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.


Rona Ambrose  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


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.


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.


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.”.

September 15th, 2017 / 3:20 p.m.
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John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you very much for sharing your time.

Thank you for your comments and testimony today. I just wanted to say, in the last few minutes of our week-long session on this, thank you to the clerk and his staff. I was doing some research to see how many witnesses have come to speak to an act before. The Fair Elections Act had 74. Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, had 75. Bill C-2 , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act had 20. After that, it's lower numbers. I think we might have hit the benchmark with over 100 witnesses on this topic, which speaks to the importance of it to Canadians and the social change that's coming with it.

My comment, for the Emerys and for others who have been part of this very strong culture in trying to create change, is that the purpose of the act is to prevent young persons from accessing cannabis, to protect public health and public safety by establishing stricter product safety and product quality requirements, and to deter criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties.

If you read the bill, the goal is not about recreational marijuana users, by optimizing their experience and optimizing their choices. It's a very different lens. I think that's the social difference or maybe the philosophical difference. I understand and hear your frustration. I hear the background that you're coming from, but the act would address different social agendas than the one you've been speaking to.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2017 / 10:15 a.m.
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Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member pointed out when he talked about how we got here, one of the reasons we got to Bill C-37 is that initially, the Conservatives' Bill C-2 established 26 criteria, which were very burdensome for communities that need and want safe consumption sites, which science demonstrates save lives.

Our idea was to come back to the five criteria established by the Supreme Court and to get closer to those criteria so we could move more swiftly, because we know that every single day Canadians are dying from opioid use in this country. We need to take swift action and act decisively, with respect for the communities where they would be established. We need to make sure that where they are needed and wanted, these safe consumption sites are established.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
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Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts.

While I am supporting this positive move, I must say I am still deeply troubled by this crisis that continues to hit communities. On a personal note, I was deeply touched after hearing from those affected. As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I, with my colleagues from all parties, studied this crisis. In fact, we chose to pass a motion to undertake an emergency study of the crisis.

We were all in lockstep with the minister, trying to make a positive difference and to make choices that would save lives. That motivation drove us to work hard, and work together. We worked collectively and openly on this. That is something I am quite proud of and something I have valued in my time as the MP for Brampton South, and as a fellow parliamentarian of all who serve together in this place.

In committee, we heard from wide-ranging front-line perspectives, experts, and from the Minister of Health directly on this. I would like to make particular note of the testimony the committee heard from indigenous peoples on October 25, which I feel was compelling, honest, and a real wake-up call about what we need to do to ensure we address the needs of indigenous communities. For starters, improving access to naloxone treatment, the life-saving medication used in the case of an opioid overdose, was needed for rural and remote first nations in particular. That was a key part of the minister's action plan coming out of the summit, and goes to show what we can do when we consult all communities.

In looking at the bill, I see that Bill C-37 addresses what we heard from the Canada Border Services Agency about practical changes that would help prevent drug-making materials from entering the country. I applaud the minister's work also to check suspicious international mail packages that are 30 grams or less, which could be used to smuggle in any amounts of substances that may cause harm. This is a good precaution to benefit Canadians.

I want to remind colleagues that the bill is the product of hundreds of voices coming together. Our committee members were graciously invited to join in the health minister's summit on this as well. Coming out of the summit, we saw action. In fact, the joint statement of action by 42 organizations to address the opioid crisis was a broad but concrete approach that includes all those involved, from health care providers, to first responders, to educators, to researchers, and to families as well. I want to applaud our Minister of Health, and Ontario's minister of health as well, for leading that conference, which focused on concrete steps and delivering clear results.

Our government has taken action from day one, building on our five-point action plan to address opioid misuse. We have taken concrete steps, such as granting section 56 exemptions for the Dr. Peter Centre and extending the exemption for lnsite for an additional four years. We made the overdose antidote naloxone more widely available in Canada. Our government recently approved three safe consumption sites in Montreal that the community asked for.

Further, at the local level, we have seen action already undertaken. In the city of Toronto, the mayor met with the mayor of Vancouver and other officials in order to plan a proactive not reactive response for Ontario as the crisis drifts eastward. The mayor of Hamilton held a discussion about this as well, and other municipalities have been doing the same. I hope more municipalities will reach out, learn from one another, and take proactive measures in their communities.

The numbers and the experts support this as the right way to public health, and it also delivers cost savings. I see how various aspects of the bill address a lot of the concerns we heard at committee and at the opioids summit. While many members have made note of the urgency of passing the bill, I think the majority of members showed time and time again in recent weeks that they were willing to collaborate to move quickly on this.

I want to reassure members that I believe the bill is an extremely collaborative and well-thought-out bill that responds to experts in the field as well as front-line needs. It gives me comfort to know that this bill would make a difference.

As others have said before, and I agree, we are in a national public health crisis in Canada. In 2016, thousands of Canadians tragically died of accidental opioid overdoses, and more will die this year. Our government and its partners must work together aggressively to save lives.

If people have friends or neighbours who are hearing the Conservatives' argument that facilities like Insite are the wrong approach, I would encourage them to contact me or other members on the health committee who would be happy to provide non-partisan, evidence-based information on why that does not reflect the safe consumption site model we see working already in Canada. All members of this House can agree that our hearts go out to the families and friends affected personally when a loved one has lost his or her life instead of having another chance. Last year in British Columbia alone, more than 900 people died from a drug overdose, an 80% increase from 2015.

This legislation simply proposes to ease the burden on communities that wish to open a supervised consumption site, while putting stronger measures in place to stop the flow of illicit drugs and strengthening the system in place for licensed controlled substances facilities. Experts and stakeholders told the previous government and then told our government that Bill C-2 as it stood was not helping this crisis. That is why we took action to reverse the barriers that were holding back communities that have long been asking for the ability to save their citizens' lives.

We know there is more to be done as we move forward. We know that sadly the situation is getting worse. The deaths from overdoses will now be greater than deaths caused by car accidents. This tragic crisis continues to move eastward in Canada, with increasing drug seizures of fentanyl and carfentanil across the country. We will continue to work with our partners across the country to continue bringing forward evidence-based solutions to save lives and ensure that 2017 is the year that will mark a turn in this national public health crisis.

Many people in Brampton South have asked me about my work on the health committee, and I have mentioned over and over that we all agreed we should turn our focus to this study due to the emergency at hand. They ask me why and they are always engaged when hearing about how we can work together at committee to address real problems and issues that our fellow Canadians face. Again, the way our committee worked together is one of the cherished moments I have of being an MP, and I hope we get more chances to work collaboratively again. This crisis called on us as leaders in our communities and as parliamentarians to take action.

In October 2016, I put forward a motion that the health committee call upon the Minister of Health to move as quickly as possible to conduct a review of the laws and regulations in place with regard to safe injection sites. I suggested that the review have an end goal to improve the health and safety of Canadians, using a strong evidence-based approach. With Bill C-37, I feel the minister and government have responded fully to the motion that the health committee passed in October of last year.

I am proud to be supporting this legislation that would save the lives of Canadians who need our help.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2017 / 4:15 p.m.
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Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, for any Canadians who are watching, I am glad that they can see that the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party, the Green Party, and I am not sure about the Bloc, are willing and ready to move quickly on this legislation and not sit here and debate and slow down legislation when Canadians are dying every day.

