Mr. Speaker, there is a little heckling on the other side. We were having a little discussion across the aisle, but it is a friendly discussion.
I really did not intend to speak on Bill C-2, because it will in fact go to the public safety committee, of which I am a member, and which I very seriously think that it is the wrong committee for the bill to go to. It should be going to the health committee.
However, what encouraged me to speak on the bill before it gets to committee was something I heard while driving in yesterday morning. There was quite an extensive interview on CBC's Ottawa Morning by Robyn Bresnahan with Dr. Gabor Maté, if I am pronouncing that name correctly. At some point in my remarks, I want to quote some of the information that Dr. Maté presented, because he works at InSite and presents some very good evidence that we should be considering as a committee and in the House in our discussion of this bill.
I might say as background, because it came up in earlier discussions and questions when people asked if they have ever been to InSite in Vancouver or to the Downtown Eastside or Hastings, that I have been there a number of times, some of those times as Solicitor General.
I have said a few times that my initial impression was what a loss of humanity, to a great extent. I can remember driving up a back alley one night in a marked police car when we saw a young woman—whose age I could not tell, but I suspect she was around 18 to 25—sitting on a step with a needle in her arm. It was not necessarily a clean needle. That shocked me. We stopped and talked to her. We were not there to arrest her at the time; I was doing an oversight of that particular area.
I will admit that when I first visited the safe injection site, I did have mixed opinions, because on the one hand, there we were, giving and injecting illegal drugs, and maybe that really does not click rightly with our psyche.
However,when we look at the results, we very quickly start to change our opinion. When we talk to some of those people and actually sit down and have a sensible discussion, rather than completely judging them for what they are doing and how they got into these illegal drugs and got addicted, and when we learn something of their backgrounds—whether they got into prostitution, were on the street, were in abusive families, or whatever it might have been—we can restrict our judgment somewhat and look at what InSite is doing for them in giving them their lives back to a great extent and, I think, providing much better public safety for the community.
That is important. There are fewer needles, and they are using safe needles. They are using proper sanitary conditions. It is proven that there is less HIV as a result. There are a whole lot of health benefits as a result of the injection sites, and we have to look at the evidence.
I will admit that when I went to InSite initially—and I was one of the ones involved in the decision to do it—one of my first questions was “Why would we do this?” I mean, it just goes against the grain to see illegal drugs injected. However, when we look right through to the end, we realize there are benefits to the individuals, benefits to the public, and benefits to health and safety as a whole.
That is what we should be looking at. This is more a health issue than a public safety issue, although I will admit it is both, but from both perspectives, whether we are talking about health or public safety, Bill C-2, as introduced by the Minister of Health, is a very bad and very dangerous bill. If passed, it will hurt public safety. It will injure health and will end up increasing crime.
The government has an agenda of being tough on crime, but I maintain that the net result of this particular bill 10 years down the road will show very clearly that it was a bad bill and the wrong direction to go.
As a party, we support evidence-based policies that reduce harm and protect public safety. That is what InSite was proven to do.
To give a little more background, the bill really flows from a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that declared the Minister of Health's 2008 decision not to grant an extension of the exemption of subsection 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which had allowed Vancouver's safe consumption site to operate since September 2003, had violated section 7 of charter rights.
That section says:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
Determining whether there has been a breach of section 7 involves a two-part analysis for the courts. In considering potential section 7 violations, they must ask two questions: whether there is deprivation of the right to life, liberty, or security of the person, and if so, whether that deprivation is in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The Supreme Court found that both conditions had been met. Therefore, the Supreme Court ordered that the minister grant an exemption to InSite under subsection 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That is partly why we are here today.
The Supreme Court further explained that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Acts has a dual purpose, public health and public safety, and that the minister should strike an appropriate balance between the two. Therefore, here we are with Bill C-2, and I submit that the bill does not strike the appropriate balance. In fact, Bill C-2 goes far beyond what the Supreme Court ruled in terms of factors to be considered when granting an exception. That is why we are somewhat faced with a dilemma.
I will first go to what provoked me to speak on this issue. That was the interview I heard on the radio, which I think is very good documentation that should be on the record in the House.
To back up, the arguments made by Dr. Gabor Maté were as a result of an interview with Robyn Bresnahan yesterday morning on CBC. I will quote from the transcript. Dr. Maté, when asked a question about where we are at as a country on addictions, and our treatment of addictions, said:
It's better than some countries in the world, but in terms of science, in terms of human compassion, in terms of what we know about addiction, it's very backward.
