Respect for Communities Act

An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Rona Ambrose  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to, among other things,

(a) create a separate exemption regime for activities involving the use of a controlled substance or precursor that is obtained in a manner not authorized under this Act;

(b) specify the purposes for which an exemption may be granted for those activities; and

(c) set out the information that must be submitted to the Minister of Health before the Minister may consider an application for an exemption in relation to a supervised consumption site.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

March 23, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
March 9, 2015 Passed That Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be concurred in at report stage.
Feb. 26, 2015 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at report stage of the Bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at report stage and on the day allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the Bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.
June 19, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
June 18, 2014 Passed That this question be now put.
June 17, 2014 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, not more than five further hours shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and that, at the expiry of the five hours provided for the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.
Nov. 26, 2013 Failed That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “this house decline to give second reading to Bill C-2, an Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, because it: ( a) fails to reflect the dual purposes of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to maintain and promote both public health and public safety; ( b) runs counter to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Canada v. PHS Community Services Society, which states that a Minister should generally grant an exemption when there is proof that a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and when there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety; ( c) establishes onerous requirements for applicants that will create unjustified barriers for the establishment of safe injection sites, which are proven to save lives and increase health outcomes; and ( d) further advances the Minister's political tactics to divide communities and use the issue of supervised injection sites for political gain, in place of respecting the advice and opinion of public health experts.”.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Dan Albas ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I have been to Vancouver several times over the past few years, and I have looked into this issue. Has the member actually ever been to Vancouver and seen the people on Hastings and seen whether the policy he is espousing in this House matches the reality that is on the ground?

The member has mentioned that we need to look at these holistically. He is accusing the government of not looking into such issues as homelessness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Working with the Government of British Columbia, we have together supplied more affordable housing in the Lower Mainland than any other government, particularly the NDP government that made cuts to a number of different areas. We have also helped support the provinces with record-high amounts of transfers, both in social transfers and in health transfers.

All of these things this member has opposed. After all of these investments, he continues to accuse us of not being compassionate. That is how we get things done in this country. It is not by saying things that are not true in this House, but by getting real things done.

I would like the member to comment on those matters.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question from my Conservative colleague goes to show how arrogant the government is. He assumes that I have never been to Vancouver, whereas in fact I have been there several times. In Chinatown, there are people are on the street who are clearly living in poverty.

The Conservative government boasts about helping the Canadian provinces and fighting homelessness and poverty, but it is not true. The Conservative government slashed the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS, which benefited Quebec. This is a government that likes to talk the talk but seldom walks the walk on these important issues.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

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.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a few points that the member perhaps did not address very well.

As someone who was formerly involved in local politics, decisions around what goes in neighbourhood zoning is very important to those communities. The ability for a community to have some say in terms of what is located where is a critical measure. I am wondering why, for one, he does not believe that communities should have the ability to have input into these decisions.

I have a second point that I would really like the member to focus in on. One of the rationales is that this is going to allow people to move through into treatment. From my experience, there are many people who want to deal with the difficult demons of their addictions and their rehabilitation. There are not enough services. There is not enough support.

On the opportunity in terms of increased detox, increased rehabilitation, why is the member not really focusing on the people who are desperate, struggling to get off drugs, and do not have programs and services available to them?

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, they are not going to get those programs and services from the current government. The government is taking them all away.

This is a government that believes in punishment. That is what is wrong with this particular bill. It is what is wrong with the government's tough on crime approach in Canada. It is going to lead to greater crime 10 years down the road. There is no question about it.

Let me come back to the member's point on communities. Of course communities will make the decision about where these sites go. When it is being done on evidenced-based policies, then the community should see the full information and it would be up to the community to decide.

It should not be for us on this ground to order what the community should do. The community should have the choice and the opinion to make those decisions. What the government is doing with the bill is taking that opportunity to assist people away. It should be giving those opportunities to people and doing it in a way that would have the support of the community.

The municipality in Vancouver, the police services in Vancouver and the province of B.C. support the policy of InSite in Vancouver. The government would take it away.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Malpeque gave a very informed speech, with a just emphasis on the real evidence about the impacts of safe injection sites, not the fears the government is trying to create around safe injection sites with the bill.

I wonder if he shares with me the sense of irony that the government, which claims to be against bureaucracy and red tape, is actually using bureaucracy and red tape in the bill to prevent the establishment of any additional safe injection sites in communities around the country; communities like mine where 18 people a year are dying from overdoses, and where we might be able to get them into treatment programs if we had such a facility.

