Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-2. As we have said on this side of the House, this bill is ill-considered and a reaction, frankly, to the government's inability to address a serious problem. As we know, the Supreme Court has had to intervene to guide the government to do more than it has been doing.
However, it is more than that. If we look at the legislation, it tries to address a major void in the approach of the government in dealing with what is a health issue. I would like to underline that point at the start. This is about health, the health of our neighbours and the people we represent as members of Parliament. Too often, this issue has been dressed up as a drug issue, invoking the kind of images we see on TV. Somehow it has been torqued to the point where we forget that we are talking about human beings who are facing addictions.
Recently I met with people who were with the recovery movement in Ottawa. I sponsored a motion, which I would love to have the rest of my colleagues support, with respect to designating a recognized recovery month in September. One of the important topics they spoke of was the people who had taken on an addiction, gone down that brave road and, with the support of many people, been able to deal with it, whether it had been alcohol or drugs. Their point was that we need to take this out of the shadows when we are talking about addictions and celebrate when people have been successful with recovery. We need to talk about it and celebrate it, not hide it or be ashamed of it. That is something we have seen with mental health. We have come a long way when it comes to mental health. However, we need to do the same with addictions.
When people are addicted to drugs, we need to see that as a health issue. It could be my kids who could become addicted, or the kids of other members, our neighbours, or friends. We have seen that pattern.
Before my mother entered politics, her first job was as a public health nurse. One of the things she had to deal with in the 1970s was the kids who were getting addicted to hard drugs and had nowhere to go. She was their first point of contact in dealing with that issue. The problem then was acknowledging that it was a problem. People were hiding behind closed doors and suffering in silence. We have made some progress in that area by now. However, when I look at this bill and listen to the government side, I think we need to take back that approach that we thought we had learned and instead say this is a health issue and that we can solve it if we work together.
It just so happens that this is timely for me. I was very lucky this past week to meet with all the executive directors of all of the community health centres in Ottawa. They were not just community health centre executive directors from Ottawa Centre—I am lucky to have four community health centres in my riding—but also from other areas in Ottawa.
I met with the executive director of the community health centre in the south end of Ottawa, which is not in my area; and from the Queensway Carleton area, which is west of me; as well as Simone Thibault, executive director of the Centretown Community Health Centre, who coordinated it. I want to give her a special mention because she hosted the meeting. Jack McCarthy from the Somerset West Community Health Centre was also there, as was the executive director from Sandy Hill.
It was David Gibson who underlined the point that we have to get smarter when it comes to dealing with addictions, and hard drugs in particular. He laid out a convincing argument on why we need to take a different approach than what is laid out in Bill C-2. Essentially, he said that we have to acknowledge that we have harmful, powerful drugs being used by members of our community. Therefore, the first thing we need to do when dealing with any addiction is to recognize it. The second is that we have to understand what the drugs are, who is taking them, and where they are taking them. Therefore, we must do an analysis. The third is to come up with solutions. It is a fairly straightforward approach that he talked about.
However, he also added to the briefing that he sent me, which I thank him for, the legal piece here, because we know that the Supreme Court has been involved.
I will read some of that report into the record for the benefit of our debate. One of the things he says is the following:
I consider Bill C2 as an important reminder of the lessons of the 2011 Supreme Court's ruling: that governments, and all health and public health organizations, have a duty to act in ways that enhance the health of individuals and their communities.
I do not think anyone in this House would disagree with that statement.
He does go on to say how we can improve that response to achieve the goal he laid out. One of the things he has laid out was from that Supreme Court ruling:
The effect of denying the services of [safe injection sites] to the population it serves and the...increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.
That was from Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in her decision in 2011. It goes on to say:
These sites are evidence that health authorities are increasingly recognizing that health care for injection drug users cannot amount to a stark choice between abstinence and forgoing health services.
This is the key for me. We cannot take people who are hiding in the shadows with their addictions and using injection drugs and say that we do not have any role. They are people in our communities. They are people who need help.
We cannot just say get off the drugs. The ads are fine. I have seen them, and they can have some effect, but if an individual is addicted to hard drugs and is using injection drugs, that campaign will not help. It will not do the job.
The Supreme Court was saying that we cannot lay it out and say that abstinence or denial of health services is all that is left for an individual who is a drug user. We have to look at who this person is and how we can help, as I mentioned earlier.
The image I will now tell the House about is from the report I received from one of our community health centre executive directors. It is an actual story. I think it is important, because it lays out what some of the challenges are.
This story is about a person we will call Michael, to protect his privacy. In August 2012, at the age of 19, the same age as my eldest son, Michael visited the downtown City of Ottawa community health centre to exchange his used needles for clean needles. Having declined further support that day, Michael left the community health centre. There is an accompanying photo, which I cannot show the House.
What happened next was that just steps away from the community health centre, Michael was found in an overdosed state. He was found by one of the people in the community health centre, fortunately, because if he had not been found, he would have died of an overdose.
He woke up in the hospital emergency department and was told that he was clinically dead when the paramedics arrived. I will just underline the point that he was 25 metres from the community health centre, and they were able to be there to help him. However, what happened to his friend was not so lucky. A week later, one of his closest friends died of an overdose.
What I am trying to say is that this is preventable. When we have people, and they are in all of our communities, make no mistake, who are dying because of overdoses and the use and misuse of injection drugs, there is a model that is not one-size-fits-all. It is an opportunity for us to deal with it.
In closing, this is not about naming and shaming. This is about taking people out of the shadows and putting them in front of our health care services and providing the supports they need.
It is 2015. The evidence is out. The studies have been done. We know that supervised sites can work. It is not one-size-fits-all. Yes, I agree with the government that it has to have community support, but if we fail to provide that support, we are turning our backs on people.
This is about people's lives. This is about the fact that people are dying in our streets because we are not doing enough, and it would be an abject failure, not only of our duties as members of Parliament but our collective duties as a caring community.