Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act

An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (assistance — drug overdose)

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Ron McKinnon  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill.


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 in order to exempt from charges for possession or charges related to the violation of certain conditions or orders a person who seeks emergency medical or law enforcement assistance for themselves or another person following overdosing on a controlled substance.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Nov. 2, 2016 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 7:40 p.m.
See context


Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

moved that Bill C-224, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (assistance — drug overdose), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act, this evening. This bill amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with respect to assistance during a drug overdose.

Three subclauses in this bill have a big impact on Canadians, and Bill C-224 will save lives.

Let me tell members about Austin Padaric. Austin was a typical 17-year-old high school student. He lived in Heidelberg, in rural Ontario. An athlete, Austin was passionate about sports, skateboarding, hockey, and all things outdoors.

Those of us who are parents worry about our teenagers and what they get up to with their friends and acquaintances. However, when I spoke with Austin's mother recently, there was no worry about Austin. He was a good kid.

Austin was just a typical high school student, but we cannot ignore the fact that kids experiment at parties. One night, he attended a gathering in rural Ontario and made a decision that so many young people make. He took some drugs that night.

In the wee hours of that morning, Austin showed signs of distress. He was overdosing. Timely medical attention could have saved his life, but his acquaintances decided not to call 911. They figured they could handle it themselves. They placed him in a bathtub of cold water. When that did not work, he was put into bed on his side, where he stayed until the next morning. When they woke up and checked on him, they thought he looked dead. That is when they called 911.

Austin died seven days later, in hospital, with his parents, brother, and extended family at his side. A timely call to 911 could have prevented this tragedy.

That is the point of this bill.

Let me tell members about Kelly Best from Saskatoon. He, too, was a young man full of promise, full of hopes, and dreams. This was another young life tragically cut short.

He, too, took some drugs with a friend and began to overdose. The friend panicked, texted other friends about what to do and, eventually, phoned his dad, who immediately called 911. The delay was about an hour. It was fatal.

The friend had a small amount of drugs on him and did not want to go to jail.

Austin Padaric and Kelly Best, two names, one story, both had tragic outcomes. They paid the ultimate price. These kids did not have to die.

Their story is far too common. Yet, it is a story heard over and over again, like a broken record. There are many more names, many more needless, pointless deaths, but the same story. This needs to stop.

When I first heard these stories, I asked a very simple question. Why did anyone not bother to call 911 earlier?

The typical reason is that they were scared, scared that they, themselves, would get into trouble. They did not want to go jail. They did not want a fine or a criminal record.

Fear of prosecution is the largest barrier to people calling for help in an overdose situation. In fact, according to a 2012 Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council report, in the absence of a law such as this, 46% of respondents would either not call for help or would call and run. That is tragic and that is the point of the bill.

That is why a significant majority of U.S. states have passed legislation of this kind. In a study in Washington state, where this has been law since 2010, 88% of respondents said they would call for help because of the protection in law.

At last count, 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, have similar legislation on the books. Even states that are prone to a tough-on-crime approach, such as Alaska and Louisiana, have moved forward with such laws. Recently, Michigan's good Samaritan law passed unanimously. While the specifics vary slightly from state to state, the underlying intent is the same, for some things are crystal clear: delay means death and seconds matter.

They also recognize that it is hard to learn from being dead. These laws are a turning point in the way drug policy is understood. Harm reduction actually works. It reduces harm. Every life saved is an opportunity for people to get the help they need, an opportunity to make better choices and move forward with life.

In Canada, our laws are a bit behind.

In Canada, we have been a little slow in helping to stop the harm caused by drug overdose, where people like Austin or Kelly could otherwise have lived, but that is not to say that there have not been calls for good Samaritan drug laws. The Waterloo report I just noted illustrates the barriers to calling 911 in the event of a drug overdose. It clearly highlights the need. It identifies that criminal justice response is the most significant barrier to calling 911.

This report also shows that in the U.S.A. good Samaritan drug laws are the most widely recommended policy response to alleviating barriers to 911, laws such as the bill now before the House. The bill would provide limited legal immunity from drug possession prosecution for people who are involved in an overdose incident, who witness an overdose, and would encourage them to do the right thing, to call for help, to save a life.

The work done by Waterloo is echoed in other reports across Canada. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition also identified this as an issue and has made very similar recommendations. The compelling argument is that most overdoses occur in the presence of others. That noted Waterloo study also points to statistics from 2003 showing that 61% of drug overdose deaths occurred in the presence of others. That means that 61% of the time, there was someone else present who could have called for help, but witnesses, far too often, hesitate or waver on whether to call for help. In many cases, they just do not. What is even more frightening are cases where people are put in alleyways, abandoned on the street, or dropped off at a hospital emergency with no explanation.