It has been well established that Canada is currently in the grips of an unprecedented national public health emergency. I am glad to hear both my Liberal and Conservative colleagues increasingly using that term to describe the opioid crisis. The New Democratic Party started using the term back in November, and that is because this is a national public health emergency and our fellow Canadians are suffering and dying every single day.

Fifty Canadians are dying every week from opioid overdoses in this country. That is a national crisis. It also bears repeating that this crisis has become dramatically worse in recent months.

In 2016, in my home province of British Columbia alone, there were 914 drug overdose deaths. That is an 80% increase from the year before. In December, just a couple of months ago, we recorded the highest number of overdose deaths in B.C.'s history with 142 lives lost. That is more than double the monthly average of overdose deaths since 2015 and a sharp increase over September, October, and November. There were 57 overdose deaths in B.C. in September, 67 in October, 128 in November, and 142 in December. I can only guess that the number will be even higher for January. While the Conservatives want us to debate and consult, New Democrats want to act and save lives.

In December, the B.C. Coroners Service announced that morgues in the city of Vancouver were frequently full as a result of the unprecedented number of overdose deaths, forcing health authorities to store bodies at funeral homes.

This crisis is in large part the legacy of Canada's now defunct anti-drug strategy. Decades of a misguided criminal approach to drug policy has proven to be counterproductive, fuelling Canada's unregulated illegal drug market and leaving a scarcity of evidence-based health services, including harm reduction and treatment programs for people suffering from substance use disorder.

The Conservatives cut 15% from the addiction service budget in their last year in office. International research demonstrates that the criminalization of drugs increases rates of drug production, consumption, availability, and adverse drug-related health effects, but that is the evidence, and for the last 10 years our drug policy in this country was not based on evidence. It was based on ideology.

Because this crisis has been years in the making, it will not be solved by any one action or piece of legislation. I think we all know that. The passage of Bill C-37 must be the beginning of a much deeper examination of how we understand and respond to drug use and addiction in Canada.

For many years, New Democrats have been advocating for an evidence-based and health-focussed approach to drug use and addiction. Our party understands that substance use is not a moral failure. We also understand that criminal approaches that aim to punish or isolate those with addiction issues only serve to compound the suffering of those already experiencing tremendous pain.

As Dr. Gabor Maté, a Canadian physician who specializes in addictions has said:

Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden — but it’s there.

That is why New Democrats have pushed the federal government to reinstate harm reduction as one of the four pillars of Canadian drug policy ever since it was removed by Stephen Harper. That is why New Democrats led the fight against the Conservatives' Bill C-2 from the day it was introduced. That is why we have pressed the Liberal government to repeal or amend Bill C-2 since February 2016, one year ago, when the opioid overdose crisis was in its earliest stage.

Last fall, the NDP successfully moved a motion at the Standing Committee on Health to conduct a study on the opioid overdose crisis. This led to a report with 38 recommendations to the federal government, most of which have not yet been implemented, I would point out.

We were the first to call for a declaration of a national public health emergency. Such a declaration would empower Canada's Chief Public Health Officer to take extraordinary measures to coordinate a national response to the crisis, a measure the Liberal government, still to this day, refuses to take.

Last December, we attempted to fast-track Bill C-37 because of the dire need to deal with this crisis as quickly as possible, but that, again, was blocked by the Conservatives.

Indeed, Bill C-37 continues to be delayed because the Conservatives refuse to acknowledge the crucial importance of harm reduction, and the evidence that supervised consumption sites save lives now.

Today, I am saddened to see that the Conservatives still have not learned from their mistakes, and I am deeply troubled that they continue to liken supervised consumption sites and the approval of same to pipeline approval processes.

After their bizarre offer to trade supervised consumption site approvals for pipelines, at the health committee, the Conservative member for Lethbridge argued that these health facilities should require the same social licence as energy projects before they are permitted to save lives. The member argued that we must maintain Bill C-2's unnecessary barriers because the placement of a site will impact the communities in which they are located.

For once, I agree with the member for Lethbridge. It is absolutely correct that these sites do indeed impact communities: by saving lives, by reducing crime, and by providing opportunities for recovery to people suffering from a disease.

The Conservative Party likes to imagine that supervised consumption sites might be imposed on communities by the federal government. The opposite is true. Supervised consumption sites only exist in Canada due to the tireless efforts of advocates and community members who contribute their time and talent to provide evidence-based, life saving health services. Sometimes, they have even done so at the risk of their own liberty.

Vancouver's Dr. Peter Centre provided supervised consumption services, in violation of federal law, for over a decade, since 2002, before the federal government finally granted it a legal exemption.

Vancouver's Insite had to fight the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to keep its doors open. Even then, instead of complying with the spirit of the ruling, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper passed Bill C-2 as a thinly veiled attempt to prevent any new site from opening in Canada.

Today, as we speak, at least three overdose prevention sites are operating in the open in Vancouver without a legal exemption, against the law, exposing the staff who work there to criminal sanction because they are answering a higher call. They are answering the call of saving lives. That is why they are doing it.

The truth is supervised consumption sites do not harm communities; they help them. The evidence from Insite has been overwhelming and crystal clear.

By the way, the Conservatives talk about the negative impact of supervised consumption sites on communities. They never quote a single piece of evidence, not a shred, from any operating supervised consumption site because there are only two in Canada. Those two in Canada have been studied and written up in periodicals as respected as The Lancet and the evidence is crystal clear. They save lives. They reduce crime around the area. They stop open drug use. They reduce the spread of disease, and they stop the detritus of used needles in consumption sites from being out in the community where they can harm our community members and our children. That is the evidence.

When the Conservatives say that these sites impact communities, darn right they do, and they do so by helping the community. There is not an iota of evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps the Conservatives should listen to Edmonton's Mayor Don Iveson who recently said, “This is not a homeless, addicted issue. This is in pretty much every neighbourhood.”

The opioid crisis is here. It is already affecting our communities. Every day, it is claiming the lives of our friends, our family members, our neighbours.

The Conservative Party's argument that supervised consumption sites will somehow introduce opioid addiction to unaffected communities is baseless fearmongering, and it is deeply stigmatizing to Canadians with substance use disorders.

The truth is communities across Canada have been asking to open supervised consumption sites for years. It was by refusing to grant section 56 exemptions that the federal government was overruling both my home city of Vancouver and my home province's repeated requests. Indeed as Vancouver's Mayor Gregor Robertson has said: “Factors such as the impact of the site on crime rates and expressions of community support or opposition should not be relevant to the federal government's approval process. Those issues are local matters, and as such, are best dealt with by local officials, such as municipalities, health authorities, and local police agencies, who understand the issue.”

I will leave it to the Conservative Party to explain why it does not trust local authorities to make those determinations.

It has been community heroes, not the federal government, who have been on the front lines showing leadership throughout the current crisis. The efforts of these selfless people have undoubtedly saved lives and although there are too many to name individually here, I would like to specifically acknowledge the Herculean efforts of a few people.

The are: Ann Livingston and Sarah Blyth, founders of B.C.'s Overdose Prevention Society; Hugh Lampkin, long-time member of the Vancouver area network of drug users; Daniel Benson of the Portland Hotel Society; Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver; Kerry Jang, city councillor of Vancouver; Maxine Davis, executive director of Vancouver's Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation; Katrina Pacey, executive director of Vancouver's Pivot Legal Society; Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s Chief Medical Officer, the first and only medical officer in the country who has declared a public health emergency in British Columbia because he recognizes the extent of the crisis facing our community; and Dr. Gabor Maté, who is an internationally-renowned expert in addictions.

