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NDP MP for Vancouver East (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 62.80% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Citizenship and Immigration June 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, today on World Refugee Day, with a global refugee population surging past 50 million people for the first time since World War II, it is time for the Conservatives to recognize the failure of their policies. Instead of a fair and accessible process, the Conservatives have passed laws to shut out refugees and cut access to health care and have spun themselves in circles on the Syrian refugee crisis. Canada must do better.

Will the minister commit today to focusing on protection for refugees instead of playing political games?

Health June 19th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Royal Society expert panel on the review of Safety Code 6 released its report a month ago and recommended that more research was needed into the health risks of radio frequency fields. Consumers and health advocates are demanding more information and safeguards to reduce exposure to harmful radiation and to investigate radiation hypersensitivity.

How does the Minister of Health plan to follow up on the concerns coming from the public and the Royal Society's recommendations?

Natural Resources June 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives refuse to listen. It is not only first nations that have said no to northern gateway; it is all of B.C. Over 60% of British Columbians have said that they do not want northern gateway threatening their coast and communities. The UBCM and virtually every municipality along the pipeline route has said no. Therefore, why are B.C. Conservative MPs ignoring their constituents?

Let us start with the senior federal minister for B.C. What does the Minister of Industry have to say, or is he ducking under his desk?

Respect For Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is very correct. When I spoke the first time to the bill, I actually went through A to Z. I went through all of those conditions. What makes it even worse, though, to add insult to injury, is that even if it were possible for an applicant to meet all of those conditions—and the member has outlined how difficult that would be—the minister could still turn it down, so it is very discretionary.

It seems abundantly clear that the purpose of the bill is to ensure that no further safe injection facilities will be set up in Canada. That would be a huge issue in many local communities, because the homework has been done. There are organizations and advocates who want to see this kind of health facility and health intervention set up for people who are very marginalized.

It is very unfortunate. I hope we will get into it at committee. We hope to see the bill significantly changed so that it is objective and based on evidence.

Respect For Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, those are two very reasonable questions and I will do my best to answer them.

FIn terms of the decrease in crime, the fact is, there were more than 30 peer review studies that were done around InSite, so all of these questions were looked at. I would encourage my colleague to look at the report so he can see for himself, from these objective, evidence-based reports. What happened in that neighbourhood? Did things improve or not? I can tell him that the reports say that it did improve, but he can read it for himself.

In terms of what the NDP would do, first, we need to understand that InSite came from the local community. It was not imposed by Ottawa. It came from the city. It came from a grassroots involvement, and in fact right now, across Canada, I believe that there are applications from Montreal, from Toronto, even from here in Ottawa, possibly Victoria and even Edmonton.

There are applications being considered right now. A clear response needs to be evidence based. The local community needs to have done its homework and want to go ahead with it. We do not want to see the bill, though, squash that, which it will do, given the enormous powers that it gives to the minister.

Respect For Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-2 was first introduced in June 2013, a little over a year ago, as Bill C-65 and came back to the House as Bill C-2 in October.

I am proud of the fact that about 50 members of the NDP caucus have spoken to this important legislation. However, I am ashamed to say that what we have heard from the government side is divisive debate. From day one the Conservatives have portrayed the issue of respecting the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on safer injection sites in Canada as a black and white issue.

I go back to January 27 of this year when the government House leader told the Hill Times that he will tell people that opposition parties want drug injection sites to be established in their neighbourhoods without people having any say. He then talked about the extreme position that the NDP was taking. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For the government House leader to portray our discourse on this legislation in that manner shows first, how the Conservatives like to create division and fear among people, and second, that they know absolutely nothing about North America's only safe injection site, which is located in Vancouver's downtown east side and called InSite. The fact is that InSite was set up over 10 years ago after extensive consultation with the local community.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that InSite and other supervised injection sites must be granted Section 56 exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act when they “decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety....”

Upon reading the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada it is clear that it understood the arguments that were being made by the litigants, that this was a health measure, that it was about saving lives and that it was about preventing people from needless drug overdoses. Over the past 10 years, InSite has gone on to become incredibly successful and has helped improve the health and well-being of many people. It has saved literally countless lives in the Downtown Eastside.

