moved that Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House this evening on an important piece of legislation for the health and safety of our communities.
The respect for communities act puts into legislation the high bar set by the Supreme Court for supervised consumption sites and makes sure communities have a say in any decisions made.
We are all well aware of the terrible consequences that drug abuse can have on drug addicts, their families and communities, and Canadian society as a whole. The production and trafficking of drugs not only supports organized crime but feeds the cycle of drug addiction, putting the health and safety of Canadians at risk.
In Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act imposes necessary restrictions and controls on substances that can alter mental processes and harm the health of both individuals and society when diverted or misused.
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act has a dual purpose. It provides access to controlled substances for legitimate purposes, such as medical or scientific research, while keeping in place prohibitions to minimize the risk of diversion.
Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is a constitutional safety valve. It enables the government to provide access to controlled substances in exceptional but legitimate situations. For example, I have authorized section 56 exemptions to the Red Cross so that it can have access to morphine for natural disaster relief efforts.
Exemptions from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act can be granted if the exemption is necessary for medical or scientific purposes, or is otherwise in the public interest. Most of the exemptions granted in Canada are for routine activities, such as methadone treatment, clinical trials and university research. These exemptions are for controlled substances obtained through legitimate, or what the bill refers to as "licit", sources, such as a licensed manufacturer, pharmacist or hospital.
In Canada we have approved only a very small number of exemptions to use controlled substances obtained through illegal, or what is referred to in the bill as "illicit", sources. Virtually all the exemptions for illegal drugs are for law enforcement, so that they can use these drugs to train police dogs to detect drugs.
Another one is for the well-known facility called InSite, located in a downtown east side neighbourhood of Vancouver. InSite has been operating under a section 56 exemption since 2003.
On September 30, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision in a case regarding InSite. In its decision, the court upheld the constitutionality of the possession and trafficking prohibitions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The court also found that a unique set of circumstances existed in the Vancouver downtown east side, and it ordered that I grant InSite an exemption under section 56.
The court was clear that the Minister of Health maintains the discretion to grant or deny such exemptions. The court stated that this decision was not an invitation for anyone who so chooses to open a facility for drug use under the banner of a safe injection facility.
The court also outlined five factors and evidence that the minister must consider when reviewing such application of section 56 exemptions.
When we are talking about controlled substances that have been obtained illegally, we need to ask tough questions. We need to know what impact a supervised consumption site will have on the local crime rate, what the local conditions are that led to the need for such a site, what regulatory structure is in place to support the site and what resources are available to support the maintenance of the site. Finally, we need to take into account the position of the community where this site will operate and whether there is support or opposition.
Our government has built upon these five factors in the proposed legislative approach that is being debated here today. For the majority of applicants who are applying for an exemption to use controlled substances obtained through legitimate sources, the process will not change.
For example, the exemption process for individuals applying for a section 56 exemption for clinical trials or other scientific or medical purposes involving licit drug substances will remain the same. While substances obtained through licit sources are potentially harmful when abused, they are developed in controlled environments where activities are regulated through federal or provincial law. They are also not supporting organized crime.
What we are proposing now is to add a new section to the legislation, section 56.1, which would deal specifically with controlled substances obtained through illicit sources. We know that these substances can seriously harm individuals as well public health and safety. They are often unregulated, untested substances produced in uncontrolled environments. They could contain impurities and additives that add to the harmful effects. We also know that substances obtained illegally may support organized crime. For these reasons, the legislation would put in place a separate section in the act to deal with exemptions for illegal substances for medical, law enforcement and other prescribed purposes.
In addition, there would be a specific section relating to exemption applications that involve the use of illicit substances at supervised consumption sites. In this specific section, all the factors outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada have been detailed in the legislation to make clear what information would be required from any applicant seeking an exemption involving the use of illegal drugs at a supervised consumption site. This section would lay out the criteria that must be addressed by the applicant in order to have the application considered by the Minister of Health.