Having repeated requests for a declaration of a national public health emergency ignored by the current federal Liberal government, these front line organizations and the Government of British Columbia were forced to take the extraordinary measure of disregarding federal law by opening non-exempt pop-up supervised consumption sites which are operating right now as I speak. These sites have operated for months despite the daily risk of prosecution faced by those working at them as staff and volunteers.

Here is what the College of Registered Nurses of B.C. said to its membership last month.

This crisis may be prolonged and continue to worsen; as these overdose prevention services are being established across our province, in any place there is a need, we are being asked by nurses, “Is my licence at risk if I provide nursing care in these sites and conditions that can be less than ideal?”

Our courageous front line health workers should never be forced to ask that question.

That is why the NDP introduced an amendment at the health committee that would have allowed provincial health ministers to request in writing from the federal health minister emergency approval for supervised consumption sites in response to a local crisis.

Such an exemption would bypass the normal application process, and go into effect immediately for up to a year with the possibility of renewal. The federal minister would be required to post a provincial request online and post the response within five days.

This change was aimed at removing the potential for distant political considerations in Ottawa, many of which we hear expressed by members of the House today, to undermine or impede timely evidence-based decision responses to provincial public emergencies.

In the unusual situation where a province has declared a provincial health emergency, instead of forcing it to go through the application process which takes time, and time in a crisis like this costs lives, it gives the federal health minister the ability to grant a temporary approval quickly.

The Liberal government has repeatedly claimed that, with this legislation, it is now doing everything in its power to address this crisis, but that is demonstrably false. The government has failed to take many actions. There are literally dozens of them that are open to the government to take to respond to this crisis which it seems reluctant to do.

Recently, the City of Vancouver sent a list of nine recommendations to the federal government to help address this crisis, including calling for a central command structure, daily meetings with Health Canada, and improved treatment services.

A coroner's jury in British Columbia recently issued a list of 21 recommendations for action and the Standing Committee on Health in December issued a report detailing 38 recommendations for the government alone, again most of which remain unimplemented. The Liberal government is not doing everything it can to address the opioid crisis. It is taking some measures, but not all the measures it needs to.

When the health committee conducted the emergency study last fall into the crisis, the first recommendation made with all-party support was to declare opioid overdoses a national public health emergency. This call was echoed by Dr. David Juurlink, the keynote speaker at the health minister's own opioid summit last fall and now by B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake, a Liberal, and stakeholders across the country. In the face of a mounting death toll, a declaration of a national public health emergency would allow us to start saving more lives today.

Furthermore, during our study, the health committee heard that access to treatment for opioid addiction is almost nonexistent in indigenous communities, and where there is access, it is short-term access. That is because nurses employed by Health Canada do not have the scope of practice to support indigenous people in addressing opioid addiction in their own communities beyond 30 days. Yet, the Liberal government has made absolutely no commitment to ensuring full access to long-term, culturally appropriate addictions treatment in indigenous communities.

Finally, the health committee's recent report on the crisis made three separate and specific recommendations, calling for significant new federal funding for public community-based detox and addictions treatment. But the federal government will not commit to making any new funding available for detox and treatment in budget 2017, so far.

The health minister continues to recycle money dedicated to mental health, and claims that money can be used for addictions treatment. We are looking for new, specific, targeted funds for addictions treatment in this country. Mental health is a huge area, and there are many needs in this country. We all know that. We wanted targeted money from the government, and the government has refused to make that commitment so far.

I believe it behooves this House to be honest with itself. Would the federal government be so noncommittal and cautious in its approach if these deaths were caused by any other disease? As we look to the future, we must let go of our prejudices in order to hold on to our loved ones. Donna May, the founding member and facilitator of mumsDU, moms united and mandated to saving drug users, lost her daughter Jac to addiction at the age of 35. She said:

Most people would think that the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face was her death; the death of a child; the death of my only girl. However, that’s not it at all.

The hardest thing I’ve had to face in my life is realizing how my ignorance towards my daughter’s addiction cost me years with her that I will never get back. There are no ‘do-overs’ when your child is dead! Now I can only share my experience and what I’ve learned since, so that other parents can take something from it.

In many respects, substance abuse is one of the last remaining acceptable targets for health care discrimination. With all the evidence available to us, we should know better. If we are to succeed in treating addiction as a disease, which it is, we need to acknowledge that fear, stigma, and ignorance about those who suffer from addiction are widespread and in many respects have framed our approach to this crisis.

That is why, although these legislative changes are long overdue, they do not go far enough, fast enough. We need federal coordination and funding to address the crisis right now and over the long term. Canada's failure to treat addiction and substance use disorders by successive federal governments as a medical condition was explained to the health committee by Dr. Evan Wood from UBC.

He said:

I'll just ask you to imagine a scenario of somebody having an acute medical condition like a heart attack. They would be taken into an acute care environment. They would be seen by a medical team with ex1pertise in cardiology. The cardiovascular team would then look to guidelines and standards to diagnose the condition and to effectively treat it. Unfortunately, in Canada, because we haven't traditionally trained health care providers in addiction medicine, we have health care providers who don't know what to do, and routinely do things that actually put patients at risk.

In addition to the lack of training for health care providers, the overall lack of investments in this area has meant that there aren't standards, guidelines [or beds] for the treatment of addiction.

Dr. Mark Ujjainwalla, medical director of Recovery Ottawa, said:

The problem we face here is that the real issue with addiction is not opiates. The real issue is the inability of the present health care system to treat the disease of addiction. An addiction is a biopsychosocial illness that affects 10% of society, probably more if you include families, and it is the most underfunded medical illness in our society.

The problem is that it's also a highly preventable and very highly treatable illness. It's very unfortunate that people don't see that. When it affects your family or you, you can feel the pain and suffering, and you watch the tragedy unfold in front of you.

I would like to conclude my remarks by imploring this House to take a lesson from Estonia, a country that recently overcame an opioid crisis very similar to Canada's. The head of Estonia's drug abuse prevention department said, “I think the most important thing is you don't waste time. If you really want to learn from us, that's the mistake we made. Don't look for some new solutions, because you have them.”

We could say that history does not look kindly on those who dither in times of crisis. To put it bluntly, it is not the history books that should keep us up at night; it is the lives that we continue to lose every single day to entirely preventable causes.

Canadians are looking to us to provide leadership in a crisis. It is time for us to deliver.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2017 / 4:05 p.m.
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Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a little hard to listen to the member in this debate. I am part of a community that has been very hard hit by the opioid overdose crisis. I have observed the operation of the supervised injection site, Insite, in Vancouver, and the Conservatives thwarted every effort to open additional health-based life-saving supervised injection sites for the 10 years that they were in power. It is a little hard to listen to the words of my colleague.

Only an hour after the Conservatives introduced Bill C-2, the Conservatives were fundraising, stating that Liberals and New Democrats wanted addicts to inject heroin in people's backyards. It is no wonder we ended up with communities being concerned about the impact of actually delivering a health care service to people who are addicted and whose lives are now in peril because of the fentanyl crisis that no one has been able to get ahead of.

I would like to hear the member's thoughts on that. Even though he was not in Parliament last time around, I would also like his thoughts about his own party having cut addictions treatment funding by 15% while the Harper Conservatives were in power.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
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Louis-Hébert Québec


Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that community support as stated by the Supreme Court was not meant as a way to prevent safe consumption sites from opening. It was not meant to prevent the opening of safe consumption sites. We have taken the exact language that is in the Supreme Court judgment, which states that one of the factors to be taken into account is the expression of community support or opposition.