The bill sets out 26 criteria and then at the end it says that even if they have met the criteria, the minister does not have to grant the permit.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member's question shows that there is no question the government is talking red tape and that it is really a government of absolute contradiction. It says one thing and does another.

First, the very essence of the bill, from a to z, is more about punishment than support. Second, it is a series of restrictions that make it near impossible to implement those strategies in some other areas where they maybe could be implemented. Clearly, the member is correct. The bill sets up a regulatory regime that is pretty near impossible to master, if we want to do the correct human thing in terms of establishing other InSite locations to help other people.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, years ago, an addictions expert told me that being addicted to something means that a person pretty much has no freedom. It is the antithesis of being free, because one is addicted. Right now, in Canadian society, people are watching on television the goings-on and the playing out of a very troubled situation in Toronto, where there is a mayor who is clearly dealing with a very serious challenge with substance abuse.

Canadians know about substance abuse. They know about the difficulties around addiction. However, I want to ask my colleague a question about health care costs.

He talked about the Supreme Court saying that it is a balance between public health and public safety.

In the city of Ottawa several years ago, there was a meaningful debate about an InSite injection site. At that time, the public health officer informed the citizenry that it costs between $600,000 and $1 million in health care costs to treat one HIV patient. That is one HIV patient. That does not count the millions of dollars in costs from hepatitis C infections and beyond.

I would have thought that a fiscally Conservative regime like the one across the floor would be weighing heavily the implications of health care costs, with scarce dollars being allocated to our health care system. I am wondering if my colleague can comment on the fact that the Conservative government is not even mentioning the health care costs that can be held in abeyance and prevented if we actually take a more public health approach to this than simply pounding people on the head saying that this is all about crime and then locking people up.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Yes, Mr. Speaker, the numbers are startling. It is $600,000 to $1 million to treat one patient with HIV. Clearly what these InSite injection sites do, which I said in my remarks, is prevent the use of dirty needles and an increased incidence of HIV.

I will quote a member who spoke about HIV the other day, the member for Vancouver Centre, a doctor, who has a lot of knowledge in this particular area. She said:

I just wanted to talk about HIV for a second. I wanted to paint a picture of what was then and why people felt it was essential to move forward on this issue. In 1989, there were 120 new cases out of 100,000 in Canada. After InSite, in Vancouver alone, this had dropped to 31. In the rest of Canada, the number of new cases remained the same.

The point is that the evidence is there if we want to look for it. We have to look for it. The government has a tendency to avoid the evidence. The evidence is there. Look at the economic savings to Canada, to say nothing of the potential for a better human experience. The economic savings alone as a result of reducing HIV and other health costs are tremendous.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I were to say that there is a system we can use to reduce the number of deaths and communicable diseases in a community, to reduce health care costs and drug use in public places, people would say that is absolutely fantastic and we should do it right away. Tomorrow, even.

Well, there is such a system. There is something that can achieve all of those goals: supervised injection sites like those found around the world, including the well-known InSite in Vancouver.

The bill we are debating today would stop that from happening. It would stop us from reducing the number of deaths, the incidence of communicable disease, health care costs, crime and drug use in public places. That is it in a nutshell. Nobody is asking about the real purpose of the bill, which is to shut down InSite and prevent similar sites from opening.

I am having a very hard time understanding what the Conservatives want. Do they want more sick people, more hepatitis and AIDS cases in our communities? Do they want more crime? Is that really what they want?

People in my riding, Laurier—Sainte-Marie, want fewer sick people, less crime and fewer problems. My riding certainly has drug use issues, but we also have a range of solutions. People working for CACTUS, L'Anonyme, the CSSS network and EMRI have great initiative. However, if we can do more, in consultation with the community, to prevent death, crime and disease, we should do more.

Consider drug use in public places. In Laurier—Sainte-Marie, I have picked up needles lying in the streets, needles that kids could have played with. Do we not want to try to avoid that kind of thing? I do not understand. I am not the only one who thinks that these sites deserve a strictly regulated place in Canada; the Supreme Court thinks so too.

Let us consider the facts. This all started in 2008 when InSite's exemption under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act expired.

