Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 36 - Evidence - March 28, 2018
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 28, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:45 p.m. to give consideration to the subject matter of Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, insofar as it relates to the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good evening. I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples here in the room or listening via the Web. I would like to acknowledge, for the sake of reconciliation, that we are meeting on the traditional, unceded land of the Algonquin peoples. My name is Lillian Dyck from Saskatchewan, and I have the privilege of chairing this committee.
I would now invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Patterson: I’m Dennis Patterson, senator for Nunavut.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from High River, Alberta.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator McCallum: Mary Jane McCallum, Manitoba.
Senator Boniface: Gwen Boniface, Ontario.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Senator Lovelace from New Brunswick.
The Chair: Thank you, senators. Tonight we continue our pre-study of Bill C-45, and we are happy to welcome from the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service, Mr. Steve Burton, Inspector, Criminal Investigative Psychologist. You have the floor to make a short presentation, after which we will have questions from senators.
Steve Burton, Inspector, Criminal Investigative Psychologist, Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service: Thank you very much for having me here today. On behalf of our police chief, Keith Blake, we’re very honoured to be before all of you tonight.
One of the things I want to bring up in regard to Tsuut’ina is that we’re located right next to Calgary, just for everybody’s benefit. We are a unique, I guess, reserve in the sense that we have the proximity to such a large metropolitan centre. There is a lot of opportunity, of course, on our reserve, where I know, from my reserve, there isn’t as much opportunity. But we’re taking advantage, of course, of what is available to us and doing it in a way that is honouring of our ancestors.
Tonight I guess one of the things that I wish to bring forward is the challenges that are in front of us with regard to legalization of cannabis, but, also, we have other challenges just as a First Nations police service.
My background is that I am Gitxsan from northern British Columbia. I’m very proud to be from that part of the province.
The challenges that First Nations police have are similar to the challenges that other First Nations areas have, such as education. The funding models are different. They are not to the levels that mainstream or other police agencies have. The other issues that confront us are that we’re undermanned; we’re under-resourced. We have increasing call loads because our populations, our youth, are becoming a significantly large portion of our reserves and nations. The total right now, for our reserve, is that about 60 per cent of our population is under the age of 30 years old, and that is going to be a long-term issue that we need to be in front of as to, with regard to your committee, how cannabis potentially can impact that for us.
From my background, I am a law enforcement officer. I have been so for 23 years now. I was with Calgary Police before joining Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service approximately five years ago. Since then it has been an interesting and rewarding time, but it has been challenging due to the different rules that we have to play by, so to speak.
As a psychologist, I get to see a lot of different things. There are mental health concerns, addiction concerns and increasing areas of domestic violence that continue to present themselves. We have challenges with regard to sexual violence. We have other issues that are unique to our people based upon, again, residential schools, the history of our people in Canada.
For myself, that’s a brief introduction, and I thank you for that opportunity.
The Chair: Thank you for that.
Senator Boniface: First, thank you very much for coming. I appreciate being able to go first because I have to leave for another meeting.
I think one of the issues and the challenges, which you would be very familiar with, are the funding agreements for First Nation communities, particularly for First Nation police services. With governments in the tripartite agreements, it’s a five-year process so every five years you’re trying to figure out what your next five will be, when and if it will come. Given the complexity of the issues and given that you have policed in Calgary, you know all the resources available to you.
I’m interested in what you see as the challenges going forward with Bill C-45. There’s a lot of discussion around the legalization process, but you have a very young community. From a treatment and resource perspective, can you speak a little more about that? I think it’s very unique in the First Nation and Aboriginal communities.
Mr. Burton: Thank you, senator. The big concerns that we have are with regard to how this will impact our youth. One of the things, for myself, is understanding the impact of drugs on brain development. What we do know and what we don’t know are almost equally the same.
What we do know is that there are impacts with regard to attention, short-term memory and the ability for people to focus and be as productive as they possibly can be. As we look long term, these are answers that we don’t have right now because, again, these studies are dealing with currently illicit drugs, and it would be improper and unethical to have trials and research with regard to young people from an early age.
We look at those impacts in a community or communities that have already been impacted by alcohol. We have a problem. We’re lucky in Tsuut’ina that we don’t have a problem with fentanyl, but other reserves and other nations do. I don’t know what the reason is, why we’re not affected to that degree, but we are affected by prescription drugs and that abuse. Combined with alcohol, it is a large problem, especially when we understand FASD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
If we look at the legalization of cannabis and adding that into the mix, we now have another drug that has the ability to alter brain development. We would have, again, maybe not so much in the way of physical deformities, but we would have brain deformities in the sense that neural pathways are changing. They are compensating for the drugs, the THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. That is what it would come down to.
Looking at the impact on impaired driving, the other side of it, we just have to look at Colorado. In 2016, they had 77 fatalities that were tied to active THC in the systems of the people involved. Every day, they’re arresting 60 people for being impaired by drugs, and 50 per cent of users of marijuana or cannabis admit to driving while under the influence.
So, if we look to our neighbours in the south, we are going to be looking at a significant problem up here. When we look at our First Nations communities, it’s going to translate onto the reserves as well.
The Chair: Do you have another question?
Senator Boniface: If I may.
The Chair: Yes.
Senator Boniface: I’ve talked to some of the communities to get a sense of the North in my home province of Ontario, and they’re flagging, at least in specific communities, that cannabis is not the issue but opioids are.
Mr. Burton: Yes.
Senator Boniface: I’m curious, in terms of the city of Calgary, given that you border it, how the two compare in that regard.
Mr. Burton: Yes. Well, fentanyl and opioids are a problem in Calgary. We do have issues that have occurred with regard to opioids. Recently, though, our issue comes down to narcotics, such as morphine. Hydromorphone was the drug that was found in the presence of one of our overdoses in the past couple of weeks, but we’re not seeing the fentanyl. There have been ties where fentanyl has been found in the blood on toxicology screens, but it hasn’t been as rampant as even next door in Calgary or on the Blood reserve down south in Alberta.