What was meant to prevent these sites from opening were the 26 criteria in Bill C-2 that the previous government put forward.

The member mentioned that three sites have opened in Montreal. Does he know how long it took for those sites to open even though we are facing a health crisis in Canada when it comes to opioids? I will answer my own question. It took nearly two years for those sites to open even though the community, the mayor, the provincial actors, as well as health professionals in Montreal wanted them. Is the member at least aware of the time it took for these sites to be approved under the previous legislation?

While I have the floor, I must say that I am a bit challenged by the comparison that the member made between pipelines and these safe consumption sites. Addicts are people. The government has a responsibility to protect people sometimes from themselves and that is what these safe consumption sites are all about.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
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Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak on behalf of the people of Nanaimo—Ladysmith, but this is certainly a hard story. I support the government's approach moving forward, but I want to talk about the impact in my immediate community, to describe the imperative of why action is so important.

Since 2008, Nanaimo has had more deaths per capita from drug overdoses than anywhere else in British Columbia. Our region had a 135% increase in opioid deaths last year, and fentanyl was present in 50% of overdoses. This is a national emergency. Our region has not had the action that we need on it and the federal government response has been unacceptably slow.

In October, at the health committee, I urged action of a study, which was initiated by an NDP motion by my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, that federal leadership was needed immediately to tackle the opioid overdose epidemic. I urged better access to Drug treatment programs and safe consumption sites, and support for health professionals, including addiction training. I urged that the government also create a national action plan on post-traumatic stress disorder for front-line emergency personnel and public safety officers in this vital line of work.

When I talk with firefighters in Nanaimo, they tell me they used to see three overdose calls a year. Now they see three a shift. These fine young men and women signed up to fight fires mostly. I want to read some of the words from Mike Rispin, one of the chiefs at the downtown Nanaimo fire department. He says:

In my 25 years as a fire fighter we have had periods when there was a sharp increase in opioid overdoses, due to a stronger drug on the streets. These periods lasted usually only a few weeks.

Sadly, the recent introduction of fentanyl has made our response to overdoses a regular occurrence and I can only foresee this as a regular ongoing issue...I...can only imagine what we will see with the use of carfentanil (which has been discovered in town now). We will be having even more O/D's and more difficulty bringing those patients back to consciousness.

Nanaimo is a small community of 90,000 but the overdoses we are seeing now is increasing dramatically. Thankfully the Island health authority has opened a safe injection site which should assist in reducing deaths from the use of opioids.

How did we get here? Opioid prescription rates are sky-high in Canada versus other countries. Our doctors over-prescribe, and that is because the pharmaceutical companies oversell.

Chronic pain is not managed well in our country. Some people are just left completely on their own and they do become drug-dependent because they are not getting the pain management support they need.

We also have, and we have seen this particularly in the riding of my colleague, the member for Vancouver East, childhood sexual abuse unrecognized, unreported, untreated. Gabor Maté, a doctor who has worked particularly in the Downtown Eastside, said every drug-addicted woman patient of his, every one of them, was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. This is the “hungry ghost” syndrome that he describes a psychic wound that cannot be healed, people turn to drugs.

Some communities were used as a test market for new drug ingredients. That certainly is our speculation about Nanaimo. Many people using illegal drugs are not aware that fentanyl is included in them and they get into terrible trouble.

In my community, I want to salute the many heros who have stepped up in the absence of provincial and federal leadership. They have saved a lot of lives, but it has been at a great personal cost to them. I am hugely grateful for their work. By supporting this bill, I hope we will get the support they need to do this very difficult job they have been given.

Another group that is such a hero in my community is AIDS Vancouver Island and the AVI Health Centre. Claire Dineen, the health promotion educator in Nanaimo, has led training for 800 people who are now trained in how to administer naloxone, which is the antidote to fentanyl. That woman has saved a lot of lives.

I also want to salute Dr. Paul Hasselback, who is the chief medical officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority. People are very lucky to have a man like him in our riding. When I meet with him, he has both the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on his desk. That is a sign of a man who is fully integrated in his work and making change in our country. He wrote:

For the past four years, the riding that “you” represent has had rates of narcotic overdose fatalities that are some of the highest in the country....During this time close to one hundred of our neighbours, friends, and families have passed away from this preventable tragedy. In four years, overdoses have become a leading cause of preventable deaths in our integrated approach to a community response has resulted in a much smaller increase in 2016 when compared to other BC communities. Action can save lives.

He went on in his letter to state:

When finally presented through actions of the province of BC with ways to implement overdose prevention sites where emergency response is available, the community has overwhelmingly embraced the service....Supervised consumption is to be recognized as a health service that can and should be provided in a variety of settings....We also need to look to the future and how to prevent drug addiction. Youth employment, affordable housing, meaningful community contributions are our best approach to engaging those that illicit drug predators would target as future consumers.

Action is needed now to mitigate this crisis, and needs to consider what could be done to reverse the recruitment of persons to experiment with potentially addictive drugs....While legislation is welcomed, it focused again predominantly on the enforcement side of the equation, permitting for harm reduction services. What actions will the federal government take in prevention and in facilitating treatment or at least research into effective treatment? What actions will the government take on engaging youth on drugs similar to past efforts to work on tobacco?

He finished by saying:

Family Day is a great day to remember that many of our friends and colleagues have personally been affected through a member of their family. I have many stories that I have heard that are gut wrenching efforts to help loved ones. There are also stories of success to be shared.

I have another success story from my riding. This is sent by a third-year biology student attending Vancouver Island University. He was one of the organizers of Vancouver's first unsanctioned supervised injection sites. When people were dying on the streets and we could not get provincial or federal support, Jeremy Kalicum and others took action, and he writes this description:

In short order, we established an unsanctioned supervised injection site equipped with harm reduction supplies, volunteer nurses, and naloxone. Our goal was to provide a judgment-free space that would allow people who use drugs to feel that their situation and struggles were not being ignored. Although people who use drugs were initially skeptical of our service they soon learned that we were not there to entrap them...[we] wanted them to be safe.

That facility is not operating now because the health authority opened a supervised injection site in the last few weeks.

I am proud that the New Democrats led the fight against the Conservatives' Bill C-2, which was absolutely damaging at the exact time we needed progressive action. I am glad the Liberals are bringing forward Bill C-37. It is overdue. We wanted it a year ago. We want the Liberals to call this a national emergency.

The war on drugs approach has clearly been a failure. Instead of stigmatizing and punishing Canadians who are suffering from substance abuse disorders, it is time for bold and compassionate leadership from the federal government. We need to rapidly expand proven harm reduction approaches, while making significant long-term investments in prevention and public addiction treatments of all kinds.

I urge Parliament to vote in favour of Bill C-37. I urge the government to accelerate its action in some of the other areas that New Democrats have identified, to view drug addiction as a health issue, and, most important right now, to send our thanks and support to the front-line responders who fill a tremendous gap in a time of true national emergency.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 1:45 p.m.
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Louis-Hébert Québec


Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I want to the thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his speech, and I thank his party for the position it has taken on Bill C-37. Indeed, this bill will ease the criteria so that safe injection sites can be approved quickly in communities where they are needed most.