The InSite exemption expired, and the Minister of Health denied the organization's renewal request. The case obviously went to court. It first went to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which ruled that InSite should receive a renewed exemption. The Conservative government of course did not agree. It appealed, and the case went to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which ruled that InSite should remain open.

The case then ended up before the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that the minister's decision to shut down InSite violated the rights of its clients as guaranteed under the charter. This is what the court had to say about the decision:

It is arbitrary, undermining the very purposes of the CDSA, which include public health and safety.”

I think that is rather clear and no one can claim that it was a partisan decision. The court based its decision on section 7 of the charter, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and that an individual can only be deprived of those rights in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

The court also declared that:

The infringement at stake is serious; it threatens the health, indeed the lives, of the claimants and others like them. The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for InSite cannot be ignored. These claimants would be cast back into the application process they have tried and failed at, and made to await the minister’s decision...

The Supreme Court determined that InSite and other supervised injection sites must be granted the exemption provided for in section 56, since the opening of such sites will:

decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety...

I raise this point because people often express concerns whereby opening such a site will have an impact on public safety. Studies and previous experiences in Canada and elsewhere have shown that there is no negative impact on public safety. In some cases, it even has a positive impact on public safety, by reducing, as I was saying, the injection of drugs in public, the violence sometimes associated with drug use and the discarded drug paraphernalia associated with illegal drug use.

The Supreme Court of Canada was very clear, as were the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal. Obviously, the Conservatives decided they wanted to circumvent the Supreme Court decision with this new bill. The Conservatives claim to like the rule of law, but they are not really willing to respect it when it does not agree with their ideology. This has nothing to do with facts and reality, it really is a matter of ideology. They do not have any justification to refuse to allow other sites to open or InSite to continue operating.

The Supreme Court was clear. If a site can cause harm to a community, it can be banned. That is official. However, this harm must be demonstrated and not just a product of unfounded fears. This is true and I will say it again, people are sometimes afraid. However, we should look at Vancouver and examine what is happening around InSite. Fully 80% of the people who live and work in the area around InSite support the project. This is quite impressive. We see the same numbers when we look at what is being done in Europe. People who live in the neighbourhoods of these projects and who can see the results show overwhelming support for this type of initiative. Obviously there must be a balance between health and public safety, but we can have both at the same time.

I quoted the Supreme Court of Canada quite often. Indeed, I think it very often hands down very carefully reasoned decisions. It is still our Supreme Court. The judges spend considerable time analyzing the issues and thinking them through.

However, the Supreme Court is not the only party defending the usefulness of safe injection sites. The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association have both criticized the government for introducing Bill C-2.

According to the Canadian Medical Association:

Supervised injection programs are an important harm reduction strategy. Harm reduction is a central pillar in a comprehensive public health approach to disease prevention and health promotion.

The Canadian Nurses Association had this to say:

Evidence demonstrates that supervised injection sites and other harm reduction programs bring critical health and social services to vulnerable populations—especially those experiencing poverty, mental illness and homelessness...A government truly committed to public health and safety would work to enhance access to prevention and treatment services—instead of building more barriers.

As you can see, all this bill does is create obstacles.

At new supervised injection sites, preparing an application will be such a cumbersome process that it may dissuade applicants from even opening a file. Department officials told us that if an applicant mistakenly forgets to include something, the application could be automatically denied. Even if an applicant manages to obtain all of the documents needed for the application, if the application is perfect, iron-clad from start to finish and has the community's full support, the minister always has the option of arbitrarily denying it.

The NDP feels that decisions about programs that could benefit public safety should be based on fact and not ideology. That is why I will be voting against this bill.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 8th, 2013 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the NDP very much for her wonderful speech. I know that she represents a constituency in Montreal. In fact, Montreal is one Canadian city that could be interested in a supervised injection site, along with Toronto and Ottawa.

Could the hon. member tell us how badly communities and people in the field would be hit if the Conservative government succeeds in passing this bill? Indeed, the bill aims not only to destroy any chances of survival for the site in Vancouver, but also to keep other sites from opening across the country, even though research has shown that these sites have a positive impact on communities.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 4th, 2013 / noon
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to oppose Bill C-2. What the Conservatives are trying to do with the bill is quite clear, despite their pretending to do something quite the opposite. The consequences of the bill will prove to be very dire for the most vulnerable in our society and very costly for our health care system.