The issue is there. I acknowledge that the opioid crisis is there. Our experience has not reached that level. I would say that when we look at the combinations of alcohol and cannabis, you typically will not have one without the other. A lot of people will mix and enhance the effect of marijuana with alcohol. That is the biggest concern, too, when we’re looking at impaired driving, that you’re not just necessarily going to get someone who’s consuming cannabis; you’re going to get them also consuming alcohol, which doubles the impact.
Senator Boniface: But on the cannabis itself, you must see it in your work now.
Mr. Burton: Yes.
Senator Boniface: And how would you assess that?
Mr. Burton: The cannabis issue for us has been steady. It hasn’t been the instigator of violent crime. It hasn’t been related to problems, much like the northern reserves are saying. People relate it to medicinal marijuana, that it has fewer consequences. But when used inappropriately, it sometimes has worse consequences.
When we’re talking about impacts to the brain, a lot of questions are still unanswered when it comes to that. The research is not quite conclusive, in my opinion, on what those effects truly will be. But we’re looking at the increased risk of testicular cancer, we’re looking at FMRI studies down in the States that are showing that the grey matter and the white matter in the brains are being affected. The white matter is where you have the myelination of the axons in the brain to facilitate the synapses that go on that keep us thinking and doing very well at that. But there is a deficiency occurring for the chronic users of marijuana. They’re finding that the neural pathways are having to compensate and find another way to work as opposed to what you would normally expect.
There is ongoing research that’s showing there’s an impact, but it hasn’t caught up to where it would be something that would be definitive that this is what’s going on. I look at it from a concern 10 years down the road and what that’s going to look like in the communities.
Senator Boniface: Thank you, and thank you for the indulgence of my colleagues as well.
Senator Doyle: Thank you for being here. I appreciate it very much.
Some Indigenous organizations and individuals have told us that there has been insufficient consultation with them on the proposed legalization legislation of cannabis. Do you agree? Is that something you’ve observed as an investigative psychologist, that we could have used a lot more consultation on this and maybe some kind of a televised educational campaign that would have helped people like yourselves and Indigenous people, and Canadian people generally, about what’s going on?
You talk about the effect on the brain. We’ve had a lot of doctors in talking about it as well and they agree totally with you on their analysis of it all. Consultation is always a must when you’re bringing in something so important. Agreed?
Mr. Burton: I agree, yes.
Senator Doyle: Surveys — I’m sure you’re aware of this as well — suggest that cannabis use among Indigenous youth is already higher than in non-Indigenous populations. Now that it’s going to be legalized, will that make it even worse? In your view, what’s going to happen there? Will the legalization of it mean higher usage among Indigenous youth and among Canadians generally?
Mr. Burton: I believe so. The availability of it, of course, will reduce or eliminate the stigma about cannabis. Having it in homes will be legal. As children, you’re going to perhaps be tempted to try it at an earlier age. When we look at addictive properties, the earlier that someone gets involved with substances, the more likely it is that they’ll become addicted or, potentially, that they’ll try other drugs — the gateway theory, that this is the start, either through tobacco or alcohol, and then it just progresses. The earlier age is one of the factors that they’ve described as an indicator.
So, you’d have those children that, again, would have it around and potentially take it, especially in the edible arena. They look like gummy bears or regular candies.
Senator Doyle: Or biscuits.
Mr. Burton: Yes. They’re wrapped, marketed and packaged in a way that is very attractive from the United States.
We sent a team of our senior officers down to Seattle and Puyallup, which is a First Nation just outside of Seattle, to see what the impact has been. Now, it hasn’t been this violent epidemic or anything like that. We’re not saying that it ever would be. What it has done is brought it out into the open.
One of our big concerns was that it was packaged in a way that was very flashy.
Senator Doyle: Very attractive.
Mr. Burton: Yes, very attractive. Kids would be attracted to it.
There was also an interesting sidebar with regard to the legalization. In some areas, they saw an increase in burn centre admissions for people who had done or were trying cannabis, because as it alters your perception, perhaps the cause is they fall asleep or other things, and it starts a fire and causes those incidents.
I truly believe, yes, the availability of it will mean that younger people will begin trying it earlier, and certainly below the age of 18. When we look at brain development, the brain is still developing up until the mid-twenties. That’s still seven years, give or take, that the brain is still developing, but it’s going to be legal.
Senator Doyle: Does the average police force have an opinion about whether would they have sufficient resources and trained personnel to deal with what will obviously be the results of an increase from legalization?
Mr. Burton: The short answer is no. When we’re talking about First Nations policing, we operate, maybe as most of you all know, on a five-year program contract. After those five years, it has to be renewed or, potentially, we lose our designation as police officers.
What the program means is that we’re not designated an essential service. The funding can be cancelled at any time. We are at the whim of the program, so to speak. It’s something where you have, for example, the RCMP and other municipal police agencies, and they are designated as essential services; we’re not. That is a disparity that is problematic.
When we’re looking at trying to enforce the upcoming legislation, we don’t have the tools. We don’t have the people trained, the drug recognition experts. Those are training programs that require extensive time. There’s only one way to become a drug recognition expert, and part of that is being sent to Florida for two weeks in order to receive part one of the training, and then you have to go back another time up to Edmonton. For us to arrange that training when we’re already low on manpower, we have to find a way to backfill that position or positions with other officers. So that’s overtime that increases.
When you look at trying to enforce it on the roadways, right now the only option we have is taking blood in order to test it, and we’re not comfortable with that. So there are some problems.
I think the ambitious timelines, while maybe well-intentioned, unfortunately are not realistic for us to be able to enforce them.
Senator Doyle: Thank you.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Welcome here tonight. Do you think that First Nations communities should have their own policies on whether to grow marijuana or have dispensaries? We know our own people, and we know what the problem is. The outside world doesn’t.
I live in a community where there are drugs and alcohol, but I feel that if we know what the problem is for our own children and there’s funding, then we can fix the problem. Plus it’s a financial opportunity for First Nations, which they never have.
