Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to add my perspective, as the member of Parliament from the great city of Toronto, to today's debate on Bill C-2, the respect for communities act, and to stress the importance of passing this proposed piece of legislation.
It is important to note that this bill is in essence, as its long title implies, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or CDSA, for short, is Canada's drug control statute. The CDSA has two purposes: to protect public health and maintain public safety.
Today, I want to highlight the aspects of the bill that relate to public health, and to most especially reinforce the comments made by my Conservative colleagues on the importance of community consultations. Before I do so, I want to speak for a few moments about the threat that illicit drug use poses to the individuals using them, to the families and loved ones of those who use them, and to broader communities across Canada.
I will start by talking about the impact of illicit drugs on individual users.
Illicit drug use can pose a great risk to a person's physical health, both immediately and over the long term. Drugs like these tear families apart, foster life-threatening addictions, and destroy lives.
Obviously the greatest immediate risk is the potential for a fatal overdose. We know that illicit drug use also presents an increased risk of infectious and communicable diseases, such as HIV-AIDS and hepatitis C, which are associated with major morbidity, mortality, and health care costs.
The issues associated with illicit drug use reach far beyond the individual user, and often have very serious impacts on families and communities. Just ask any parent or loved one of a person with a drug or substance abuse problem about the devastating impact that these addictions have had on their lives. I am sure that many members in this House today are aware of very personal stories about how illicit drugs are negatively impacting the life of a community member, or perhaps even a friend or family member.
Rest assured that our government is steadfast in its commitment to protecting the public health of Canadians. It is vital that we work first and foremost to prevent illicit drug use, especially among our young people who are particularly vulnerable.
Where addictions exist, it is imperative that measures are put in place to make treatment available, which is why our government put in place the national anti-drug strategy. This strategy is contributing to safer and healthier communities through coordinated efforts to prevent illicit drug use, to treat dependency, and to reduce the production and distribution of illicit drugs.
Our government has invested over half a billion dollars in prevention, treatment, and enforcement activities under this strategy. This represents an unprecedented level of funding for anti-drug initiatives, and this strategy continues to evolve in response to the increased pressures being felt by Canadians and their respective communities.
Most recently, prescription drug abuse was added as a priority issue to be addressed under the national anti-drug strategy. In economic action plan 2014, our government announced almost $45 million in new funding over five years, to address prescription drug abuse.
This funding will be used for educating people on the safe use, storage, and disposal of prescription medications; enhancing prevention and treatment services in first nations communities; increasing inspections to minimize the diversion of prescription drugs from pharmacies for illegal sale; and improving surveillance data on prescription drug abuse.
Our government recognizes that prescription drug abuse is a serious public health and safety issue that is having a significant impact on communities across Canada. Addressing this issue under the framework of the national anti-drug strategy keeps Canada's focus where it needs to be: on prevention and treatment.
I also want to point out that last year alone, our government committed over $95 million through the federal initiative to address HIV-AIDS in Canada, and the Canadian HIV vaccine initiative. This investment supports research and prevention, and facilitates access to diagnosis and treatment, particularly among vulnerable populations. It also supports Canadian researchers who are working to prevent infections, improve treatment, and ultimately find a cure for HIV and AIDS.
In Canada, this means preventing new infections and making a difference in the lives of more than 71,000 Canadians who are living with HIV and AIDS.
This government takes the responsibility to protect the health of Canadians very seriously. The bill we are debating in the House today, the respect for communities act, is consistent with our government's approach to addressing illicit drug use in the national anti-drug strategy. That is why passing Bill C-2 is important.
Bill C-2 relates to section 56 of the CDSA, which permits the Minister of Health to exempt a party from the application of the CDSA for certain activities. Bill C-2 proposes two separate exemption regimes. The first would be for licit substances, and the second would be for illicit substances, including a specific regime to undertake activities with illicit drugs at a supervised consumption site. Such an exemption would be necessary to protect the staff and clients at the site from charges of possession under the CDSA.
It is imperative that the Minister of Health give careful consideration to any application for such an exemption. It is also an important principle that the minister be provided with all of the information needed to make an informed decision, on a case-by-case basis, for each application that comes across her or his desk. The substances covered under this act can pose serious risk to the health and safety of individuals and communities if they are abused or misused. We know that the risk is amplified when the substances are accessed illegally, as may be the case at a supervised consumption site.
Such an exemption would only be granted once rigorous criteria have been addressed by the applicant, which includes the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders, such as local residents and businesses. Only then would the Minister of Health be able to verify that adequate measures are in place to protect the health and safety of staff and clients, as well as community members in the vicinity of the proposed site.
Many of the criteria included in the bill are for the protection of public health. For example, an applicant for such an exemption would have to provide scientific evidence to demonstrate the medical benefit to individual or public health associated with access to activities at a proposed supervised consumption site. The applicant would also have to provide a letter from the highest-ranking public health official in the province or territory, outlining their opinion on the proposed supervised consumption site. The applicant would also have to provide a letter from the provincial minister responsible for health, indicating how the proposed activities of the site would be integrated within the provincial health care system.
Every one of the criteria included in this legislation is meant to capture information that is relevant to the minister in exercising her or his duty to protect public health and public safety.
I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of the respect for communities act. As I mentioned earlier, illicit drugs can have far-reaching and devastating impacts on individuals and communities. The respect for communities act would further strengthen our government's ability to protect the public health and public safety of Canadians. Most importantly, Canadian families expect safe and healthy communities in which to raise their children.
This bill would give local law enforcement, municipal leaders, and local residents a voice before a permit is granted for a supervised consumption site. Communities deserve to have a say if someone would like to build a drug consumption site where illegal drugs are used in their neighbourhood. Canadian families have a right to this input.
The minister needs to have the information that she or he needs to exercise her duties as mandated by the Supreme Court, and our government will continue to keep our streets safe.