Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity today to talk about Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Vancouver East for her speech and her work on this file. The member's rigour, and especially her compassion, are a real inspiration to me, and I wanted the House to know that.
Personally, I think this bill is not only a thinly veiled attempt by the Conservative government to put an end to supervised injection services in Canada, but also a direct attack on this country's institutions and a blatant lack of respect for them too. Driven by their regressive and sanctimonious ideology, the Conservatives are utterly incapable of relying on simple facts to make the important decisions they have to make as a government.
Like many of my constituents in the Montreal community of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, I am deeply concerned about drug addiction and its negative repercussions. As such, this bill is obviously of great interest to me.
It should be understood that I rise here today not only to argue against passing the bill in its current form, but also to set the record straight, since the Conservatives have been deliberately denying the facts and doing everything in their power to twist them.
The facts, which I am going to talk about in the House today, have been studied by numerous researchers; the Supreme Court of Canada relied on these facts to render its important 2011 decision stipulating that the supervised injection services offered by InSite in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside could legally and legitimately be offered to injection drug users.
Bill C-2 is based on the Conservatives' presumption that the services offered by organizations like InSite pose a risk to public safety. However, in its 2011 decision, which the Conservatives decided to violate by means of this bill, the Supreme Court of Canada clearly ruled that it was not simply a question of public safety. Indeed, that decision called on the government to consider exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in an effort to reconcile health and public safety considerations.
Once again, the Conservatives decided to do things their way and draft their bill by putting their ideology ahead of the principles established by the Supreme Court. They are making the process for obtaining an exemption from the law so complex that it will create a disincentive to opening new centres. By way of evidence, they decided to send the bill to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, where they brought in a series of police officers, whose work is obviously to fight drug trafficking, and representatives of groups with ties to the Conservative Party. In so doing, they deliberately disregarded the entire public health aspect of this issue. If that is not a rejection of the Supreme Court and its rulings and proof that the Conservatives are blinded by their ideology, then it can only be contempt, in my opinion.
The comments by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness alone are enough to show that all of their decisions are based on this ideology. In fact, in response to my questions at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, he said:
Basically, opening a supervised injection site leads to an increase in criminality, an increase in police resources and an increase in social disorder. That has been proven and that is reality.
I did not really understand why he was talking about that, because I explained to him and to another minister who was there that some people from a low-income housing unit in my riding organize a clean-up every spring. I participate in the clean-up with my team. We clean up the area, which includes removing needles from a nearby park. A supervised injection site could help make this less of a problem. At least this helps back up what I am saying.
If the government truly wanted to make this a public safety issue, I would suggest that a supervised injection site in a neighbourhood like Hochelaga-Maisonneuve would help reduce harm.
I want to take this opportunity to invite the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of Health to come take a walk in a park in Hochelaga with their children, so they can understand why some parents back home are afraid of letting their children play outside and why some groups go through the parks in the morning to ensure that there are no needles lying around.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the government to take public health into account when making decisions about services similar to those offered by InSite. Accordingly, we must recognize that the health of intravenous drug users is cause for alarm.
In Montreal, 68% of users have hepatitis C and 18% are living with HIV. Not only are these serious life-threatening diseases, but they also represent an enormous social cost in terms of health care alone.
According to the statistics, when specialized addiction prevention services can prevent even just one case of hepatitis C or HIV infection, they automatically make their annual budget cost effective. That says a lot. Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that between 2006 and 2009, 72 injection drug users died of overdoses in Montreal.
Just like the mayor of Montreal, SPVM police officers, the public health branch and several community groups in my riding and across Montreal, and in light of scientific studies—which rely on facts to reach conclusions—I believe that supervised injection sites are a vital means of tackling the problem in the interest of both public health and harm reduction.
Contrary to what the Conservatives think—since they have such a hard time acknowledging scientifically proven facts—this is not an opinion. There are many well-documented scientific arguments that weigh in favour of supervised injection sites. Centres in Barcelona, Sydney and Vancouver, which have existed for years, are good examples. The list of benefits is impressive: harm levels have been reduced or have remained the same, the number of intoxicated people wandering the streets has dropped sharply, the number of users has stabilized and so on.
It would take a fairly regressive ideology to keep someone from seeing the fact that safe injection sites are an effective and affordable health care service. Some of those in blind opposition to this include the witnesses invited by the Conservatives to appear before the Standing Committee on Health. What a circus.
On one hand, the government refused to invite important witnesses who made it known that they were interested in appearing before the committee and who could have explained to us the public health aspects of injection sites and the benefits they provide from a harm reduction standpoint. Those witnesses include the Canadian Association of Nurses in AIDS Care and the Canadian Bar Association, which represents 37,000 members across the country. This is what that association had to say in its submission:
However, other parts of the Preamble reflect a continued emphasis on prohibiting illicit drugs. This approach ignores overwhelming historical and current evidence that prohibition drives the drug supply underground and increases violence and deaths associated with drug activity and overdoses. Not only dangerous, this approach has proven expensive and ineffective, even after decades and endless public funds to allow it to succeed. The CBA and many others have argued for a harm reduction approach to instead be used in dealing with illegal drugs and addiction.
That is exactly the opposite of what the Conservatives are saying.
Worse still, they invited organizations espousing an unabashedly Conservative ideology to appear, such as Real Women of Canada, an organization I definitely wish to dissociate myself from even though I consider myself to be a real woman. That organization was obviously invited for the purpose of discrediting studies that recognize the benefits of InSite and supervised injection services in general.
Not only did the witness attempt to discredit the studies, but she went so far as to accuse the researchers of professional misconduct. She was lucky to be given immunity during her testimony. That immunity is obviously not intended to give witnesses a chance to say whatever they want.
What does it say about the credibility of an organization that has appeared before the Supreme Court more than once to plead that a fetus is a person and has the right to life, but is unable to see that an addict is also a person with the right to life?
In its ruling, the Supreme Court recognizes that addiction is an illness and that drug addicts are citizens who have the right, like everyone else, to life, health and security, which are constitutional rights guaranteed under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Our role as a society is not to lecture people, but rather to show them compassion and help them in order to give them the best possible options.
When it comes to supervised injection services, the days of Conservative bigotry are over. It is time for our country to show compassion toward injection drug users and give them the health care they are entitled to.