Mr. Burton: Yes. I agree with you 100 per cent. From an economic standpoint, there is no issue, I don’t think, from us to see the benefit for our people from just that. I think it has to go hand in hand with the education. It has to go hand in hand with really acknowledging what our issues are in each community.
When we have that and we have the ability to trust the police — in our community we’re called Tosguna which is the “Black Warriors.” It’s a term of respect and a term of — I wouldn’t say endearment, but it’s the community knowing that we’re their police agency, we’re their police.
A lot of people still call us “tribal,” and we enjoy that because we police according to what our community values are. In that instance, we are really neutral in the whole thing. If our nation wants to go ahead with production and distribution, then we will support them in whatever way we need to, with the understanding that we have to educate and keep our young people on the path.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: In our community, in the East anyway, in the Maritimes, we don’t have our own tribal policing and our communities don’t trust the RCMP, so I think we should have our own, in order to gain our trust like your people trust you and our people would trust our own policing.
Mr. Burton: That’s a big thing. When we go back to the earlier question from the honourable senator about the First Nations policing program and whether it and the resources are adequate, they aren’t. Ideally, each nation would have their own police service, because as you point out, nobody is going to know us better than us. We need to move further down that road of accepting it and making it mainstream, as opposed to once again being kind of an afterthought.
It never really dawned on me until I moved from Calgary to Tsuut’ina that we’re not considered the same. For a lot of years, it was thought of as second-rate, second-class policing. It wasn’t as good as the city or the RCMP. But really, when you get the right people — and we’re fortunate in that we have a lot of really good people that have come over from all the different agencies, because our chief of police is a good man that knows what we need to do. He has worked in nine different First Nations communities, so he understands the whole picture.
From our team, we have been able to make some tremendous strides in changing that mentality from the other police services, the RCMP, the province and our representatives with Public Safety in the federal government. We’ve shown them that even while we’re underfunded, we can come up with innovative ways to police our community and try to be preventative.
The proactive style of policing can only be done with the resources. When you don’t have the resources, you’re going from call to call to call and you’re not doing any good. You’re putting out fires. I didn’t join up to be a fireman. I joined up to be a policeman.
What we’re doing right now is getting out there and helping those families that need it because we’re going to be seeing them next week. We’re going to be seeing them at the next powwow. We’ll see them at the next feast and gathering. When we have those positive relationships, even though maybe I arrested you a month ago, I dealt with you in a respectful way and I have gotten you help. I have gotten you pointed in the right direction of different services and other things that you or your family needs.
All our officers are trained to do that and that’s where we have overcome and we have built the trust. We have shown our people that we are their police. It’s through the actions. It’s never through the talk, because you can tell people anything you want. When you follow through, that’s when we build everything.
Senator Raine: Thank you. It’s wonderful to hear your experience.
I know that marijuana use has been around for a long time. I think it is very positive that we are now going to recognize that and legalize it and control it and educate people about the harms that can be done, but we are moving forward quite quickly and I would like to hear what kind of resources you see out there in the community for the youth and their parents as to the long-term damage done if the kids start too young.
I know that sometimes when you drink alcohol you can get violent, whereas I think that with cannabis you get calmer. So perhaps that’s not a bad thing. If we’re all worried about the young people, the thing I can’t wrap my head around is the older people who think, “It’s okay, I’m feeling better on cannabis than I was when I was drinking, but you can’t do it.”
How do we bridge that education gap? Is there some storytelling happening? Is there some resource that you’re using in your communities for this?
Mr. Burton: Yes, those resources haven’t been rolled out as yet. We’re working towards it. That’s where, working with Alberta Health Services, our provincial agency, is really essential in getting that message out.
It’s also getting the buy-in from the parents in the communities. We really have to work hard at engaging them, because I think with many parents you always assume or want to believe that your child will never do that because it’s not something that you would ever want them to do. But if you are not open with your children and don’t address it, then how do you really know that they are getting the message?
That’s the final, big piece that makes the difference: getting into the families. What I would foresee — and this is intensive — is having the community meetings, but knowing that not everybody is going to attend, combined with outreach. We’re fortunate, but in some rural, remote areas, they may not have nurses or others with that level of knowledge and understanding to be able to go and speak to smaller groups like individual families at their homes.
When we’re talking about First Nations, a lot of our issues come down to transportation and being able to get to where those services and supports are. Also, in some communities you don’t have a place that you could have large gatherings for groups to attend.
This comes down, once again, to whether we have the right messaging going out to our communities. That’s the big piece of getting that message across.
You have the older adults that have experienced it, and probably, again, either for medicinal purposes or anxiety or stress, I have no issue with people using it for medicinal purposes. Even from a limited recreational side of the house, as long as they are not driving under the influence of cannabis, there is nothing there that causes me great concern as an adult post 25 years of age.
My hang-up and my concern keeps coming back to the youth and the adolescents. Whether 18 years of age is the right age for legalization is the hang-up for me. I am not convinced that that’s the right number.
Senator Raine: In your community, in Tsuut’ina, would the council and the elders be able to institute an older age in your community to give the children and young people the strong message that they should wait? Would you anticipate that would happen in First Nations communities?
Mr. Burton: It can, yes. With band council resolutions, or BCRs, as we call them, that can be implemented and changed. They could either ban it outright on the nation or they could change the age themselves. That option is there, yes.
Senator Raine: Maybe if you did change the age, you could tell your young people that you will rule the world because you will be okay when everybody else isn’t.
Mr. Burton: Yes. I used to do a talk with some of the elementary schools in Calgary and that was part it. With alcohol and other drugs, due to the death of those brain cells, you’re never going to really know what your potential ever was. This is the same discussion of saying, “You know what? Maybe you would have been the next Einstein, but with that one joint, now you’re Beavis or something like that.”
That is a concern. I don’t think that portion gets out there enough either to help with the education and really show that there are lots of benefits — yes, I get it; I don’t dispute that. But there is also potentially a downside, depending where you are in your development.
