A senior Vancouver police officer says he is "disturbed" that Liberal senators have amended a Conservative crime bill, removing the requirement for mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, including running a grow-op with 200 or fewer marijuana plants.
"If the senators would like to hear our perspective, we would be delighted to provide it," Inspector Brad Desmarais, a veteran anti-gang and drug-section leader, told reporters during a news conference yesterday after the vote on Bill C-15.
The Vancouver department was the first in Canada this week to criticize the pending amendments, including the removal of a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for offenders caught with 200 or fewer plants and the exemption of aboriginal offenders from mandatory minimum sentences.
That unease deepened yesterday with a 49-44 vote in the Senate to proceed with the amendments.
"We felt the legislation, as written, was sound. We liked it, and we're disturbed it has been changed," said Insp. Desmarais.
Police Chief Jim Chu said yesterday that Insp. Desmarais is speaking for drug-squad officers who are worried.
"The officers in the front lines who experience the dangers of these operations were very concerned," he said.
With Chief Chu's blessing, Insp. Desmarais issued a statement saying the amendment would encourage a proliferation of grow-ops designed to hold 200 or fewer plants in order to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence.
Yesterday, he was more blunt.
Speaking to Senate critics of the bill, he said, "My understanding is that their focus, their concern was that the police would be targeting mom-and-pop and starving-college-student grows in the bedroom.
"But trust me, a 200-plant grow is a viable commercial enterprise that makes a lot of easy, tax-free money."
Insp. Desmarais said the force would welcome an opportunity to speak to lawmakers. The amended bill now will be sent back to the Commons.
"Irrespective of party affiliation, we would genuinely appreciate an opportunity to provide our side of this issue so they may have a more balanced approach in their deliberations," he said.
One reason for the force's disappointment, he said, is that representatives of the department met earlier this year with federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and were satisfied he was in sync with their perspectives.
There was no chance to participate in the latest round of debate, he said.
"We were saddened to see the Senate change it when we weren't given an opportunity to speak with the Senate," he said.
Several other city police departments across Canada contacted by The Globe and Mail yesterday said they were not in a position to comment because, in many cases, drug-squad officers were not available.
One exception was the Halifax police department.
"We would support Vancouver's position and we would view these changes as providing loopholes for criminals to use to avoid sentencing," Constable Brian Palmeter, speaking for the Halifax department, said before the vote.
"Whether it's 199 plants or 200, these are sophisticated dealers [whose]sole purpose is to cultivate a product they can sell to 13, 14, 15, 16-year-old kids, and certainly what this seems to do is provide the loophole that is going to possibly cause these grow-ops to be spread out amongst more neighbourhoods so criminals can remain under that magic number, which is going to mean an increased risk to various communities. We would follow, support Vancouver's position on the amendments."