While the bill pretends to address public health and safety concerns about safe injection sites, in fact it has three other completely different goals. I believe the bill aims to shut down InSite, the supervised injection site in east Vancouver, and to prevent any other supervised sites from operating. I believe it aims to nullify the 2011 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour safe injection sites, and I believe it constitutes a further attack on the principle of harm reduction.

The question of why the government would pretend to facilitate safe injection sites is in some respects easy to answer. Conservatives know the bill flies in the face of informed public opinion, so it is necessary to create false distractions by manufacturing concern over safe injection sites as threats to public health and safety, when in fact the evidence shows directly the opposite to be true. The bill raises the spectre of neighbourhood opposition to safe injection sites when surveys show that 80% of those living and working in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside support InSite, the existing safe injection site.

Bill C-2 pretends to implement the 2011 unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of Canada v. PHS Community Services Society, the decision upholding the right of InSite to operate and upholding the charter rights of those who are addicted to receive health care services.

Yet in its “principles”, Bill C-2 makes no reference to public health and no reference to any of the principles on which the Supreme Court of Canada decision was based. This indeed is a bill that will result in litigation, as its intent seems to be an end run around the Supreme Court decision on safe injection sites. Cynics might even say the government might welcome endless litigation, which would not only delay new safe injection sites but also consume the scarce resources of organizations that have a different view from the government on how best to address the addiction crisis in our communities.

The Conservatives also know that the false concerns about public health and safety that Bill C-2 raises will appeal to their narrow base who believe with a near religious fervour and a clear disdain for evidence that being tough on crime will somehow solve addiction problems.

Let me talk a little about each of these three not-so-hidden aims of Bill C-2: shutting down safe injection sites, getting around the Supreme Court ruling and destroying harm reduction programs. Bill C-2 pretends to facilitate the licensing of safe consumption sites, while instead creating a long list of criteria for licensing and setting up a system without any requirement for the timely disposition of those applications. The bill lists 26 criteria on which applications will be judged, literally A to Z in that section. It establishes long timelines for public consultation on an application, but imposes no timelines on the minister for actually making decisions.

Perhaps my greatest concern about the bill is the ultimate discretion granted to the minister. In the bill, the minister “may” grant a permit for a safe injection site that has met all the criteria, when in fact what I believe the bill should read is that the minister “must” grant a permit if the criteria are met.

As I said, Bill C-2 purports to implement the 2011 unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of safe injection sites. In this decision, the Supreme Court of Canada clearly found that safe injection sites save lives. The court ruled that the existing site should remain open with a section 56 exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The court ruled that InSite users have a charter right to access the service and that similar services elsewhere should be allowed to operate with an exemption. The court did not say we need a new bill and a new process.

Finally, Bill C-2 pretends to be about public health and safety, when it actually aims to dismantle an important harm reduction program. It ignores the very evidence that exists on the positive impacts of InSite. More than 300 peer-reviewed scientific studies have demonstrated that safe injection sites effectively reduce the risk of contracting and spreading blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, as well as reducing deaths to zero from overdoses. In a study conducted over a one-year period, there were 273 overdoses at InSite. None of these resulted in fatality.

Bill C-2 also ignores the real savings to both health care and public safety budgets that come from safe injection sites. They ignore the real savings in terms of reduced demand on first responders and emergency rooms with the reduction in overdoses, and they ignore the increased number of clients who actually get into treatment programs as a result of visiting save injection sites.

My colleague from Vancouver East pointed out in her speech on Bill C-2 last week:

Dr. Evan Wood, a renowned scientist who works for the B.C. Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS, points out that one of the important aspects of a safe injection site is that, given that each HIV infection costs on average approximately $500,000 in medical costs, [InSite] has contributed to a 90% reduction in new HIV cases caused by intravenous drug use in British Columbia, which is why the B.C. government has been such a strong supporter of the program.

When the evidence is clear, how can we proceed with a bill such as this, which intends to frustrate the creation of new safe injection sites? Unfortunately, I believe Bill C-2 is part of the Conservative agenda to eliminate harm reduction programs. We saw this agenda begin in 2007, when the government removed the term “harm reduction” from the list of goals of Canada's national drug strategy.