Over 30 peer review studies have been done on InSite. It received its first exemption in 2003. From the extensive research that has been done since it opened, Vancouver has seen a 35% decrease in overdose deaths. Furthermore, InSite has been shown to decrease crime and communicable disease infection rates and relapse rates for drug users. That is quite remarkable. NDP members have always said that InSite is just part of the solution; it is not the only solution.

It is quite remarkable that this facility has been able to accomplish so much. One would never know that after hearing the speeches from government members. One would think it was just about chaos and law and order, that it was about imposing something on a community.

InSite did get a further exemption under the act for another year. I want to put firmly on the record that InSite has done a remarkable job in Vancouver.

I would also note that over those 10 years, organizations like the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Canadian Nurses Association, never mind the 30-plus peer review studies, have all come out firmly on the side of evidence that InSite is about saving lives. They came to this conclusion upon their analysis of how InSite is operated. They have been critical of Bill C-2 because they know, as we know having examined the bill, that it is really about setting the bar high. So much discretion and subjectivity is given to the minister that it would be very easy for her on flimsy, non-evidence-based opinion to turn down other applications across Canada.

That is the fundamental problem with this legislation. At the end of the day, Bill C-2 would not meet the test of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on InSite.

Again we have a familiar pattern, as we just saw with Bill C-36 on the laws pertaining to prostitution. We have a government that is bent on its own ideological agenda and refuses to examine the evidence before it on some of these very important measures that pertain to safety, health, and well-being.

Just to show how important this facility is and that others across the country could provide the same kind of service, in Vancouver, on June 4, I happened to notice an item in the paper that said, “Vancouver Police are issuing a public warning after officers responded to seven reports of suspected heroin overdoses in the Downtown Eastside in the span of a day”. Clearly, there was some really bad stuff on the street and people were really suffering.

The article further stated, “Sgt. Randy Fincham said active drug users need to be 'extremely cautious' and to visit Insite”. There we have it. Even the Vancouver Police Department recognizes that InSite has been a very important health and safety measure for drug users. It provides a safe place to inject, and there is medical supervision and support when it is needed so that people do not die by overdose. As is said so often in the Downtown Eastside, dead people cannot get treatment. I find it very interesting that local police are actually telling people to make sure they go to InSite to take advantage of its services so people can have the medical support and safety that is required.

New Democrats believe that the provisions of this bill before us are very onerous and very partisan. This led us to suspect what research had actually been done in preparing the bill. I put a question on the order paper back in October of last year and asked specifically what kind of consultation the government had conducted before it brought the bill in, particularly for front-line service providers, medical research professionals, and so on. The response that I got from the government, in part, said, “In the development of the proposed legislation, Health Canada consulted with Public Safety Canada, Justice Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and central agencies”. Basically, nobody on the government side actually bothered to talk to the people who are providing the service.

I know that not one Conservative minister of health that I visited and spoke to about InSite over the past years has visited InSite. There is a complete lack of knowledge about what this facility does. I am very concerned that with this bill the minister will confer on herself enormous discretion and power to make decisions based on political opposition and not on the merits of what is what is taking place in the local community and how such a facility can help a population that is very much at risk and marginalized.

There are a couple of other points that I want to make. A very important one is that there was the recent passing of a very wonderful activist, Bud Osborn, a poet, and pioneer at InSite in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He was much beloved in the neighbourhood, a former drug user himself. He understood from the very beginning, through the poetry he wrote and the words he spoke to people, how important this facility was in fostering a united community, where people were not divided between good and bad.

I want to pay tribute to the remarkable life and work of Bud Osborn and what he did not only in my community but across the country. He became a hero to many people for his courageous, outspoken way of putting the truth before people. He convinced politicians of all political stripes and met with the Minister of Health here in Ottawa a number of years ago, as well as the media, lawyers, prosecutors. He had an enormous amount of influence in my community because he spoke the truth from his own experience and believed very strongly that InSite was a lifesaving measure.

As this bill goes to committee, I want to say that New Democrats are very distressed that it is going to the public safety committee and not the health committee. It seems completely in conflict with what the goals of this bill should be in terms of a necessary health measure. We know that the bill is heavily weighted against the acceptance of these medically necessary services, so we will be demanding that there be a thoughtful and thorough review of the bill.