In January of this year, a report to the British Columbia coroner stressed the importance of a bill such as this. It highlighted the critical importance of working to develop strategies to promote calling for help.

In more alarming recent news from B.C., Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer, declared a public health emergency because of the alarming rise of drug overdose deaths. In January alone, there were 76 deaths due to drug overdose. At the current rate, Dr. Kendall estimates that B.C. could have up to 800 drug deaths by the end of this year. That is an average of more than two deaths each day, every day, in B.C. alone.

This has to stop. These are people's children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, and family. That is what this bill is for. It will not stop the overdoses, but surely, we can stem the toll of death.

Dr. Kendall and B.C.'s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, both support this bill because it would reduce barriers and save lives. In my own riding, Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam's school district no. 43 trustees, Judy Shirra and Michael Thomas, support this bill. The city of Port Coquitlam unanimously passed a resolution supporting it. Coquitlam's mayor and many Coquitlam councillors support it as well.

I have spoken and met with Coquitlam firefighters; Port Moody mayor, Mike Clay; and Port Moody's police chief, Constable Chris Rattenbury, who in fact sent a video endorsement expressing his own support. Port Coquitlam's firefighters sent a letter of support. First responders agree that their first priority is to save lives, but they can only do that when they are called.

The Government of British Columbia's minister of health wrote to me expressing the importance of this legislation. These are among the growing number of Canadian jurisdictions that recognize that drug overdose deaths are becoming epidemic and need action now to start saving lives.

It is time we listen to Canadians and take our own advice. In a 2014 report on prescription drug abuse, the House Standing Committee on Health recommended considering good Samaritan drug overdose legislation. This bill is precisely that. It is simply about saving lives.

This bill is about giving people the tools they need to make life saving decisions in a time of crisis. It would make it okay to call for help. Many members of this House recognize this. That is why the NDP member for Vancouver East seconded the bill and many more members on both sides of the House have rallied behind it. I thank them all for their robust support. They are showing that they too want to stop the harm.

I ask all members for their support to demonstrate to all Canadians that we know that lives are worth saving, to show that we value life over death, life over punishment, and support over fear.

The purpose of this bill is to ensure that people are not afraid to call for help and, thus, to save lives.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 7:55 p.m.
See context


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for bringing this bill to this House. I thank him also for his heartfelt comments. For all of us who are parents, we can only imagine the pain that a person goes through for a senseless loss, for something done by a youngster who is going through life. So often what youngsters do is experiment and in that process lose a life. I can imagine the pain and suffering a person can go through. Having to endure that is for something that my heart goes out to every single parent.

There is something monumental about the bill brought forward by the hon. member. It would change the course of things in that there would be an opportunity to save a life. That is the whole purpose behind this bill.

Substance misuse, as we know in Vancouver East, is the major issue in my community. There was a point in time in the early 1990s when there were 1,000 crosses planted in Oppenheimer Park. Each one of those crosses commemorated the loss of life, a brother, son, or daughter. We called for harm reduction initiatives and we fought for it. It took so long and we finally got the first North American supervised injection facility.

To that end, in terms of harm reduction, this is a continuum of that effort. I want to thank the member for bringing this forward. I want to ask him, what else we can do? How else can we work together, collaboratively, to extend the measures of harm reduction to ensure that we put evidence first to save lives?

Will the member also work with us to call on the government to repeal Bill C-2?

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 7:55 p.m.
See context


Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and I am certainly 100% in favour of continuing the work on harm reduction. Just last week I did a tour of InSite in the member's riding, and it was very informative. In passing, I should note that the staff and workers at InSite are also in support of the bill.

I am aware of Bill C-2. I think it does need a little work and I certainly would appreciate working with the member and other members to correct the problems.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 7:55 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, first let me express how wonderful it was to hear such a passionate speech on something that obviously means a great deal to the member. I applaud the efforts he has put in personally to date in order to get this legislation before us today. He should truly be commended for his efforts.

I always enjoy hearing about real life examples. The member made reference to Austin. I am sure family and friends that might be following this debate very much appreciate the member's efforts.

I would ask him a very basic question. Is there anything else he would like to comment on in regard to just how important this issue is for him, his constituents, and all Canadians?

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8 p.m.
See context


Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, certainly this is an issue of great importance in my community and in my province, as well as the country as a whole. I think we all have to bend our backs to the wheel and keep moving on this kind of issue. Harm reduction is an important direction to pursue and it shows real results. We are seeing more opportunities for harm reduction to be employed in our society, more supervised injection sites, for example.