Senator Raine: Would you think that in your community, elders would support you in this. That would be very important.
Mr. Burton: Again, speaking to Senator Lovelace’s earlier questions, we try to maintain a neutral position on it, except for when we’re talking about the criminal element of the driving while impaired. Up until now, it’s something that hasn’t been really openly or publicly discussed in the nation as of yet.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for coming. It’s nice to meet you. I wanted to follow up from Senator Raine about the education around marijuana.
You mentioned all the problems that exist and that preventive programs have never worked in our communities. There are all those social determinants of health. It’s also the root causes that drive addictions, such as sexual abuse, family violence and institutional violence. That includes the chief and council, because there is some violence that comes from there.
I was very glad to hear that you are building the trust. Once you have that with your health professionals or the police force, it makes it much easier to go beyond your policing. Normally people see the police in terms of punitive stuff.
Mr. Burton: Yes.
Senator McCallum: We have tried working with the RCMP on our reserve.
When you look at the education and the public health program, you are already doing a lot of it, which is getting the buy-in from parents. In almost all the communities I have been to in Manitoba, I have never heard issues of sexual abuse come up. It’s hidden, and people don’t want to bring it up for many reasons. Yesterday was the first time, when we met with the Quebec Cree, that they had it under their mental health that sexual abuse was a priority.
You can get the buy-in from parents, and you can have the community meetings, but how do you think the level of the root causes could be addressed? Do you know where I’m going?
Mr. Burton: It’s a larger issue, because if we’re dealing with people who already have pre-existing or co-morbid issues — for example, a survivor of residential schools suffering from major depression — and who are then self-medicating with either alcohol or drugs, it’s going to really impact those symptoms.
High levels of THC with depression is not a good thing. It has been shown in several studies that it’s almost a cocktail for suicide, to a degree. It doesn’t conclusively say that, but the studies are saying that depression and THC are not a good thing.
Keeping that in mind, we need to be aware of who those people are, too, who have either pre-existing alcoholism, or pre-existing drug addictions or mental health issues such as schizophrenia. Cannabis can trigger relapse for psychosis and schizophrenia. That’s another thing we have to be aware of.
There are lots of really good things about cannabis that can be done in a positive way — research and the medicinal side. However there are these sides, too, and we’re not 100 per cent sure if it does or it doesn’t do these things that make situations worse.
When we’re looking at our communities, specifically, I do have those other concerns of those people who are already suffering mental health issues. There is the availability and the ability to not only use, but then, because we’re on the nation, on the reserve, it’s going to be tax-free to purchase. Then, what is going to stop someone from saying, “Hey, I’m going to deal, because I get a deal already. I don’t have to pay tax. I’m going to add a little bit of markup onto what I got and sell it out in the city or wherever.” It just begets one thing after another — a lifestyle. You get into that black market. Unless we have enough production to meet the demand and eliminate the black market, that’s always going to be an issue.
I don’t think we’re going to have the production in order to meet the demand. That black market won’t be going away.
Our people can get drawn into that. We can see, potentially, an issue of gangs or organized crime set up distribution or production on the nation, either formally through the actual application processes or informally where nation members are potentially buying cannabis in larger quantities than they are allowed to and just selling it at an inflated price. But that’s also going to be determined by THC levels and whether they make better, higher-level THC elsewhere.
All these factors are still there. There are a lot of things that I’m not 100 per cent sure were considered with the timelines of rolling this out and allowing police to prepare. I know the RCMP are just hammered with the inability to police, because they don’t have the bodies.
To go back again to our people who have those pre-existing issues, we need intensive counselling already, even pre-cannabis; we need intensive counselling. We need to be able to address those issues from decades ago first. Then, we have to look at the now.
That hasn’t been done. I don’t know how we’re going to play catch-up on that.
Senator McCallum: Would it be safe to say that right now there is no model of an education program in place directed at the root causes of addiction?
Mr. Burton: I have not seen one directed to First Nations.
Senator McCallum: The danger is that when you trigger those deep causes, especially sexual abuse, it’s going to trigger the whole community. There was one. It was the one in Hollow Water. They had looked at that issue. If that’s triggered, then that community will even be in bigger turmoil.
Mr. Burton: Collateral trauma.
Senator McCallum: Yes.
Mr. Burton: When you look at just one event — we had a very tragic impaired fatality just a year and a half ago. That’s what it did: It triggered a lot of emotion and a lot of intra-familial anger, resentment and so on.
The underlying issue was addiction. It was substance abuse. It was, again, this overarching thing that we are most concerned about, which is impaired driving. That is, I think, going to be our largest issue to address, but getting at the root cause, we don’t have the resources to address that as police.
My role recently has been to advise and support families in getting their loved ones help, and that means, in Alberta, that it’s a Form 10 mental health warrant, where the police can seize someone who’s in a mental health crisis, or going to court and having a judge, through a Form 7, issue a warrant — it’s called a Form 8 warrant — to apprehend that family member. I have been advising families on how to get that Form 8 warrant from a judge. One of the issues underlying it has been addiction. The most recent one is that there’s chronic cannabis use that is impacting and interacting with a likely mental health diagnosis, and it’s not confirmed, but either schizophrenia or bipolar.
We’re looking at these particular examples. They don’t necessarily represent a larger sample or cross-section, but it’s enough for us to see what that does and the damage it does. We’re always having to look at things from that perspective, the worst-case scenario, because that’s our job. Our job is to try to reduce the community’s anxiety, the individual’s anxiety, with what we do, with the services that we provide. It’s tough to do when we’re always battling that lack of resources.
The Chair: I have a question for you as a follow-up. We heard previously from another witness who had said that cannabis use could trigger schizophrenia but that it was exacerbated if the community had high levels of trauma. Have you heard that as well? Is that your understanding of the literature?