There have been a lot of scientific studies. We need to debunk the myths, the misinformation, and the rhetoric that we have heard about safer injections sites from the government side. When the bill gets to committee, I do hope very much, as we have said earlier today, that there will not be a censor of the witnesses, that there will be a thorough review and that we can make sure that the bill does indeed meet the test of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Respect For Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the minister has not answered a couple of basic questions.

I would note, and I am sure he is aware, that the last time this bill was debated in the House was at the end of January of this year. It has already been five months. I am curious to know why, at the eleventh hour, the government is now bringing in closure. We could have had debate on the bill in February, March, April or May. I am afraid the minister's responses just do not cut it.

The other question he has been unable to answer is why this bill, which is clearly a health measure, is not going to the health committee. This is about a health intervention to save lives, and that is very clear from the Supreme Court of Canada decision. Why is it going to the public safety committee?

That is a very basic question about the government's attitude to this issue and the bill. Why is the bill going to the public safety committee and not the health committee?

Respect For Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to see how the government House leader acts in sort of a flippant and dismissive way when he reads this motion. It is no wonder, as this is the 74th time since 2011 that the government has introduced closure on a piece of legislation before the House. That means that most of its legislation has been rammed through, forced through by closure, because it cannot bear to have a proper comprehensive debate in the House of Commons by members of Parliament from all parties on any government legislation. It is bent on the idea that it has to ram it through.

Bill C-2, which is an amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, is a particularly important bill because it follows a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada concerning safer injection sites in this country. As we have seen with other legislation, most notably Bill C-36 recently, which also has to do with a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada concerning laws pertaining to prostitution in this country, this is yet another bill in this House that basically does not stand the test of the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

I would ask the minister why the government has decreed that this bill will not go to the health committee where it should go, because it is a matter pertaining to the health and well-being of Canadians who are very much at risk and who have been marginalized, rather than going to the public safety committee. That demonstrates the conclusion that the government sees this as just another law and order measure, as opposed to a measure that is affecting the health of people. Why were people not properly consulted on this bill, such as front-line service workers, so that we would have the benefit of that in terms of debating the bill? Why will it now go to the public safety committee instead of where it should be going, which is for a thorough examination at the Standing Committee on Health?

Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act June 11th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of third reading of Bill C-442 for a national framework for Lyme disease.

Today is a special day. It is not every private member's bill that gets to third reading. The fact that this bill has means that it has stood the test. It has gone through the challenges of going through second reading, going to committee, through amendments, and here it is back in the House. We are anticipating and hopeful that the bill will be approved today in the House of Commons and then go to the Senate.

I would like to speak briefly to the bill, but I would first like to congratulate the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for the hard work that she has put into this bill, into building alliances and talking to people in different parties. It is a good example of the goodwill and the solidarity that can develop around an issue when people recognize that something needs to be done. I only wish it would happen more often in the House. There are so many issues that need our attention, collectively, with a spirit of fair play and goodwill. Maybe this bill will be a good model for that, but I wish it would happen a little more often.

When this bill came to the health committee, I was pleased to be there. We went through it and heard witnesses. Hearing the witnesses was incredibly compelling. We heard from Jim Wilson of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation. People shared personal experiences about this disease, which is not easy to do in a formalized parliamentary hearing as a witness with all of the official trappings that go along with that.

Chris Powell and her daughter Nicole were quite remarkable. Nicole, who is from British Columbia, was quite remarkable in sharing her experience of having Lyme disease and the suffering she was going through. It is not only physical suffering, which she still endures, but also the emotional anguish of not being able to get a proper diagnosis.

One of the critical elements of the bill is that it would bring together the different elements we need in terms of not only prevention and better public awareness, but a medical community that is in a much more heightened state of awareness with respect to Lyme disease, as well as better clinical diagnostic tools and testing.

We heard horrifying stories from people who had gone to extraordinary lengths to find out why they were so sick and why they could not get help. We know there are two tests available in Canada, but they pertain only to basically one strain of the tick that produces Lyme disease. There is so much that needs to be known.