He means our policy. He went on to say:
Because it [meaning Canada] sees addiction either as a matter of choice that needs to be punished, and so we have increasingly draconian laws against people that use substances despite all the international evidence that that approach simply does not work.
Or it sees addiction simply as a primary brain disease, as if there was some genetic reason why people become addicted. The reality is that people are becoming addicted because they were traumatized and hurt in childhood. And that early trauma and that early emotional loss in childhood shapes the personality in such a way as to create low self-esteem and shapes the brain's physiology in such ways as to make that person susceptible to substances.
And so neither our treatment, nor our legal approaches take into account the impact of trauma and emotional loss and their effect on brain physiology.
He makes the argument about why some people are addicted. When asked a question about the work he has done in lower eastside Vancouver, he was asked if he could give an example of what we are talking about here. He answered as follows:
Yes, and I worked for 12 years in Vancouver's downtown east side, including at the supervised injection site which our current government tried to shut down. In 12 years of work, I did not meet a single female patient who had not been sexually abused as a child.
He went on to make the argument of how some people turn to drugs to either overcome trauma or stress, or whatever. I am quoting him because we should be careful, in all instances, not to judge people and say they clearly had a choice. People say yes or no, but there are reasons that these things happen in some people's lives, and that is a sad thing.
Further on in the interview, and this is where he turns to evidence on the value of InSite, he talks to people about drug injection sites. He said:
I get emails, hundreds of them, thanking me for this perspective.
The only sense that I'm yelling into the wind is when it comes to policy. The people higher up seem not to understand these things. They don't want to seem to hear them. And one example of that of course is what's happening currently with the government's withdrawal of Health Canada's decision that would allow Vancouver physicians to prescribe heroin to a small number of patients.
What I'm saying is that there's tremendous appreciation...for this perspective.
He means that InSites are valuable, but not from the people who make the policies. He is saying that people on the ground, people who work with these individuals on a daily basis, know that it helps these individuals and that it is good for public safety. That is evidence. We need to be looking in this discussion at the evidence, not at the ideology. He went on to say:
Well, we do our best to articulate a scientific, evidence based perspective and my only wish is that as a physician, if I'm expected to practice evidence based medicine, so should the politicians be expected to practise evidence based politics.
The evidence internationally does not favour what is currently happening in this country by going against the InSites.
The last point I would make from that interview is what he said about the supervised injection site itself. He said:
But supervised injection sites don't promote addiction. They simply reduce the harm. It makes a lot more sense to use sterile water than puddle water from the back alleys. It makes a lot more sense to use clean needles rather than share them, dirty ones, and transmit HIV. So that the evidence from Vancouver, evidence in dozens of studies now is that there's less disease transmission, better health, more movement into treatment facilities, much less cost to society, every piece of evidence point to benefit and no evidence point to any kind of harm.
Listening to that interview yesterday morning, I thought it was the picture for Bill C-2. That person has spent more than a decade working in that environment and has seen the benefits of injection sites. Bill C-2 turns us away from the potential to give people the opportunity to get their lives back.
These sites protect others in the area, and society in general. They have controlled injections, and there are less dirty needles and less HIV.
My colleague from Vancouver Quadra made the argument the other day about less disease. She pointed out, as we all know in this House, that this site is supported by the province. It is supported by the police authority. Why, then, is the government in this Ottawa bubble, in this town of seeming ideology these days, looking to shut it down and move backward?
I firmly believe that this is an ideological bill, from a government that seems to oppose evidence-based harm reduction measures such as safe injection sites. We certainly believe that safe injection sites should not just be in isolation. They should be part of an evidence-based national drug policy that saves lives, reduces harm and promotes public health.
There is more that needs to be added. When I was in Downtown Eastside Vancouver, there were drug courts, I believe they were called at the time. They have a purpose too. Instead of being sentenced to prison, the addict agrees to certain conditions set down by the court, and if they meet those conditions, they do not end up in prison and they can regain their lives. We need a broader national strategy than just safe injection sites.
I submit that the results of the bill would increase crime, not lessen it. It would damage health care to others in society, take away the opportunity for the people who use those injection sites to be better citizens and contributors to the economy of the country, and lead them to more crime.
I believe the bill would lead to more dangerous streets, greater costs in hospitals, and a tremendous increase in the loss of human dignity. The bill is clearly the wrong way to go.