Mr. Burton: It is, yes. Again, with the unique makeup of our communities, it is. It’s that buildup, cumulative trauma. I’ve tried to, I guess, explain it over the years to others who don’t have the knowledge of our history. We don’t have the mental health or the health money to really face this head on. Sometimes we’re blocked by our own people’s unwillingness to bring it out into the open. There’s a shame; there’s an embarrassment that’s associated with it. But, at the same time, we’re unable to really focus on the problems and get those people who need the help that help they require.
The Chair: If you were to make one or two recommendations, what would you recommend?
Mr. Burton: I would say the biggest issue is funding for mental health. I would say, in the first instance, it’s treatment and then, in the second instance, it’s education, because right now the inadequate funding to get the numbers of people who require it is — Well, that may always be a problem. I don’t know if there is something that can be done. I don’t even have a number that I could give you that it would take to get into all the communities, the remote communities, to send the nurses, the psychiatric nurses and the psychiatrists. Then we have to do the monitoring, the follow-up and the ongoing treatment. It’s a daunting task, but it’s the only way that we’re going to get to the heart of this.
Senator Raine: I was talking recently with a family doctor who had come from a practice in one of the Gulf Islands, where cannabis use has been going on for a long time, and he painted a pretty sorry picture of the impact on society when a large number of people are habitual users of cannabis. He cited really low performance in school by their children and that it’s definitely not a benign substance. He was very concerned about how we can prevent young children from becoming involved.
He said one of the good things that can happen is an emphasis on sports and recreation programs. I know that’s hard to do on a reserve where everybody is spread out, but you must have a school. Most communities have a school, at least up to junior high school level, I guess. Are you seeing the possibility for sport and school activities, like band and drumming and dancing, as possibly an outlet where you can have youth workers and leaders who put forward a positive social action to counterbalance the other?
Mr. Burton: Yes, and we do, on the nation, have those things. Hockey is very big and very competitive. It’s good to see a lot of families heavily involved in hockey. Baseball in the summer. Then there is the traditional drumming, traditional not arts per se — But I know recently we’ve had animals, moose, being hit on the highway, and one of our teachers has a traditional group. They’ll go out, and he’ll show them how to skin it and utilize all of the fur and the meat and the horns in a way that you can do the carving and teach them the traditional way.
They have that ability at Tsuut’ina. That’s why I say Tsuut’ina has a very unique, I guess, setup the way that they’ve organized things, but I would dare to say that due to numbers and, again, remoteness in other communities, they may not even have their own school where a lot of these programs are based, again for the youth. Or the schools may be just trailers. They may be single-wide trailers or something to that effect, just ATCOs or something. I know we’re very fortunate. Not all have that.
Now it comes down to the numbers in order to be able to have a team of some sort, and then you have to look at the travel to go to play other teams. Is that something that, once again, could be funded or looked at as an opportunity for the young people?
But I would agree. That is something that we have to do. We have to give them options because otherwise they may just sit. A big thing, many years ago, of course, was the huffing. It still is, to a degree, in some communities, but that’s the —
Senator Raine: Huffing is?
Mr. Burton: The ingestion of vapours from different substances, be it glue, be it kerosene.
Senator Raine: I asked this doctor about mixing alcohol and marijuana, and he said that it is definitely much worse if you mix the two together. Interestingly enough, he said that there is a very simple impairment test that can be done on the spot, and impairment can be determined. It’s basically walking a straight line and putting your finger to your nose, and most police officers can determine that a person is impaired to the point where they should not be driving.
On the island there, they have what I guess it’s kind of like a code, where, if you can’t do that, then somebody takes your keys.
Mr. Burton: Right. Yes.
Senator Raine: That’s something you could almost do as a community. It doesn’t have to be the policeman taking the keys away; it can be a friend taking the keys away.
Mr. Burton: I think, senator, that’s a great way for us to uncomplicate the law because, as it stands, we’re looking at — and what we’ve been told is — that we have to measure the nanograms per millilitre of the drug in the system in order to charge under that, to say that you’re impaired by drug, and here’s how many nanograms per millilitre you had in your system. Well, I don’t know. Just by looking at someone I can tell they’re impaired, but that doesn’t meet the legal threshold of me charging them or getting them convicted in court. It’s like, “It’s your opinion, officer, that they’re impaired based on those criteria.”
It’s the same thing currently with alcohol. First, we have visuals. We can say that they were weaving, or walking funny, with glossy eyes and slurred speech, that type of thing, but then we have to take them back to the office and have them blow on the Intoxilyzer, a big machine that reads how much alcohol per millilitre is in their blood. It’s calculated from that. That technology is required in order to reach the legal threshold to get a conviction.
Perhaps we could uncomplicate the law or the charging portions — I don’t know whether or not the officer’s opinion would suffice or meet that threshold in the face of a judge, or an appeal, or something like that. That would be the ideal. I don’t know what the appetite would be from the legal side, though.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I’m going to continue on a question from Senator McCallum on mental health. Do First Nations communities get the same mental health monies as the rest of Canada?
Mr. Burton: The short answer is no.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I expected that answer. Do you think mental health issues and the continuing issues of mental health are part of the problem?
Mr. Burton: It is. It’s unresolved mental health. When we talked about collateral trauma, it’s young people in those homes with those suffering from poor mental health who are experiencing and witnessing those crises and being traumatized by that. It just perpetuates itself. It’s ongoing.
Imagine being in a home where your parents or siblings were mentally ill. There’s screaming, delusions and uncertainty. You’re always living on edge and never have an opportunity to relax. Over time, that’s your reality. I would say that’s a big issue and an ongoing issue, again, unresolved for many generations now.
The Chair: Senator McCallum, do you have a quick question?
Senator McCallum: I wanted to ask you about taking blood. You take blood samples when you stop the people and you’re suspicious?
Mr. Burton: That’s what’s suggested with regard to the cannabis, yes.
Senator McCallum: What do you do with that blood if you’re on the highway somewhere? What do you do with the people whom you’ve taken the blood from? Don’t you need consent for it?
