Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says drug dealers and traffickers would face mandatory jail time under proposed changes to the Criminal Code.

Speaking in Vancouver, which has been marred by 18 shootings in recent weeks, Nicholson said Friday that the new legislation aims to crackdown on gangs and criminal organizations.

"If you want to bring drugs into this country you are going to jail," said Nicholson.

Under the proposals, which were also tabled Friday in Parliament, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would mandate:

  • one-year minimum prison sentences for marijuana deals linked to organized crime
  • mandatory two-year jail sentences for dealing hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine to young people
  • stiffer penalties for big pot grow-ops, including doubling the maximum jail sentence for large marijuana production to 14 years

"What we want to do is get some of these people off the street. We want to break up this activity," said Nicholson.

However, he stressed that addicts caught dealing drugs would face less serious penalties -- such as suspended sentences -- provided they attend drug treatment programs.

The penalty proposals were introduced a day after Nicholson and Prime Minister Stephen Harper outlined tough new legislation that would make gang-related killings first-degree murder charges and would impose mandatory sentences for drive-by shootings.

The proposed crackdowns came as Vancouver-area police investigated yet another suspicious death on Friday, which may be linked to a raging drug war in the Lower Mainland.

RCMP said that an SUV was discovered on a rural road near Maple Ridge, which is east of Vancouver. Officers initially labelled the incident as a crash but a probe was launched after police recovered the driver's body from within the wrecked vehicle.

"Whether or not it's a slaying, I don't know yet. We are waiting for the autopsy to help us with that." said RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr.

"It's certainly very suspicious."

Critics respond to proposals

Meanwhile, a Toronto defence lawyer called the announcements "stop-gaps" that do little to address the root causes of crime.

"There's an opportunity to look like we're getting tough, so we introduce new legislation and then criticize others who don't accept it," said lawyer William Trudell.

"That's immediate gratification for political purposes or to put out fires."

Trudell said that criminals don't think about mandatory minimum sentences or weigh their legal futures in the heat of the moment.

"They don't have the discipline. They're looking for immediate gratification."

With files from The Canadian Press