I agree with my colleague. We know that safe injection sites save lives and prevent the transmission of disease. In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the previous government unfortunately took a highly ideological approach, but at least now we are taking a facts- and evidence-based approach.

With regard to the opioid crisis, which is killing too many people in Canada and needs to be addressed, earlier I listed a whole series of measures the government has already taken to deal with this crisis, Bill C-37 being one of them.

I wonder if the member could talk about the advantages of coming back to the five criteria set out by the Supreme Court, rather than the 26 onerous and convoluted criteria required under Conservative Bill C-2.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
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Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very touched to be able to rise in the House today to speak to this important bill. I am very touched, but at the same time, I think it is a real shame that we have to talk about this again. This is an extremely important debate. There is likely no other parliamentary debate that is more vital or that will have a greater impact on the lives of Canadians than the debate that we are having right now.

Simply put, it would have been nice if this issue had been resolved years ago because we are now dealing with an urgent situation in our municipalities, in our big cities, and on our streets.

People are dying from overdoses of illegal drugs, particularly opioids, and this is a crisis. Hundreds of people are dying in our communities and on our streets because our facilities are not equipped to adequately respond to this serious substance abuse problem, particularly when it comes to increasingly dangerous and hard drugs. For example, fentanyl is 100 times more potent than heroin, and it is wreaking havoc on our cities and communities.

There is even a fentanyl derivative that is so potent that first responders are now being advised to wear masks and gloves when helping people because, if the drug is inhaled or comes into contact with the skin, it can be deadly for the paramedics and nurses who are in contact with those who need help.

Hundreds of people are dying every day in our streets and alleyways because we have failed to adequately respond to this situation. In all seriousness, this is one case where I am sad to say that our federal government dropped the ball and we have collectively failed. We could have taken measures that would have saved lives. There is a national crisis, and people are dying from lethal opioid injections because of the laws that we pass or fail to pass. This is serious.

Indeed, we in the NDP are calling on the Liberal government to declare this a national emergency and give greater powers and funding to the chief public health officer of Canada, so that he can coordinate efforts to help these individuals. I find it extremely unfortunate that the Conservatives did not respond appropriately to the Supreme Court decision and instead chose to stand in the way of public health stakeholders who wanted to set up safe injection sites to help addicts in crisis.

As I reminded the parliamentary secretary a few minutes ago, I also find it unfortunate that the Liberal government dragged its feet for 16 months before introducing a bill to fix the mistakes of Bill C-2 passed by the Conservatives. I will come back to this point a little later.

I would like to share some statistics. I am talking about people who are dying because of the lack of health facilities, that is, safe injection sites, particularly in our big cities. This is no joke. In 2016, there were 914 overdose fatalities in British Columbia. That represents an 80% increase over the previous year. Across Canada in 2016, there were about 2,000 fatalities. In December alone in British Columbia, 142 people died of drug overdose. In Vancouver, more specifically, there were between 9 and 15 deaths every week.

In Ontario, there are two deaths per day. Our young people are dying in our streets because we do not have what we need to help them. Supervised consumption sites are proven to save lives. When Insite was finally given the go-ahead several years ago in Vancouver, community officials realized that the number of deaths dropped by 35% in the area surrounding the site.

It works. It works in Vancouver, it works in British Columbia, and it works around the world. It has been proven.

Why have we been unable to respond appropriately? The previous government spread all kinds of prejudices, which is a terrible shame. In 2011, a unanimous Supreme Court ruling authorized Insite and encouraged the government to change the law to define the process. The previous government was very right-wing and focused on repression, and it wanted to turn this into a partisan issue. When that government introduced Bill C-2, it was not to help people involved in public health; it was to create more barriers to setting up these very important sites. That is a terrible shame.

What did the Conservatives do in their day? They added 26 eligibility criteria that had to be met before Health Canada could authorize a supervised consumption site. What was the outcome of that? How many sites were given the green light? Zero. Not one. We are years behind because of that.

Health Canada was unable to authorize the opening of such sites despite the fact that the experts, the scientific community, municipal officials, and the groups that work with addicts every day all wanted them. Montreal had been asking for a supervised consumption site since May 2015. We can say that was a while ago. Every year, between 70 and 100 people in Montreal die of an opioid overdose. How many people could we have saved in that time?

Communities approve of this type of measure. I want to share a few short quotes to that effect. The first one is from Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver. “Every month we lose because of Bill C-2, and an onerous process that's totally unnecessary and overboard, means we're losing dozens of people.”

Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal, asked, “What are we waiting for? People are dying.”

Adrienne Smith, health and drug policy lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, said that she feared that while we wait, while we set up working groups and give the Liberal government the benefit of the doubt, hundreds of people could die.

Sterling Downey, a Montreal municipal councillor, asked, “How do you go into the media and announce over a year ago that you're going to open these sites and back off and go radio silent?”

According to another quote, the organizations that are supposed to host the sites don't even dare set opening dates any more. They are stuck in a grey area where, every year for the past three years, they are told that the sites will open in the spring, but it doesn't happen.

I have pages and pages of quotes like that. For years, people have been anxious to help our young people, and the older ones too, but especially the street kids who fall victim to these opioids, these hard drugs.

I think it is a shame that society has lost so much time because some people tried to score political points by holding fundraisers. I would remind hon. members that the director of the Conservative Party sent a fundraising email and used the politics of fear by accusing the NDP and the Liberals at the time of wanting to put our children in harm's way, claiming there would be more syringes in our schoolyards and back alleys. They would have people believe that with injection sites comes increased risk, but the facts say otherwise. If a person enters a supervised injection site and is treated by a professional, that person will be given a course of treatment and drugs to help ween them off the hard drugs. That person will pull through. What does that mean? It means that thanks to supervised injection sites, there will be fewer syringes in the streets, in the parks, and in the back alleys, not the opposite. For years, people have tried to convince us that this is more dangerous, but that is not true.

The NDP moved a motion in the House a few weeks ago. My colleague from Vancouver Kingsway wanted the debate to end and to send Bill C-37 to the Senate so that it could come into force as soon as possible.

It is too bad that the Conservatives refused and blocked the NDP's motion. That is why we would like to see this bill pass through all stages, intelligently and diligently of course, but as soon as possible. We have wasted enough time. We need to save lives.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 12:20 p.m.
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Parkdale—High Park Ontario


Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism)

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today in support of Bill C-37. We have a national public health crisis in Canada right now. Last year, in British Columbia alone, more than 900 people died from drug overdoses, an increase of over 80% from the previous year, and the situation is getting worse. Deaths from drug overdoses, including fentanyl and carfentanil, are now predicted to exceed deaths by car accidents. Thousands have died, and thousands more will die unless we, as parliamentarians, take decisive action. Bill C-37 represents decisive action.

This bill would address our public health crisis and help save lives in a few important ways. It would simplify and streamline the application process for communities that wish to open supervised consumption sites to limit drug overdoses. It would put stronger measures in place to stop the flow of illegal drugs into our communities.

Bill C-37 represents a vitally important step and necessary shift in the treatment of drug addiction from a framework of punishment and strict law enforcement, practised by the previous government, to one focused on health care and based on scientific evidence.

I am proud to support this bill on behalf of my constituents in Parkdale—High Park. The care and compassion of the people in my community, coupled with their political engagement and depth of knowledge on these issues, has translated into overwhelming support for a shift in how we treat people experiencing drug addiction. My constituents want a federal government that responds to health crises, like the tragic deaths of thousands of Canadians from accidental opioid overdoses in 2016, with a compassionate strategy based on evidence, not the knee-jerk ideological responses that characterized the previous government's zero tolerance approach.

