Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-2, the respect for communities act. This is a very important piece of legislation, and one that will further strengthen Canada's drug control statute, known as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The legislation before us today proposes to entrench this belief in the law with regard to supervised injection sites, and is guided by a ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, in 2011. In this ruling, the court affirmed that it remains the Minister of Health's authority to exercise discretion in granting section 56 exemptions, which can allow supervised injection sites to operate. However, notably telling is that its decision was not an invitation for anyone who choses to open a facility for drug use under the banner of a safe injection facility.
It is interesting to hear members of the opposition saying that it must be either no sites, or that every site that one might want to have can go ahead. The Supreme Court of Canada gave parameters around what might be involved, and ultimately said that it would be within the discretion of the minister, having due regard for the criteria that the court set out.
As all members in this House know, our government is committed to helping keep Canadian families and communities healthy and safe. I want to begin my remarks by telling this House about some of the ways that we are living up to this commitment.
Earlier in the year, our government announced $100,000 in funding for a project that will train front-line community workers and criminal justice personnel in New Brunswick on effective, efficient, and timely substance abuse treatment strategies for youth involved in the criminal justice system. The funding was part of a national anti-drug strategy, which focuses on preventing illegal drug use and providing treatment services for those with drug dependencies.
There is also some talk about the fact that we need to provide treatment services and that we need to look at preventing illicit drugs. Members have to keep that in the background when looking at this particular piece of legislation.
The national anti-drug strategy also allows this government to get tough on drug dealers and producers who threaten the health and safety of our youth and the viability of our communities.
In 2012, our government introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which is making Canadian communities safer while extending greater protection to the most vulnerable members of society. As part of this act, the government implemented mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences carried out for organized crime purposes or that specifically targeted youth. In doing so, our government has further enhanced the ability of Canada's justice system to hold offenders accountable for their actions.
Another piece of legislation that is vital to the government's focus on safeguarding Canadians is the one we have been talking about throughout the debate here tonight on Bill C-2, which is the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or the CDSA, for short. It controls substances that can alter mental processes and that may produce harm to health or society when diverted or misused. Again, it is in this context that this proposed legislation must be considered.
The act also includes measures to protect public health, by prohibiting activities with controlled substances unless they are authorized for specific legitimate purposes. The act also serves to maintain public safety by prohibiting the possession, trafficking, importing, exporting, and production of those substances unless otherwise authorized.
The act is a prohibitive piece of legislation. That is, it sets out all of the things that cannot be done with a controlled substance, along with identifying which substances are controlled. However, there are times when exceptions to the rules need to be made, and they are made. This is generally accomplished through the making of regulations, and it is also where section 56 of the act comes into play.
Section 56 of the act authorizes a minister of health to grant exemptions from the provisions of the act. While the act gives the minister discretion in determining whether or not to grant an exemption, any decision must strike a balance between public health and public safety. Therefore, it is not an either/or, but must be something that takes into account all of the factors, which the minister has to weigh and then make a decision.
For the most part, the exemptions granted under the act are routine. For example, an exemption may be granted for medical purposes or for scientific ones, such as university-based research or clinical trials, which goes without saying.
The bill we are debating today has no impact on these types of exemptions. The type of exemption that would be impacted by Bill C-2 is one with controlled substances that had been obtained through illicit sources or, as we might say, accessed on the street. They are illegal substances obtained on the street, and, again, that must be part of the context within which we review this legislation.
Currently there are two types of exemptions of this nature that are entrenched in the statute. The first is for law enforcement purposes, for example, to train sniffer dogs used in seizing drugs, and the second is for InSite, as ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada. Throughout the debate, we have heard reference to the Supreme Court of Canada decision concerning InSite. In that decision, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act's prohibition on possession and trafficking of controlled substances, and affirmed the minister's right to exercise discretion in granting an exemption under the act. It is not in every case that there will be an exemption. It must be exercised as a discretion based on a number of factors.
Bill C-2 was developed further to the Supreme Court of Canada decision, and the criteria included in it codified the five factors that the minister must and should consider when assessing an application as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. The opposition has said that we should not go into these factors. The Supreme Court said that these are the very factors that must be taken into consideration before a decision is made one way or another. Therefore, I think it is absolutely appropriate to codify those in the amended legislation that we have proposed.
In the respect for communities act, this government is putting in place a regime that would provide further clarity and transparency to the way in which an application would be made for exemptions to conduct activities with illicit substances in a supervised drug consumption site. It would also ensure that the Minister of Health is provided with the information that she needs to make an informed decision on supervised injection sites on a case-by-case basis, as mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The respect for communities act outlines the criteria that the applicant must address when seeking an exemption to undertake activities with illicit substances at a supervised consumption site before the Minister of Health could consider the application. What is wrong with that? There are certain criteria that would have to be met, and the applicant must indeed attempt to meet them.
As I have mentioned, the criteria included in the bill are consistent with the factors set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. They include, among other things, scientific evidence showing that there is a medical benefit to the proposed activities, letters of opinion from key stakeholders, and a demonstration of the financial sustainability of the site. Simply put, the respect for communities act would give local law enforcement, municipal leaders, and local residents a voice before a permit is granted for a supervised injection site. That seems very reasonable to me.
It is our government's belief that communities deserve to have a say if someone would like to build a drug injection site where illegal drugs are used in his or her neighbourhood. Our government is concerned about the potential risks that supervised drug consumption sites could pose for the surrounding communities and the families who live in them. That is only reasonable. For this reason, Bill C-2 would make it mandatory for applicants to solicit the opinions of surrounding communities and relevant stakeholders, including letters of opinion from law enforcement, public health, and municipal leaders.
Further, the applicant would have to consult with a broad spectrum of local community groups and provide a report on those consultations. The applicant would also have to provide an indication of what measures would be taken to address any relevant concerns that are identified in the process. Again, I would say that is very reasonable.
The minister would also be authorized to publicly post a notice of application to seek broad community input for any proposed supervised drug consumption site. A supervised drug injection site should not be created in a residential community without consultation, and that gives the community an opportunity to pose any concerns and have input. It is also an opportunity for those applying for the licence to address any potential concerns. If they have gone through those steps that have been set in advance, then the minister may issue a licence, if she chooses, based on the evidence before her.