public policy decisions based on science is only now beginning, on the eve of legalization, to do a study on the health, behavioural, social and economic implications of the legalization of marijuana.
Now, finally, I want to say that as I listened to the ministers during Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, it struck me how much of an emphasis was placed on the findings of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. However, at the task force presentation to senators last fall, Ms. McLellan, the chair, was very clear that the task force felt that more education and consultation were required. Meaningful engagement cannot happen in five months on what has been touted as a transformative social change. It’s especially true in my region, with its remote communities and very high proportion of Inuit whose first language is not English or French.
Finally, I think we need to clearly take more time to do this properly, at least in my region where the new territorial government has barely begun consultations.
Canadians must also be provided with facts about cannabis and its effects, this task force recommended. I urge the committee or committees studying this bill to obtain the best information about the health and mental health impacts of marijuana on youth and particularly on Aboriginal people. Thank you.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Hon. Denise Batters: Would Senator Patterson take a brief question?
Senator Patterson: Yes.
Senator Batters: Thank you. Something that’s been very concerning to me, particularly after I hear your speech, is the fact that Bill C-45 will allow every household to be able to grow four plants of unknown size. There could be four huge marijuana plants in every household.
Given the remoteness of your particular territory and the disparate population, can you please tell us about the impact that will have on Nunavut?
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Do you require more time, Senator Patterson, to answer Senator Batters’ question?
Senator Patterson: I’ll answer it as briefly as I can. But yes, please.
Thank you for the question, honourable senator. I guess what I was saying is that I won’t pretend that marijuana use is not occurring in Nunavut communities, although I don’t think it’s as extensive as it is in the cities that have been discussed so far in this bill.
One of the reasons for that is that Nunavut is perhaps, one could say, blessed by remoteness and transportation logistics and the costs, and that has resulted in difficulty in accessing alcohol and illegal drugs.
So the mayors are very concerned and made it very clear. I’m trying to be their voice here in this chamber. They are concerned about the proliferation of what they consider a dangerous substance, especially for youth who aren’t going to school, hunters who are not so motivated to get up in the morning and go hunting and people who are working in our growing mineral sector, where there are stringent drug tests that would prevent them from getting jobs.
So they mentioned this business of being able to grow plants and felt that that was yet another way in which easier access, as well as being able to buy online from anywhere, would result in the proliferation of what they consider to be a dangerous substance on top of the alcohol issues they’re dealing with, on top of the school attendance issues we’re struggling with, on top of the mental health and suicide issues. I have to bring the alarming comments from the mayors to the attention of the Senate because they asked me to be their voice, and they feel nobody is listening.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Joyal would like to ask a question. Senator Patterson, would you accept another question?
Senator Patterson: Yes, if there’s time.
Hon. Serge Joyal: I would like to ask you a question, Senator Patterson. You have outlined to this chamber this afternoon my worst fears. That’s why, since the beginning of this debate, I have raised the issue of the impact of the legalization on the Aboriginal community. You might have heard me before when I asked questions of the government leader for us to listen to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the Minister of Indigenous Services and the other minister. We have a moral responsibility to listen to the Aboriginal people and to those who know their reality, and to share the impact of what we suspect will happen and what we know will happen with the legalization of marijuana.
My major concern is that consultation with Aboriginal people should have taken place and should take place. I say this with the greatest of respect for the government. There should be a special regime and a special way of dealing with the objectives of this bill in relation to Aboriginal people. My opinion is that if we don’t do that, we will add to the plight of the Aboriginal people in terms of the social nightmare that you have outlined this afternoon.
My specific question to you is this: When you mentioned in your speech that there was consultation with ITK, could you expand on the kind of consultation that took place? Was it a social gathering and a general discussion over a cup of coffee, or was it real consultation, including the objectives and impacts, the way the plan could be implemented, the police forces, health services and social supports, and the implications of all the changes that will be brought upon the Nunavut community?
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Patterson, you have 24 seconds.
Senator Patterson: The President of ITK said —
An Hon. Senator: No. There is no more time granted.
Senator Patterson: Well, I have 24 seconds.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: He has 24 seconds left on his five minutes.
Senator Patterson: I have a very quick answer. The President of ITK said they had a few conversations that were not adequate.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Dyck, I’m sorry; there are six seconds left.
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Would the honourable senator ask for more time so I could ask a question? It’s an important issue.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Order, please. Senator Dyck is going to ask her question.
Senator Dyck: I want to commend the senator for his speech. I thought he did a very good job of bringing forth to the chamber the reactions from the local people in Nunavut, the mayors, and so on.
I, too, am concerned about the effect of marijuana legislation on Aboriginal youth. When we travelled there, you and I — I remember quite clearly — went into a number of the homes. The homes are very crowded. I don’t know whether this came up during the discussions, whether there was fear about normalizing cannabis use. People live in homes where there are two or three families. Let’s say it’s the parents, as opposed to the teenagers, who are taking it up, and then the whole family sees that as normal behaviour, especially considering the high rates of smoking you mentioned.
Senator Patterson: Indeed, there were several hours of discussion at the mayors’ meeting, and I’ve indicated just some of the highlights. However, a big concern was expressed about having plants in houses — in small, overcrowded houses — and there’s no limit on the height of these plants.
There was also concern expressed about being able to regulate smoking the way cigarette smoking is regulated, as the lawyers from Yellowknife said could easily be done. Mayors were very concerned about prohibiting use in homes and about trying to prohibit use in school playgrounds and public spaces.
That’s why I believe we should hear from the minister responsible for consultations with Aboriginal people, whoever that might be. It may not be Minister Bennett, I understand. And we should hear from Minister Philpott, who has a responsibility for indigenous peoples, and see how these concerns might be dealt with in this legislation.