This past July in Toronto, the city where I live and serve the people of Parkdale—High Park, city council approved plans for three future safe consumption sites. In Toronto, there are already 50 such locations that offer harm reduction services and access to clean syringes and needles, including the Parkdale Community Health Centre and the Breakaway Addiction Services Satellite clinic in my riding. Both of these organizations provide an invaluable service in my community. They help save lives in Parkdale—High Park by treating addicts with care and compassion, not punishment and stigma.

Bill C-37 would help by expanding the harm reduction network that already exists in my community and across the city of Toronto.

I want to explore the idea of harm reduction a little more. At its core, the principle of harm reduction is about taking a realistic approach to drug use and addiction and thinking practically and respectfully about the best options for treatment. As we all know in this chamber, drug addicts do not desire or choose to continue using substances that put them at risk of harm. Addiction is a brain disorder; it is not a choice.

People experiencing addiction compulsively engage with rewarding stimuli, despite the harm it does to their health, their relationships, and their very lives. While prevention and treatment are the central pillars of any drug strategy, we acknowledge, on this side of the House, the reality that people who are experiencing addiction will use drugs for a period of time until they are in treatment.

Harm reduction strategies and treatment goals are not incompatible. To the contrary, they are actually mutually reinforcing. Harm reduction strategies assist by helping to keep addicts alive and moving them toward treatment. Harm reduction strategies are the best alternative for people for whom prevention or criminal sanctions have not been effective. Harm reduction does not mean that we are giving up on these people or enabling them to use. It is quite the opposite. Through harm reduction, we are refusing to give up on these very people. We are refusing to let them die.

The contrast to harm reduction initiatives are the zero tolerance policies favoured by the previous government. Zero tolerance policies aimed at criminalizing addicts do not work. We have seen the negative effects of these strategies on marginalized communities, especially among those who are over-incarcerated, like the indigenous and black communities. We have seen the negative stigma. We have seen misinformation based on anecdotes instead of scientific facts about drug addiction. People who are suffering from a condition they cannot control are treated as criminals instead of patients. This is fundamentally the wrong approach.

By contrast, harm reduction not only serves individuals affected by their own addiction but helps friends and families of addicts, and society as a whole. When we stop pushing addicts out onto the street and into alleyways, our communities become safer. When we provide a safe space for consumption, equipped with medical professionals, parents of addicts do not have to bury their children. When we shift our narrative to focus on providing health care for Canadians afflicted with a difficult condition, our society, as a whole, begins to heal.

This basic idea that harm reduction, in the form of safe, supervised consumption sites, can promote public health and safety was recognized by the Supreme Court in the Insite case.

With members' indulgence, I am going to put on my constitutional lawyer hat for a moment and discuss the Vancouver safe injection site that was at issue in the Insite case. I will not go into all the details, much as I would love to, but it is important to note that, in short, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found in that case that the denial of a ministerial exemption by the previous government under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act was a violation of the charter, specifically the section 7 right to life and security of the person of Insite's clients. The Supreme Court, by way of remedy, unilaterally reinstated the exemption, allowing Insite's doors to remain open so the facility could continue to prevent unnecessary deaths on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The previous government's response to that decision, after some negative reaction on the part of the previous government, was to ramp up the number of conditions that had to be met for supervised consumption sites to be permitted to operate.

The government cannot do through the back door what it is not permitted to do constitutionally through the front door. The old Bill C-2, which is called, and we know the Conservatives had a penchant for these catchy names, the Respect for Communities Act, was an ideological response, not one based on evidence. It prompted observers, like the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, to note:

...Bill C-2, imposed near-insurmountable obstacles for supervised consumption services (SCS), such as Insite in Vancouver, despite ample evidence of the benefits of these health interventions. Not only have [supervised consumption sites] been shown to save lives, they are also cost-effective, as revealed by a new study conducted by the Toronto-based St. Michael's Hospital

If the members opposite want evidence of that study, I am happy to provide it.

We have heard such critiques, and we have responded as a government. Through Bill C-37, our government is taking the number of criteria that must be met to open a supervised site from 26 conditions, which to my mind is not intensive community involvement but is actually a barrier to providing authorization, and reducing it to five. We did not just dream up this list. We are using the very five criteria entrenched in paragraph 153 of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision, lest we be accused of perhaps not taking community consultation seriously, as some of the members opposite have opined.

Through Bill C-37, our government has responded to calls for a change in the legislation from organizations and people on the front lines who care for and treat drug addicts. They see the negative impact of a system imbalanced between public safety and public health.

Criticism of the bill has suggested that the government's new approach would turn society into an enabler of drug addiction, as opposed to a preventer. On the contrary, we will not stand idly by and enable Canadians to fatally overdose because we failed to act to provide them with safe spaces to receive health treatment.

We will prevent more people from dying by shifting our approach from criminalization to treatment with compassion. While we are shifting our approach, we are not diminishing the ability of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to enforce the law. We are shifting the treatment of addicts from punishment to treatment by treating addiction as a health issue. Critics of the bill forget that we are also increasing law enforcement's ability to prevent illegal substances from making it onto Canadian streets with changes to the Customs Act.

Bill C-37 would also further reinforce the commitment to consult with communities before making decisions that would directly impact them, such as the opening of safe consumption sites. Law enforcement, first responders, business owners, and residents down the street would all be consulted before the health minister delivered an evidence-based decision.

This bill is not revolutionary. We heard this in some of the earlier speeches. There are already over 90 safe consumption sites operating effectively worldwide, including two sites right here in Canada. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has completed extensive research, in collaboration with other prevention programs, on the effectiveness of harm reduction. Researchers discuss drug addition as a continuum, “where harm may occur at any level”.

Drug addiction is not black and white. It is not an all-or-nothing disease. If we continue to impose the rigid standards of Bill C-2, passed by the previous government, we will continue to deny communities and addicts the help, support, and life-saving services they desperately need and deserve. Balancing public safety and public health is not easy, but I am confident that Bill C-37 would help do just that. I am very proud to support legislation that puts the health and safety of Canadians at the forefront of our strategy, and I urge all members of the House to do the same.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 11:45 a.m.
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Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway for a very excellent presentation. I think he understands the issue very well. This is an issue about health. This is, as the minister has said and as we have acknowledged, now a national public health crisis and steps are being taken to work across the country with resources, as we heard the minister saying, as well as working with all of the public health officers in every province to deal with this issue on the ground.

As a physician, the first thing I look at in any kind of public health emergency, whether it is a virus, whether it is a bacteria, whether as we see now overdose deaths from tainted opiates, is the immediate, urgent means of stopping the problem and of saving lives, of looking at a medium set of policies and legislation that would help us look at longer term solutions to the problem.

I want to congratulate the New Democratic Party for helping to move this so quickly through the House. It means that members get it; for most of us in the House, saving lives is paramount. We can put nothing else before saving lives.

I want to congratulate the Minister of Health for bringing about this change in repealing Bill C-2, which I consider to have been a very tragic and heinous, cruel bill that stopped people from doing what was necessary to save lives. If I may paraphrase something that was said by the Conservative health critic earlier on today, it was that yes, indeed, safe consumption sites save lives, but they help people to stay on drugs.

