New Brunswick

Calmer tone during committee discussions of anti-drug dealer amendments

It was a calmer, more civil Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming who shepherded his new crime legislation closer to final approval on Tuesday, days after calling an opposition member a “shill for organized crime.”

Earlier meeting saw public safety minister call Green MLA a 'shill for organized crime'

A legislative committee looking at amendments of the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act had a much calmer day compared to its Jan. 26 meeting. (CBC)

It was a calmer, more civil Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming who shepherded his new crime legislation closer to final approval on Tuesday.

Days after calling a Green MLA a "shill for organized crime" for demanding data and facts to prove the bill was necessary, Flemming said Kevin Arseneau was asking "very legitimate" questions about it.

The changes to the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, known as the SCAN Act, would make it easier for authorities to push alleged drug dealers out of homes, apartments and neighbourhoods without having to prove them guilty of a crime.

Arseneau's lengthy questioning of the bill last week forced the committee studying it to adjourn without holding a vote, which angered Flemming at the time.

Green MLA Kevin Arseneau and Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming were at odds last week over whether a committee vote on amendments to the SCAN Act should go ahead. (Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick)

He accused Arseneau of wearing "a supercilious smirk" during the debate and said people living near drug dealers would blame him for the lack of action.

"They'll know exactly why the progress to fighting crime has been impeded. It's on you, Mr. Arseneau." 

On Tuesday, however, Flemming went out of his way to acknowledge Arseneau's questions and answer them.

The amendments to the SCAN Act would protect the anonymity of neighbours who make complaints about drug activity. The minister acknowledged last week it would "permit hearsay evidence" that is not normally admissible in court. 

They would also require a judge reviewing an application for a SCAN order to presume a neighbourhood is "adversely affected" if or she is satisfied that drugs are being sold at a property.

Critics say both of those provisions will leave the law open to abuse.

'Not to harm people'

Flemming said Tuesday that many of the same standards from criminal investigations will apply to SCAN  investigations.

Evidence gathered after a complaint goes to Crown prosecutors who make decisions whether to go ahead independently of government, he said. 

And a Court of Queen's Bench judge then holds a hearing and the owner of the property is notified and can appear and contest the order. 

Flemming argued Tuesday the only people who may suffer as a result of a SCAN order are criminals.

"This legislation is brought forward not to harm people. It is brought forward to help people." 

Arseneau said he agreed with the goal but said there should be a more holistic approach to dealing with crime. 

"Often it's not the 'what' but the 'how.' … The approaches can be very, very different." 

He said he was worried someone committing a minor offence, such as growing five marijuana plants in their own home for personal use rather than the legally permitted limit of four, could be subject to a SCAN investigation and to eviction.

Flemming again welcomed the debate. 

"It's a good part of the legislative and democratic process that he asks these questions about accountability and negative impacts and stuff like that. This is why we're here."

No support from Arseneau

After about 45 minutes of questions, Arseneau said he wasn't satisfied with Flemming's answers and could not support the bill.

But he thanked Flemming for a more polite meeting than last Wednesday. 

"To have discussions like we're having right now with a respectful tone is an important part of democracy, and I know you agree with that." 

"I agree," Flemming said.

The committee voted to approve the bill and send it back to the full legislature where it will go to a final vote in the spring. 

The committee also approved a bill to allow Cannabis N.B. to expand operations by opening around 10 smaller, privately run stores later this year.