The proposed legislative changes would ensure that applicants address all of the new criteria, which are based on the Supreme Court's decision and would ensure that communities have a voice in the process. This would provide the Minister of Health with relevant information to make an informed decision that balances public health and public safety in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Let me take this opportunity to walk members through how the process to apply for this kind of an exemption would work under the new legislation.
First, applicants would have to demonstrate that they have addressed all of the criteria set out in the legislation in their application. In some cases, the information would have to be provided by the applicant before an application would be considered by the minister.
For example, the applicant would have to provide a letter from the provincial or territorial minister responsible for health describing his or her opinion on the proposed activities, how the activities would be integrated into the provincial and territorial health care system, and any treatment services that would be available for individuals who would use the site. Until this letter is provided, the Minister of Health would not review the application. The applicant would have to provide information on security measures, criminal record checks, record keeping and the establishment of procedures for the safe disposal of controlled substances and anything that facilitates their consumption. Until this information is provided, the Minister of Health would not review the application.
For some of criteria, information would have to be submitted by the applicant only if it existed. For example, an applicant would not be required to undertake new studies to create information on crime or public nuisance near the proposed site. However, if the information already existed, the applicant would have to provide it. The Minister of Health would also have the opportunity to ask the applicant to provide additional relevant information as required to help in making a decision.
Given the importance of understanding the impact that supervised consumption sites may have on the communities in which they exist, there is a heavy emphasis on public consultation. Our government recognizes the importance of consulting with relevant community groups about a proposed supervised consumption site. We need to hear from those who are already present on the ground in that community and who know the specific characteristics of that community that may or may not be affected by the presence of a supervised consumption site.
The proposed legislation includes a requirement to provide letters of opinion from public health and municipal officials. The act requires that all perspectives from law enforcement, public health professionals, provincial/territorial or municipal governments to the public would be taken into account.
In addition to these requirements, the act also allows the Minister of Health to post a notice of application regarding a proposed supervised consumption site for a 90-day public comment period. This provides a clear chance for Canadians to provide their thoughts on any proposed application directly to the Minister of Health. Any relevant feedback would be taken into account in her consideration of an exemption application.
This is why the short title of this legislation is the “respect for communities act”. This consultation will be an essential part of the application process for a supervised consumption site. We need to know what those living, working or going to school near the potential supervised consumption site think of the proposal.
The changes in the legislation would also require the applicant to consult with a broad range of relevant community groups to ascertain their opinions on the proposed site and provide a report outlining their views and describing how the applicant would respond to any relevant concerns raised during the consultation. This information is crucial, as well as other specific and clearly defined application criteria meant to balance public health and safety consideration.
This new legislation provides greater transparency concerning the application process for exemptions to use controlled substances at supervised consumption sites. It also provides the minister with the necessary information to balance public health and public safety concerns in accordance with the charter when considering an exemption application for activities where illicit substances are at a supervised consumption site.
As I have mentioned, one of the main purposes of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is public safety. As part of the application review process, there will be a pre-inspection to verify that the information provided in the application is accurate. For example, if an applicant states that specific security measures exist on site, this will be verified.
Given the inherent threat posed to public health and safety from controlled substances obtained through illicit sources, it is common sense that exemptions to undertake activities with them should be limited to rare or unique circumstances.
When an exemption granted under the new regime is set to expire and the applicant applies for a new exemption, the applicant would have to address all legislated criteria. In addition, where possible the applicant would have to provide the following information, dating from the time the first exemption was first granted, to the time of the most recent application: information on any change in crime rates in the vicinity where the site is located, and information on any impacts of the activities at the site on individual and public health.
This new approach will bring greater clarity and transparency to the way in which future applications to establish supervised consumption sites will be assessed. The proposed approach provides the legislative structure needed to properly address public health and safety concerns. Most importantly, it allows the public and key community stakeholders to have a voice.
By supporting these changes in our laws, we can help to protect public health safety. I urge all sides of the House to support the bill.