As far as the bill is concerned, we are actually putting video messages and other messages of support on my parliamentary website, so if any member wishes to express such support in a 30-second video of some kind, and quality is not an issue, we would be happy to put that up.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8 p.m.
See context


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, obviously this is an issue that our hon. colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam feels strongly about and I stand with him.

I rise in the House today to speak on behalf of private member's Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act.

The hard truth is this. If a friend or a loved one suffered a heart attack, none of us in the House would think twice about calling an ambulance. Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to drug overdoses, many of which result in death because people are simply too afraid to make that call.

In 2015 alone, there were as many as 465 overdoses in British Columbia. As our colleague mentioned, the statistics for January 2016 show 77 deaths alone. That is simply unacceptable.

Witnesses fear that when they pick up the phone, they may be criminally charged for possession. They fear judgment from others. These fears ultimately force the witness to choose between saving a person's life or being arrested and charged. It is time that we recognize that it may not be always in the public's interest to prosecute an individual who picks up the phone and asks for help when someone has overdosed.

There are some who will say that this may encourage drug use or in some way minimize the severity of drug use. Let me be very clear right from the onset. I am not for drug use, nor would I ever promote or advocate for the use of drugs. However, if this bill would give people the courage to pick up the phone and take greater action because they are not afraid, then there is no question that this would benefit the nation. It would save lives.

All members of the House can agree that in our country every life is valued. In fact, the courageous debate and discussion that we have had over the last few days is evidence to that.

If this holds true, considering the number of overdoses occurring in Canada, we also must believe that it is necessary to take every measure possible to protect these vulnerable lives.

In the U.S., accidental overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death. In fact, overdoses now count for more deaths each year than HIV and AIDS, murder, or car accidents. Many of these are preventable if and when emergency assistance is summoned.

With the increasing strength of prescription drugs and the popularity and availability of synthetic party drugs, these statistics will only grow if we do not take action. In fact, we are seeing an emergency in our province of British Columbia.

Action, we have talked a lot about that this week. To be clear, good Samaritan laws do not protect people from arrest for other offences such as selling or trafficking drugs, or driving under the influence of drugs. These policies protect only the caller and overdose victim from arrest, prosecution for simple drug possession, possession of paraphernalia, or being under the influence.

Most deaths and complications occurring from overdoses can be prevented with the appropriate medication and emergency response time. Too often, however, these calls are not made and people are left without the necessary medical assistance. The British Columbia Review Panel found that when a person overdoses, immediate medical intervention is critical to reducing the risk of death or serious injury. Statistics point to the fact that in the case of 15% of youth overdoses, someone expressed concern about the well-being of the individual, yet 911 was never called.

Police routinely attend emergency 911 calls involving suspected overdose. Research indicates that in some cases fear of police involvement may heavily influence a witness's decision to not contact emergency services. The facts are indisputable. Research also suggests that medical attention was attempted in less than half of the young adults who suffered from an overdose.

Fear of criminal charges should not be a barrier to calling 911. Police departments are already aware of this stigma and have attempted to mitigate the perception of fear. The Vancouver Police Department is known to have policies about police attendance when it comes to an overdose. They do not normally attend the calls involving a non-fatal drug overdose unless B.C. Emergency Health Services advises that its assistance is required. The rationale for this is to reduce a potential reluctance that people will have to seek emergency medical intervention when someone is overdosing. When police do not attend an emergency 911 call for a suspected overdose, the health and well-being of that person who requires medical attention remains the paramount focus.

The review also concluded that it would be beneficial for all police agencies to reinforce the message of calling 911 to report people in medical distress in an effort to reduce any perceived barriers to seeking help. Simply put, police recognize the stigma around picking up the phone and they want to fix this. They want us to fix this.

In doing my research for this debate, I spoke to many of my friends in police agencies across Canada. There is overwhelming support for this bill. As a matter of fact, one of my very good friends who has been a police officer for decades said that in his line of work, they develop relationships with people from all walks of life and because of how often they work with them or interact with them, they develop feelings of friendship. They care about their well-being. These relationships truly are the only reason the police can be successful. He said, “Over the years, I have had several of them overdose. Some of them unfortunately are no longer with us.” In almost all of the instances, death could have been avoided by calling for help.”

Police experience human tragedy every day. They do not want to see another case where an individual makes the wrong decision and does not seek emergency care for his or her friend or loved one. I believe everyone is on the same page when it comes to Bill C-224. I hope they are on the same page. It is necessary. It means the difference between life and death.