We heard stories about the amount of money people had spent to go to the United States, for example, where other testing has been available, to finally get a correct diagnosis. Then they would come back to Canada and have somebody contradict that diagnosis. It a nightmare for these people to live through, not just enduring and living with the disease, but coping with systemic barriers and obstacles to proper diagnosis and get the treatment they need. We heard all of that at committee. It was compelling and it made us all acutely understand that we needed a national framework.

I want to spend a moment on that. As the health critic, I meet with many organizations across the country, in Ottawa, in my riding and elsewhere. There are so many issues and people are literally begging the federal government to show leadership to develop a national strategy, whether for dementia or Alzheimer's. This is just another example of that. It is a reflection of our complex system.

We know that health care is a provincial delivery system. There is no question about that. However, there is a necessity for federal leadership. Under the Canada Health Act, we have a duty and responsibility to ensure that all people in our country, whether rich or poor or whether they live in the north, south, east, west or the centre, in small communities or large urban centres, have accessibility to our health care system. We know the inequities are getting greater, and not just between provinces but also within provinces.

There is an overarching issue that the bill also reflects, which is that we need to see the federal government be at the table. We need to see the federal government take leadership on these issues. Many groups are calling for a national strategy. People know the reality of this kind of scattered approach. It is like a patchwork across the country and that just is not good enough.

The bill speaks about a federal framework and would bring together the players. As the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has outlined, a key element of the bill is to convene a conference and include people who have Lyme disease and advocates so they are at the table as well. It is really about trying to bring the players together to develop that national framework.

We also heard at committee very interesting testimony from representatives of the Public Health Agency of Canada. They told us that Lyme disease had been a reportable disease only since 2009. We are only beginning to get a sense of the numbers out there. Of course many cases are not reported. Either people do not know they have the disease or if they suspect it, they do not get a proper diagnosis.

I agree with the member that we will face an explosion of cases, particularly with climate change and a warming environment. In southern Canada and places like B.C., where we really have not seen that many cases of Lyme disease, this will be on the increase.

I was very interested to hear that the Public Health Agency of Canada was conducting a fairly major public awareness campaign. In fact, the people from the agency assured us that Lyme disease should be a household word by the end of summer. People would know what it was, what they needed to be aware of and what they should do. I hope they are right because we do not want to see anybody suffer through this.

The issue of testing is very important. We heard loud and clear that there was an inadequate testing procedure in Canada. We need to have much better availability of testing with a greater depth of testing for different kinds of bacteria and strains.

Then finally on research, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research told us that some very good research was going on in Canada. I believe one of the researchers was in Calgary and another was maybe in Ontario. We need to fund that research. We need to know about the different strains so people can receive the appropriate diagnostic analysis and treatment.

The New Democrats have been very happy to support this bill all the way through. We are critically aware of this issue. It is something we speak about with our constituents. I am sure many of us have had visits from our constituents who have been affected by Lyme disease.

At the end of the day, we owe gratitude and thanks to the Lyme disease Foundation of Canada, which has done incredible work on this and has never given up. It is not easy. We have resources here. We can bring forward a private member's bill, which I do not want to diminish as it has a very important part. However, what is really wonderful is the fact that the people in the community, those who themselves are suffering, pushed this boulder uphill. They did not give up and they compelled us as legislators to take on this issue and support it.

Finally thanks go to those advocates. We need to remain vigilant and monitor what goes on to ensure this framework becomes a strategy that will help people.

Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act June 11th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. I know that she has put an extraordinary amount of work into this bill and it was very good to have it at committee. As she pointed out, there were some amendments made at committee and now there is certainly no problem with the name, in terms of not calling it a national strategy but a federal framework.

As she knows, as she mentioned it briefly, one of the things that was taken out of the bill by the government side was the reference to establishing guidelines and the allocation of funding. That is a consideration we have to think about. I would like to ask the member what she is thinking in terms of how this bill now goes forward. It obviously goes to the Senate, but, beyond that, it is very important that we remain vigilant and monitor the progress of this national framework to ensure that there actually is an allocation of funding so that research can continue, public awareness can continue, and that a national framework can be developed.

Would the member share any thoughts she has on that?