Mr. Burton: The way it’s proposed — and, again, it hasn’t been rolled out yet — is that if they’re stopped and you suspect that they’re impaired by drugs, you would read them a demand to take their blood and then you would just take the blood right there on the side of the road. I’m not trained yet. They’re saying that we would be trained, but like I say, I don’t want any part of that, to be honest. You have someone with a blood disorder or anemia, and you hit the wrong spot — for example, someone with HIV, TB or HEP. We don’t know and they may not tell us, but if you hit the wrong spot it will hit you in your face.
A few things need to be ironed out and we hope they will get them ironed out.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We’ve come to the end of our time. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank you, Mr. Burton, for appearing tonight and bringing to us some of the practical realities of how this bill will be implemented and its effect on policing, as well as on the community.
On our second panel today, we are fortunate to have our very own Senator Patterson, who’s going to speak to us about what he heard regarding the cannabis legislation while he toured all of the communities in Nunavut.
Honourable Senator Patterson, you have the floor. As you know, we will have questions for you once you are finished.
Senator Patterson: Honourable senators, thank you. I’m Dennis Patterson and I’m the senator for Nunavut.
I want to thank you sincerely for giving me the privileged opportunity to present to this committee the concerns that I heard during my recent consultation effort in my home territory of Nunavut. I am truly humbled.
I recently returned from an intense tour throughout Nunavut in which I visited all 25 communities, sometimes in very inclement March weather. I met with every mayor and community council, often on a Saturday or a Sunday; hosted public meetings and call-in radio shows — and I can tell you there was one call after the other — and visited some schools to engage with youth. Much of my consultations were conducted in Inuktitut with simultaneous translation.
I can tell you that the people of Nunavut are very engaged in the issue of this bill. About 45 people turned out on a Saturday afternoon in the small community of Cape Dorset. I also spoke with Nunavut Tunngavik. You heard from their president. Thank you for hearing from her about how the bill had not been properly consulted on with them and how it should be slowed down until they have been properly consulted.
It’s difficult to capture 25 days of intense interface in a few minutes, so I’d like to focus on common themes that I heard throughout the tour.
I’d like to begin by stating that some people did speak in favour of it. Marijuana is used widely in Nunavut and people are routinely paying $50 a gram and sometimes more than $100 a gram. Many thought that lower costs could mean more money for food or clothing in a place with a sky-high cost of living, but many people also seem to fear that cheaper, easier access would mean more use and risk, especially to young people. There was a very strong concern about young people.
There was also a very common theme about elder abuse and that bullying of elders for drug money, already a problem, could well become worse. Thank you for hearing from the elders Shooyook and Uttak, who spoke for themselves about that issue.
I want to mention that in three high school classes I talked to, where we had secret ballot votes after I explained as objectively as I could what the bill would do, the young people were in the majority against the bill. It was also apparent to me that there was a lot of confusion, misconceptions and an overall lack of education surrounding the bill. Some thought it was about legalizing medical marijuana, while others, mainly elders, expressed their strong fear and heartbreak in most compelling terms.
I was regularly asked to define “a gram” and eventually took to carrying around bags of parsley that had been measured into 1-gram, 5-grams and 30-grams Ziploc bags so I could use them as visual aids in discussing the bill.
I often heard about how rushed Nunavummiut felt this process has been. Before me, no one from the federal government had visited the territory to speak to community members. One councillor told me that because of this lack of consultation, they didn’t even feel as though they were a part of Canada.
You heard from Nunavut Tunngavik President, Aluki Kotierk, that one brief meeting with Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair when she happened to be in Ottawa for another meeting was not satisfactory consultation. She told him he must visit Nunavut.
My takeaway from these conversations is that many feel the level of consultation was severely lacking from the beginning. Even the newly elected Government of Nunavut has only held public meeting consultations in 10 of Nunavut’s 25 communities, and then only sent Finance Department officials to listen to their concerns.
I had many people ask me if there was a way for the government to slow this bill down in order to give hamlets and municipalities an opportunity to draft the appropriate bylaws and employee policies, and train bylaw officers who will, due to limiting police resources in the North, often be the main enforcers.
Many Nunavut communities have put in place effective controls on alcohol or even a ban on alcohol. It doesn’t eliminate alcohol problems but reduces them. Can we be given the authority to do the same with cannabis, they asked?
It’s important also to note that the Government of Nunavut, due to a recent election in the late fall and a change in government, is the last jurisdiction in Canada to introduce a legislative framework for dealing with legal marijuana. A delay in the coming into force of this bill would give more time to the territorial government to put in place a thoughtful bill that responds to the unique challenges of Nunavut and at the same time enable hamlets to respond appropriately by introducing complementary bylaws and policies.
Many hamlets expressed grave concerns about the impact of having easier access to cheaper marijuana on their employees and citizens. Is there a test for impairment by marijuana, they asked? And, of course, they’re concerned about many of their employees who drive heavy equipment in very adverse conditions.
Second, I heard a lot about the potential social impacts of this bill, a very common theme. There are no treatment centres in Nunavut. Many communities have inadequate or are totally without mental health supports and resources. When people talk about addressing this, they talk about training local people to be mental health workers. Transient, non-Inuit mental health workers aren’t trusted and effective. Culturally based treatment programs are required with an emphasis on on-the-land healing.
I also heard that more recreation facilities would help encourage youth to stay away from drugs and engage in healthier lifestyles. Please understand that youth in Nunavut, and I think in many Indigenous communities, are a much higher proportion of the population than anywhere else. On average, 50 per cent of Nunavummiut are under 25 and in Naujaat, formerly Repulse Bay, the hamlet told me that 50 per cent of that community’s population of 1,300 was under 12 years of age. In each community, I was asked multiple times if it would be possible to streamline the tax revenues from marijuana sales to pay for addiction treatment centres, increase mental health support, and recreation facilities. Where is the tax money going, they asked? Many people actually thought the bill was really about money.
It has been estimated that approximately $400 million will be raised in tax revenues in the first year alone, possibly a conservative estimate, should the bill pass. Imagine what that could mean for the social and mental well-being in this country if the funds were earmarked for mental health and wellness.