I want to ask anyone who has any ounce of common sense, which would they put first, saving a life, or saying that people should be able to stay on a drug that they are addicted to. We know all of this is a public health issue and all of this has to do with patient care and understanding the issues of public health.

I want to congratulate the minister because when the Supreme Court brought down its ruling, the Liberal Party was very adamant that we should listen to what the Supreme Court had said. I was the health critic at the time. The Supreme Court had exactly word for word the five criteria that the minister has put in the bill.

At the time I remember most of us were absolutely concerned that the Conservative Party brought in what was then called the Safer Communities Act, which no one saw the irony in because it certainly was not about safer communities at all. Therefore, what we see now is that since 2011 when the Supreme Court made the ruling, until 2015, four years had passed before the Supreme Court's decision had been considered by the government.

I think that is a pity and it was sad because it stopped safe injection sites from being set up across this country. It stopped harm reduction, which is about bringing down the mortality rates of any disease, of any condition, of any public health problem, and bringing down the disease rates as well, not just saving lives, but bringing down disease rates. We saw the safe injection sites. I am proud to say I was the minister responsible for the Downtown Eastside, setting up the Vancouver agreement and agreeing with the harm reduction principles that were set out in the four-pillar approach by the then mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen. During that time, we had the UBC Centre of Excellence for HIV/AIDS, which did the actual project by 24 peer bodies around the world that was accepted as being well done and the evidence was completely accepted.

At that time, we had 90 safe injection sites around the world, in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, Australia, and Portugal. This was happening. People had seen that evidence and this was when we were concerned about 234 overdose deaths in the Downtown Eastside. We saw that once a safe injection site had been set up, evidence showed that there were no overdose deaths from anyone who came into that safe injection site. We had in fact stopped deaths. The other thing that was noticeable was that the crime rates had gone down in that area, so public order was restored.

We also saw that these very high-risk people who had actually started to use Insite at the time suddenly decided that they wanted to go into treatment. These were high-risk addicts. They went into treatment at OnSite, which is above the Insite site. There were 25 beds there for people who wanted to go into treatment. This was an important piece of the evidence as well. It not only saved lives, it also helped people to go into treatment. We saw that it had restored order, and fulfilled another criteria; it allowed people to have hope and to begin to want to build new lives.

These are some important things when we look at harm reduction. When I heard the Conservative health critic say in the House this morning that evidence shows it may save lives, but it helps them stay on the drugs, I wonder why ideology should take human life so lightly. These are human beings, and just because they happen to be addicted to a drug does not mean they are unworthy. Who should say what lives are unworthy and what lives are worthy? That is what we are talking about here.

I am pleased to see the minister moving forward, calling this a national public health crisis. I am pleased to see the extra pieces with regard to opening of suspicious mail that may contain up to 30 grams of fentanyl. We know that 30 grams of fentanyl can actual cause 15,000 deaths. This is a huge number. We are talking about deaths in the thousands.

After Insite, we not only saw the deaths were stopped, we also saw that the rate of HIV reduced. There had been 2,100 new cases of HIV/AIDS at the time Insite opened. That went down to 31. We are talking about the need to look at this as something that is essential.

I am pleased to see the New Democrats supporting the bill. I am pleased to see everyone in the House determined to move it forward, because it is essential if we are going to have safe injection sites, and all the evidence has proven safe injection sites save lives and bring down mortality and morbidity.

I understand when the leader of the Green Party talked about not wanting to intervene in civil liberties by opening these envelopes, but in the case of lives being saved, it is an essential thing we must do.

I am glad to see the minister bringing up precursors in the bill, to stop precursors. They are important in many instances, but at the moment we have to decide that stopping precursors from being given without going through a prescription and being approved, is actually one way of saving lives.

As a physician, I can say that lives will be saved as a result of the action the minister has taken with this bill, and by making naloxone widely available. As the member of the NDP said, it is important that the mobile units that are helping to save lives at the moment in Vancouver Centre, which are infringing on the law, should be able to give this. It should not simply be given in a buffer zone, but should be considered across the country if we see this as a national crisis.

There are other things we can do. We were asked what those were. The minister has moved very swiftly to do some of the things that are necessary, but we need to look at a public awareness campaign for all the young people, the young professionals, and youth who are not necessarily addicted, but who are recreational drug users, to let them know that using drugs off the street is a dangerous thing to do. When the minister first became minister, she moved to allow for the SALOME project, which had also been done under the Chrétien government, to show whether or not the use of substitute pharmaceutical grade heroin was important to save lives. It was shown that allowing hydromorphone, which is being used in the heroin assisted treatment in Europe and Scandinavia with a great deal of success, is saving lives and helping people to manage their addiction so they do not have to buy off the street anymore. They can go to the clinic and get a pharmaceutical drug, which costs pennies, to be able to save their lives and move them off the street drugs. We have to stop the illicit trafficking. That is of key importance.

If we continue to only look at the demand side of the problem and do not look at the supply side of the problem, illicit opiates will continue to not only kill people but damage lives for a long time.

A lot of the work that has been done in New York gives us the ability to truly look at evidence-based solutions to this problem, to act as quickly as we can, and to make these decisions not based on ideology, but based on clear evidence and science.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
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Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think all members of the House approach this debate with a very trenchant and acute sense of the crises gripping communities across the country. The opioid overdose crisis is not restricted to any one province or territory. It is affecting communities from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, from Inuit territories all the way down to the border with the United States, and in every major city, from Vancouver to Edmonton to Calgary to Winnipeg to Toronto to Montreal. I am told that even Cape Breton is having a serious problem with opioid overdoses. This is not restricted to any one place. It is touching communities and families across our country.

We are here debating Bill C-37 because the Conservatives have put in amendments at report stage which they could not get passed at committee. We are dealing with an amendment from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands as well.

It has been the consistent position of the New Democrats, going back over a year now, that the opioid overdose crisis is a national public health emergency, and we need action now. It has been our position that this political issue is different than many other issues and, in fact, almost every other issue that comes before the House. It is an issue that affects life and death.

The consequences of the decisions we take in the House and the consequences of the decisions we do not take have the effect of perhaps meaning someone lives or dies on the streets of Canada today. We cannot say that about every issue in the House. It is that seriousness, that sober reality the New Democrats bring to this debate, and have brought to the debate from the beginning.

The previous speaker, on behalf of the Liberal government, felt that the government had been doing everything possible that it could be doing. That is demonstrably false. The government has failed to take into account many factors and many actions it has not taken up to now, and they remain before us. There are literally dozens of actions that are open to the government to take to respond to the overdose crisis, which it seems reluctant to do.

Interestingly, the last speaker talked about taking 16 months for three supervised consumption sites in Montreal to be approved. He blamed that on the previous Conservative government. It is true that this application was dealt with under Conservative legislation introduced in 2015, but 16 months is about the length of time the Liberal government has been power. Therefore, it unjust for the Liberals to blame that on the previous government.

The New Democrats stood in the House a year ago and told the government that it should introduce legislation to repeal or amend Bill C-2, the legislation that made it virtually impossible to open safe consumption sites, and to act on that immediately. What was the response at that time? It did not think it was necessary.