I am standing here today because there is a need for action to address the crisis in overdoses in my own community that the provincial health authority, social service agencies and local police are trying to address. The most recent B.C. Coroner's Report from October 2012 found that there were 44 deaths from illicit drug use on Vancouver Island in 2011, with 16 of those occurring in greater Victoria. This makes Vancouver Island the region with the highest rate of deaths related to illicit drug use in British Columbia at 7.88 per 100,000 residents.

According to the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria, this makes the local per capita death rate nearly 30% higher than that in the Lower Mainland. If people need evidence of the positive impact of InSite versus a community such as mine, which does not have access to a safe injection site, they should keep that figure in mind. There is a 30% higher death rate from overdoses on Vancouver Island than where a safe injection site exists in the Lower Mainland. The need for action in my community is very clear, yet Bill C-2 would take away the best tool for responding to this health crisis. It would take a safe injection site off the table for my community.

I have one last question. Why the rush? It was surprising to see Bill C-2 as the first bill the Conservative government brought forward for debate in the second session of the 41st Parliament. Yes, it would help re-establish its tough-on-crime credentials, but more importantly I suspect the Conservatives are in a rush to bring in this new law to head off the opening of new safe injection sites, as there are some applications for section 56 exemptions that are quite advanced. What they want to do is change the law and send the applicants back to the drawing board under this new legislation with its long delays and near impossible criteria.

The real threat to public health and safety in my community turns out to be the narrow ideological agenda of the Conservative government, which ignores the evidence of the real contribution that safe injection sites make to public health and safety. It has already sent a fundraising letter to its base talking about donating to the Conservatives to help them keep drugs out of our backyards. Ironically, of course, that is exactly what safe injection sites do. They move drug use off the streets and out of our backyards into a safer setting for both those who are injection drug users and our communities as a whole.

New Democrats are opposing the bill at second reading and sending the bill to the Standing Committee on Public Safety. I would say this is another piece of Conservative propaganda around safe injection sites. Why is the bill not going to the health committee where it belongs? This, as the Supreme Court of Canada pointed out, is clearly a health issue and not a public safety issue. The NDP will be calling witnesses in committee to bring the evidence, once again, to the attention of Conservatives of the very positive role that safe injection sites play in both public health and safety. The very fact that the Conservatives have chosen to send the bill to the public safety committee illustrates to me their intention to distract the public by characterizing safe injection sites as a threat to public safety rather than an important health measure that would save both lives and money.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 4th, 2013 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I agree with pretty well everything the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has said. I spent some time at the injection site in Downtown Eastside Hastings a number of years ago. They are there for health and for making progress in getting peoples' lives relatively back in order. These are people who are on drugs for whatever reason. We certainly do not want to see people on drugs. Injection sites do not encourage the use of drugs. They are recognizing the reality of the world and trying to find a reasonable solution to drug addiction. The member makes a number of good points.

Especially when the British Columbia government is on side, what is the reason, from his perspective, for the government going this way? Is it just that it believes in punishment or in ideology? These drug injection sites make sense from a health perspective, and I also believe they made sense from a crime perspective by reducing crime and trying to prevent peoples' lives from being destroyed.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 4th, 2013 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I really do suspect the government's motives with Bill C-2. I really believe it is trying to get around the Supreme Court of Canada decision, which found there was a charter right to access health services that save lives. Therefore, my hope is that when we get to committee with the bill and present the government once again with the evidence of the very positive role that safe injection sites play in communities—the very opposite of what it is alleging here, that they are somehow a threat to public safety and a threat to public health by encouraging drug use—that it will reconsider.

We know what the record is at InSite. We get far more injection drug users into treatment when there is a safe injection site where they can establish relationships with health care workers and counsellors, and establish the confidence to get the help they need to do something about their drug addiction. When we leave people on the street, it causes all the various public disorder problems that are associated with injection drug use.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 4th, 2013 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has given a very excellent overview of not only how InSite operates but why it is needed in his own community.

I am very curious. I believe that if we canvassed residents in B.C., generally, we would be hard pressed to find people who oppose InSite. They see it as part of the solution, not part of the problem. The members of Parliament from metro Vancouver here in the House, whether West Vancouver or the North Shore or wherever it might be, I bet their own constituents also understand and support InSite. That makes it all the more perplexing and distressing that the government has taken such a rigid hard line, such a politically motivated line where it is basically politics over medicine.

I would like to ask the member what he thinks about local representatives on Vancouver Island. I know in Vancouver one would be hard pressed to find any elected representative who would oppose what InSite has done.