The main concerns I heard, though, were about youth. Elders and youth alike echoed what I heard from health professionals. The young brain continues to develop until around the age of 25. I was amazed at the number of people, sometimes unilingual elders, who linked cannabis use to schizophrenia and used the term “schizophrenia.” This was their experience. We heard it from a witness before this committee, George Qulaut, on Monday.
The youth who are dealing with trauma can be even more susceptible to mental health problems from cannabis use. With that in mind, people in every community, whether they professed to be for or against the bill, took exception with the clause in the bill that would reduce possession of 5 grams or less by a youth older than 12 and younger than 18 to a ticketable offence. Across the board, it was felt that limiting this to a ticketable offence would not serve a strong enough disincentive for youth possession. Many people said kids aren’t allowed to buy cigarettes and they’re still smoking at very young ages in our communities.
Of course it’s the sole jurisdiction, honourable senators, under this bill of a province or territory to outline the ticketing regime. However, based on the concerns I heard, I would suggest this committee consider putting forth an amendment that would bring about clearer, stronger disincentives for youth possession.
The same thing was said about the growing of plants, which may well again be a territorial jurisdiction. People said this is the last thing we need in our overcrowded housing. It’s going to consume power. It’s going to increase moisture and add to the mold problem. This committee has observed that in its housing study. There’s a danger of fire from lamps and more use of expensive power. There will be break-and-enters.
While I understand the jurisdiction of the territories in this matter, again, virtually everywhere people expressed the concern that growing plants sends the signal that marijuana is normalized and sends a signal to youth and elders in these overcrowded homes that marijuana is okay.
Let me say, in conclusion, honourable colleagues, that I found the citizens of Nunavut, young and old alike, generally to be expressing great apprehension about the impact on a population that is reeling from mental health problems, alcohol addiction, family violence and suicide on the heels of a history of relocation, dog slaughter and residential schools, in communities where school attendance is sadly often around 50 per cent already, without this new threat.
We arrived in one community that was just recovering from a very intense standoff with the RCMP, Baker Lake. This is very traumatizing to a small community. One occurred during our stay at Pond Inlet, a remote community in north Baffin Island where a chartered plane with 27 RCMP officers in swat gear flew in to deal with the standoff. I’m afraid these are regular events in our Nunavut communities. One happened since I arrived back in Ottawa in another very small community, Clyde River.
Our communities are in a state of crisis and that’s what I heard from many people.
In Arctic Bay we were meeting with the council. The mayor and council and the senior administrative officer told us, after the meeting, there had been an incident in the community hall. A young 15-year-old student at the school had been ejected from the hall by the recreation officer for having marijuana. There was a concern that young person was going to be selling marijuana and a knife was pulled. We were told about that incident. The next morning, after we left, we learned that young person had committed suicide.
I tell you these stories to tell you about the vulnerable social fabric in Nunavut. Many people are very concerned about the impact of this major change on our already very fragile social fabric, which they see as being imposed from afar without consultation. One recommendation was that the impact must be monitored.
Colleagues, again, there is more I can share with you from this trip. I am honoured to be allowed to give you some impressions that were themes throughout the trip. I’m working now on a detailed report that will summarize what I heard in every community and that report will be completed well before this committee is scheduled to report back.
Once again, I am honoured to be asked to present as objectively as I can about what I heard in my communities. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Patterson.
Before we begin, I would like to thank you for that. I know you visited so many communities, and we appreciate the brief summary that you have given us tonight.
I do note some themes that we also observed when the committee was on its trip in western Canada. I am going to mention a couple.
For instance, you talked about the elder abuse. I believe it was in Île-à-la-Crosse where we met with a group elders and heard a similar theme. The elders said that they were being asked for money, that the youth were desperate for cash and would be stealing from them. So the elders were caught. That theme came up there as well.
The other thing I would like to mention is you mentioned the association of cannabis with perhaps an increased vulnerability to schizophrenia or psychosis. We heard a witness on Monday mention that. While you had to step out, our witness this evening, Mr. Burton, also confirmed in his professional capacity and knowledge of the literature that that is a definite association, and that communities with high levels of trauma are more vulnerable to that as well.
So thank you for bringing those comments to us.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your presentation. It sounds crazy that a country would pass a law knowing it will do so much known and unknown damage to vulnerable groups of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
What do you see as the greater good that will be achieved with this bill? It’s because I have such concern about it that I’m trying to see if things will be better in the future if we pass this.
Senator Patterson: Thank you for the question.
Many people say that we should move with this bill because there are lots of people using marijuana. I’m the first one to say, and maybe I didn’t make it clear, that it is widely used in my communities in Nunavut. I have done a bit of door-to-door campaigning in elections, and you often can tell when you open a door.
People are paying exorbitant amounts of money. One of the benefits, it is said, would be that people who are using marijuana will no longer be subject to criminal records and interface with the law. There was kind of a war on drugs when I first came to the North in the 1970s, even though in southern Canada it was kind of Yorkville and a world of hippies where there was a blind eye cast. This business of eliminating a criminal record by this bill is probably a positive thing because many people in the North do have criminal records or would have interface with the law.
Madam Chair, that can be dealt with by decriminalization. That would have been a step that I would have thought would have been beneficial to eliminate this problem of criminal records for people trying to get jobs and interface with the police. That didn’t have to be addressed by legalizing recreational marijuana, making it cheaper and making it more accessible.
I think that part of the bill is probably something that I would agree with, but I do not believe you have to legalize it to eliminate the problem of criminal records amongst youth.
Many people are saying, if it’s cheaper, we won’t be spending huge parts of our income on $50-a-gram marijuana, where kids don’t eat and therefore they don’t go to school. But many people are saying that because of the stress upon our communities, the problems of poverty, dislocation and depression, people are just going to buy more if the price goes down. It is just going to lead to more use of marijuana and easier access to marijuana.