The Minister of Health publicly stated that she did not see the problem with the act and if she did eventually see a problem, she would act at that point. She felt that the remedy for dealing with the problems of Bill C-2 were administrative. She did not acknowledge or understand that the problem was the 26 separate criteria that were in the act. It is funny, because my hon. colleague, the member for Vancouver Centre, former Liberal health critic, at the time the Conservatives brought in their bill in 2015, nailed it on the head, as did the New Democrats. She identified that Bill C-2 was specifically brought in by the Conservatives to prevent the opening of safe consumption sites. Yet, when the Liberals came into power, suddenly they changed. Suddenly, they could work with the act.

In the year we have waited, finally dealing with Bill C-2, finally bringing in Bill C-37, which would streamline the act, how many Canadians have died? Approximately 2,000. Now, not all of those deaths would have been preventable. However, when we know safe consumption sites save lives, we know the sooner we can get safe consumption sites open across the country, the sooner lives will be saved. Therefore, we know Canadians died unnecessarily because of the delay of the government, and that is a fact.

The thing about the Conservative amendments are that the Conservatives, with great respect, still remain stuck in their ideological perspective that they want to slow down the introduction of safe consumption sites.

I believe the vast majority of Conservatives do not support safe consumption sites. The only reason they brought in legislation was because they fought Insite all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, based on evidence, that the government had to grant a section 56 exemption. Therefore, the Conservatives reluctantly brought in legislation to do so, but they did so with poison pills, 26 of them in fact. The legislation had the desired effect. In the time that the Conservatives brought Bill C-2 to the House, not a single safe consumption site was opened in the country. Therefore, I think that is not a coincidence.

What we have done here, and this legislation tracks this quite well, is restore the process and the criteria for opening a safe consumption site back to the criteria identified by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court of Canada said that the minister must grant an exemption to an applicant who wanted to open a safe consumption site if he or she was satisfied that six criteria had been satisfied. The applicant would need to provide evidence of the intended public health benefits of the site, the local conditions indicating the need for the site, the resources available to support the site, the impact of the site on crime rates, the administrative structure in place to support the site, and expressions of community support or opposition.

I want to stop for a moment because I continually hear the Conservatives misrepresent this issue. All parties in the House believe that the expressions of community support or opposition are important and, in fact, must be taken into account by any health minister. That is in the legislation.

I hear some Conservatives say that it is not there. It absolutely is in the legislation, If they have read it, it says that expressions of community support and opposition is one of the factors that must be taken into account. Perhaps the Conservatives can read the legislation on which they want to vote.

While I am on the topic of the Conservatives, I have to say this. While we were at the health committee last week, one of the most bizarre interventions I have ever heard was made by the member for Calgary Confederation. In opposing the position of the New Democrats that we supported legislation to make safe consumption sites easier to open in the country, with an appropriate regulatory structure mirroring the six criteria set down by the Supreme Court of Canada, he said to me:

I think [the member for Vancouver Kingsway]'s intention here is to try to make the application process for safe injection sites easier.

Would you be in a similar position...if we were sitting around the table here talking about application processes for pipelines in Alberta? To apply for a pipeline is extremely onerous. It's extremely burdensome and time-consuming. It can often take years.

We fought hard as Conservatives to try to make it easier to get pipelines built throughout this country, but we're not talking about pipelines here today; we're talking about safe injection sites.

...I don't support what you're doing your motion or your amendments. However, I am making again the comparison between pipelines and safe injection sites.

...If you're willing to make it easier for us in Alberta, we can make it easier for you to put in safe injection sites throughout the country.

That was the most offensive intervention I have ever heard from any member in the House or at committee. To draw a comparison between moving fossil fuels through pipelines and a process that saves Canadian lives is about the most offensive, dishonourable comment I have heard made by anybody in the House. To actually suggest that there is a comparison between the regulatory process for approving pipelines and the regulatory process to open up health facilities to save Canadians is offensive. To suggest that there could be a trade-off, that if one party supported an easier approval process for pipelines in exchange for an easier approval process for opening safe consumption sites, is also offence. This does not surprise me.

However, what I am surprised by, and where I will conclude, is the Liberal government's refusal to entertain the two amendments of the New Democrats.

First, the New Democrats moved to amend the act to better apportion the burden on an applicant for these sites to make it more appropriate. We believe that the six criteria of the Supreme Court ought to be taken into account by the Minister of Health, but that it is only the local conditions, the resources available, and the need for the local community that applicants should have the burden of meeting. The impact on crime rates, the expression of opposition or support for the site, and the regulatory structure are matters for the minister to use her discretion. We should not burden the applicants for that.

Our second amendment would have allowed provincial health ministers to bypass that process on an emergency basis and ask the Minister of Health for a section 56 exemption in order to open up temporary emergency overdose prevention sites, which are operating in Vancouver today against the law.

I am disappointed the Liberal government rejected those amendments, but the New Democrats will continue to work to move this act swiftly through Parliament so we can start saving lives as soon as possible.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
See context


Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the government is doing all it can to respond to this crisis. The question allows me to point out a few things that this government has done.

Health Canada has issued a necessary exemption to Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux to provide three supervised consumption sites in Montreal, which took nearly two years under the previous government's 26 criteria in Bill C-2, and now we are moving forward with Bill C-37.

We have made the overdose antidote naloxone more widely available. We have provided an emergency interim order to allow the importation of bulk stocks of naloxone nasal spray from the United States. We have scheduled W-18 under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. We have scheduled precursors to fentanyl. We have supported Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. We have enabled access to diacetylmorphine via Health Canada's special access program.

In addition, we have launched a five-point action plan to address opioid misuse, which focuses on better informing Canadians about the risk of opioids, supporting better prescription practices, reducing easy access to unnecessary opioids, supporting better treatment options, and improving the national evidence-based strategy. We also held a summit on opioids, resulting in 42 organizations bringing forward 128 concrete commitments to address the crisis. Also budget 2016 provides $50 million over two years, starting in 2016-17, to Canada Health Infoway to support short-term digital health activities in e-prescribing and telehomecare. That is just to name a few.

We have done a lot to respond to this opioid crisis, and Bill C-37 is one of the steps we are taking to respond to this crisis. I appreciate the member's support and work on Bill C-37.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 11:15 a.m.
See context


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I understand that we need a broader strategy.

When we had the previous bill, Bill C-2 at the time, the Respect for Communities Act, so branded by the previous government, we needed to get rid of a lot of the provisions that were making it extremely difficult, close to impossible, to open a safe consumption site.

We may even have consensus on all sides of the House that safe consumption sites in Bill C-37 are not the whole answer to the fentanyl crisis. A lot more needs to be done, particularly for facilities designed, as the hon. member just said, for an adolescent who might not go to to a safe consumption site, and we are looking at better education.

I hope we are using the best diplomacy we have with the People's Republic of China in asking it to do more to stop the flow of fentanyl coming into Canada.

There are many steps: going from the full range of mental health and addiction counselling, supports in communities, helping law enforcement, yes, with safe consumption sites being available, and other steps as needed. They do not all have to be in this piece of legislation. This piece of legislation is likely to pass more quickly by focusing on only one aspect of what I hope will be a much broader strategy.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 11 a.m.
See context

Louis-Hébert Québec


Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with the member when he said that this issue of the opioid crisis in Canada needs to be addressed immediately.

Safe consumption sites, unlike what he said, do not perhaps save lives. They do save lives. That is why we are moving forward with the bill.

He mentioned the approval of three safe consumption sites in Montreal. Would he inform the House how long it took for this community, where it is needed and appropriate to have these safe consumption sites and which has been asking for these consumption sites for a long time, to get these sites approved under the previous Bill C-2 of the Conservative government?