I recall reading an article in the Toronto Star of a teenager who overdosed and died at the age of 17. The victim was showing signs of distress and overdosed seven hours before being attended to by emergency medical services. There were numerous people there who could have called for help in those seven hours, but no one called 911. Instead, they put him in cold water, then laid him on his side on a bed, assuming that he would wake up and everything would be okay. It was not okay. By the time the paramedics were called in the morning, it was too late. The victim's mother said that had there been a law, she thinks it would be reasonable to think that her son would still be around, would still be alive.

We have stated our support for a bill pertaining to this issue before, suggesting that Health Canada, the government, consider the introduction of federal legislation that would exempt individuals seeking help for themselves or others during overdose situations from criminal prosecution for trafficking and possession of controlled substances. Bill C-224 would accomplish this. This is one way that barriers may be broken down by providing limited immunity for criminal charges.

As I have already stated, every year, far too many lives are being lost to drugs and alcohol, and many more Canadians are injured or disabled as a result of an overdose.

I am a husband. I am a father of four beautiful young adults. I have brothers and I have a sister. Accidental death by overdose has negatively impacted our family also. In 2008, as I was preparing to head overseas to speak at an aviation conference, we received a call that my brother-in-law had been found deceased just a few minutes before the call. My brother-in-law was not a drug user. He was not a criminal, and he did not live a high-risk lifestyle. While all of the facts of his death are still unknown to this day, so many years later, the facts are that he died of an accidental overdose. Whoever was with him at the time chose not to call the police or an ambulance to provide assistance. Rather, they erased all the call history and contacts on his phone, and any evidence of their involvement.

I cannot help but think that if this bill was in place in 2008, my brother-in-law would still be with us today. My mother-in-law and father-in-law would still have their only son. My wife and her sister would still have their little brother. My children would still have their uncle. Our family would still be whole.

I have stood in the House before to say that collectively we can leave a positive legacy. Like countless others, the growing numbers, my brother-in-law did not have to and should not have died. That is why I choose to rise in the House today to speak on behalf of Bill C-224. Through this bill, we have a chance to end the stigma of fear, and choose life instead. If the bill will allow people to pick up the phone and take greater action because they will not be afraid of being charged, there is no question it needs to be adopted.

Once again, we can give individuals a second chance at living. We can restore hope in humanity that might otherwise have been missed. It is our duty as members of Parliament to facilitate change, and this bill is a perfect place to start. Maybe, just maybe, lives will be saved in the process.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8:10 p.m.
See context


Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-224, and I want to thank my colleagues for their very impassioned plea for the bill, particularly the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam. I lived in Port Coquitlam for 10 years, and I am sure the constituents there very much appreciate this bill coming forward.

I want to begin by sharing with the House some of the headlines from my riding of Kootenay—Columbia in the recent weeks. These come from Cranbrook Daily Townsman and the Columbia Valley Pioneer, two of the many fine community newspapers we are fortunate to still have in Kootenay—Columbia.

On April 7, the Townsman headline was “[East Kootenay] getting eight ‘substance use’ beds from [Interior Health]”. The text reads:

These new beds for Interior Health are part of a large provincial initiative to improve care outcomes for individuals living with substance use challenges, said [the province's health minister].

The beds will provide a safe and supportive environment for clients [who have complex substance issues].

A few days later, there was another headline, this time from the Columbia Valley Pioneer: “Overdose reversal drug now available in BC without a prescription”. The text from this one is:

The goal of reducing the fatal effects of an opioid overdose among the B.C. drug-using community has recently gained momentum.

Health Canada revised the Federal Prescription Drug List on March 22nd to make a non-prescription version of naloxone, which is the life-saving antidote commonly being used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, more accessible to Canadians....

...making the medication more accessible to the people without a prescription [will help to save lives].

[This new measure] is separate from [B.C.'s] Take Home Naloxone program...[which] has trained over 6,500 people to recognize and respond to overdoses.... 488 overdoses have been reversed since the program's inception.

On April 15, going back to the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, the headline read: “B.C. declares drug overdose emergency”.

The B.C. government has declared its first-ever public health emergency to deal with the sharply rising cases of opioid drug overdoses across the province. ...the [emergency] measure will allow for rapid collection of data from health authorities and the B.C. Coroner's Service, so overdose treatment kits can be deployed to regions where there are new clusters of outbreaks.

There has been a steady increase in overdoses of drugs containing fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid made in Chinese drug labs and smuggled to Canada.

We have to do what's needed to prevent overdoses and deaths, and what is needed is real-time information, [said B.C.'s health minister]. Medical Officers need immediate access to information about what's happening and where so that they can implement effective strategies to prevent these tragedies.

We are in a crisis situation when it comes to drug overdoses. We must do everything we can to save those lives.