We had a beer and wine store open in Iqaluit, my home community, for the first time in 40 years. It was the first beer and wine store that opened in the territories on kind of an experimental basis last year. The projected sales for a year were made in a month. There were line-ups for blocks to buy beer and wine in the very cold weather. Many people were saying, “It’s going to be like the beer and wine store in Iqaluit. People are just going to use more if the price goes down.”
The argument is people will be able to buy food and clothes. It will remain to be seen. I would hope there would be some way of monitoring, if this law passes, the effect on school attendance, for example, which is really a grievous concern in our communities.
I’m trying to think of some positive aspects. Thank you.
Senator McCallum: Would it be possible to break this bill in half and have one decriminalize it and the rest —
Senator Patterson: I should probably ask a legal expert. I think the fundamental purpose of the bill is to legalize recreational marijuana. It’s really not to decriminalize. Decriminalizing is a benefit of the bill or a side aspect of the bill because it’s making use and possession legal, where it is now illegal.
I would think, if we were to decide that decriminalization would be beneficial, and that’s the modest next step that Canada should take, it would need a new bill. We should reject this bill and offer a new bill. That would probably be what would happen from my limited legislative experience.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Thank you, colleague, for being here tonight.
I heard your people’s plea. Would it be, again, our own making of policy that would help with some of these serious problems that our youth are having?
As I asked the other gentleman, our own policy on marijuana I think is important because, like I said, we know our own problems and we know how to deal with them, but then we just don’t have the resources. What do you think about having our own policy in the territories, in my territory, and out West?
Senator Patterson: If we truly believe in self-government, this committee especially should support giving the communities the option to determine their own regime for this dangerous, new, highly impactful drug. I’m not saying it works perfectly, but it works quite well with alcohol, at least to reduce the unrestrained abuse of alcohol in many communities in my region. We should support that right, especially for Indigenous communities, if we believe in self-government.
I would also say that I would like to see us challenge the federal government. Some people say this bill is about money. It’s going to make a lot of money for producers and it’s going to raise a lot of money for governments. Why don’t we channel this money into dealing with the impacts that we are pretty confident are going to happen — providing recreational facilities for youth, allowing communities to provide for mental health and community-based, culturally appropriate wellness programs? That might be a very good new approach to respecting communities’ abilities to look after themselves and dealing with the concerns we have heard that this is just about money. The revenues are going into the Consolidated Revenue Fund and we’ll still be left with inadequate recreation and mental health wellness and treatment facilities in our communities.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: If we have our own dispensaries and our own policies and everything, we could generate the tax ourselves; isn’t that correct?
Senator Patterson: Madam Chair, we heard from Manny Jules, the chief tax commissioner, that he has consulted with hundreds of First Nation communities who are exactly interested in obtaining tax revenues from the production of marijuana because, first of all, it is a business opportunity, but more important, they are governments that have to deal with health and education. They have to take care of their young people. They need those revenues to do their job as governments in their communities and not be left out of the tax windfall that is otherwise going to the provinces and the federal government.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Exactly. What is your feeling on medically prescribed marijuana that has helped PTSD, anxiety or epilepsy?
Senator Patterson: It’s allowed now under Canadian law. It’s working well. I didn’t hear any people in my communities opposing that. Some said it was very helpful. Some were confusing this bill with medical marijuana, but it shouldn’t be confused. It is being carefully regulated under a doctor’s prescription, and it has been shown to have benefits.
We should not let that regime influence our view on this new wide-open, easy access, cheaper — you can store unlimited quantities of marijuana at home for medical use. You can grow plants without any inspection or control over what pesticides or herbicides go into the plants. That’s a totally different regime from medical marijuana, which is carefully restricted and regulated.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much, Senator Patterson.
Is there anything in the jurisdiction of Nunavut that would not allow them to take charge of all marijuana distribution and sales in the territory?
Senator Patterson: I think you’re right, Senator Raine. The bill, some people would say, dumps responsibilities on provinces and territories. The territory can set the age limit. The territory can control the stores. The territory can regulate on plants. The territory can set up a regime to fine kids who possess a certain amount, instead of using the Criminal Code. So, yes, I think there are significant powers that at least the Nunavut territorial government could exercise under this bill.
However, I think we also have an opportunity — either in amendments to the bill or in recommendations — to encourage that Indigenous nations should be explicitly given the right to control what happens in their communities, because there is a jurisdiction that the federal government has on First Nation reserves that it doesn’t have in the territories, or in my territory.
I also think there are areas, like the tax revenue, where the bill allows for revenues. They have made a deal between the provinces, but it’s the bill that provides for excise tax and other tax revenues.
You’re right; we have to be careful to focus on the federal aspects of the bill. I did want to be careful, when I was talking about plants and the 5 grams for youth, to say that has been put on the territories. But we can make observations, if we don’t make amendments, about those things.
Senator Raine: I’m thinking that the territories would have a right — they are equivalent under this legislation to provinces, I would think. In other words, in terms of tax splitting, it’s 75-25, so there would be some. But in terms of First Nations, if you take the premise that the needs are greater, the harms are greater, and especially with housing and issues like that, it’s very important that all First Nations be given, as you said, the right to regulate and to be self-governing in this instance.
Would we have to make an observation or could there be, coming from the Aboriginal Peoples Committee, some kind of a recommendation for an amendment to make it clear that First Nations would fall outside of the jurisdiction of the provinces?
Senator Patterson: Madam Chair, Chief Commissioner Jules said the First Nations had been left out of the bill. We are the Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. I think this is an important area of federal jurisdiction that we should study and make recommendations on.
For myself, from what I heard from Commissioner Manny Jules, I was convinced that we should invite the First Nations Tax Commission to suggest amendments, and I think we should give them serious consideration. I was pleased to hear they would be willing to draft them. I think they have been left out, and we have a responsibility to report that to the Senate.
The Chair: Thank you. We will suspend the formal session of the meeting, and then we will have an in camera discussion on drafting instructions to our analysts.
(The committee continued in camera.)