That is where Bill C-224 comes in. Bill C-224 would provide a good Samaritan exemption, ensuring that no evidence obtained as a result of responding to a drug overdose can be used to support possession of substance charges. This exemption would apply to any person at the scene when police or paramedics arrive.

The exemption would apply to all schedule I, II and Ill drugs, the common street drugs, but would only cover charges for possession. Production and trafficking charges would not fall under the good Samaritan clause. Let me say that again. The good Samaritan exemption in Bill C-224 would only apply to possession charges. Drug producers and drug traffickers will not be let off the hook.

The bill will also not in any way diminish our efforts to fight organized crime or to support communities affected by gang-related violence. Bill C-224 simply removes a barrier to medical help reaching a person who is overdosing in time to save them.

Some of the validators for the bill are the Pivot Legal Society and Canadian Drug Policy Coalition executive directors. They say:

Fear of prosecution has proven to be a barrier for people to call for help when they are with someone who's having an overdose. Only 46 per cent of respondents to a Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council survey said they would call 911 during an overdose situation. Seconds matter in these cases and saving a life shouldn't be weighed against facing a potential drug possession charge. Granting amnesty to Good Samaritans is a simple answer. The Liberals should move to pass this bill as quickly as possible.

A Facebook user, posting on Overdose Canada in support of this bill, said, “My son Austin would be alive today had those who witnessed his overdose called 911.”

An article in The Globe and Mail reported:

Amid mounting signs that the illegal form of the painkilling drug is expanding east from Western Canada, where it is linked to a surge in overdose deaths, health-care advocates say federal and provincial government leaders are not doing enough to address the problem.

Pivot Legal Society, in an article entitled “A three-point plan for ending overdose deaths”, wrote:

Research suggests that between 10 and 56 percent of people witnessing an overdose actually call for assistance.... We need to remove the barriers...

The NDP has a proud, progressive record of standing up for sensible drug policies that promote harm reduction and create safer, healthier communities. Supporting this bill is very much in keeping with this tradition.

Bill C-224 is about saving lives. More lives could be saved if users and witnesses did not hesitate to seek emergency assistance for overdoses.

New Democrats will always stand for smart, progressive, evidence-based policies that promote stronger, healthier, and safer communities. This bill does that, and it deserves the unanimous support of this House.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8:20 p.m.
See context

Brampton West Ontario


Kamal Khera LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health to support my colleague, the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, as we debate his very important bill, Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act.

Canada is experiencing an unprecedented rise in accidental drug overdose deaths, particularly related to opioids such as fentanyl. As a legal pharmaceutical, fentanyl is usually prescribed for patients already tolerant to high doses of other less powerful opioid drugs, such as morphine or oxycodone. However, it can also be diverted from a legitimate source, stolen from a pharmacy or patient, or manufactured illegally in a lab. This is extremely troubling because illicit fentanyl can be mixed with or disguised as other drugs, such as oxycodone or heroin. This means people who use these drugs are not always aware of their high potency. The unknown potency of street drugs, including fentanyl is being linked to the recent increase in accidental overdose deaths occurring across Canada, particularly in the western provinces, where it is being characterized by some health officials as a public health crisis.

The majority of overdose deaths are preventable if early intervention is made. Many overdoses occur in the presence of others, and instant death is rare. The chance of surviving an overdose often depends on how quickly an individual receives medical attention. Provinces, territories, municipalities, and other public health organizations know this and are making efforts to raise awareness about how to detect the symptoms of an overdose and the importance of calling 911 as the first course of action. However, far too often people are afraid to call 911 if they or a friend experience an overdose.

A 2014 Ontario survey shows that only half of individuals said they would call 911 and wait at the scene for emergency personnel in the event of an overdose. The remainder would hold back for fear of negative consequences, such as an arrest or criminal charges. No one would think twice about calling 911 for any other medical emergency. This is a clear sign that there are systemic barriers at play here, as well as issues of stigma and fear that need to be addressed. No one should be afraid to reach out for medical help in the case of an overdose.

I think all members can agree that the most important thing for emergency personnel and law enforcement to do at the scene of an overdose is to save a life. I recognize that problematic drug use is a complex issue for which there are no easy answers, but we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Government must take a comprehensive approach that is based on evidence and that balances regulation and law enforcement with support for the health and well-being of Canadians affected by drug use and addiction.

Neither the medical community nor the law enforcement community can address this issue on their own. That is why our government is committed to a balanced approach to drug policy. Health Canada has demonstrated this commitment through several recent decisions.

First, through support for the Dr. Peter Centre and lnSite, both of which are supervised consumption sites that have proven to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of individuals who use drugs. These centres have trained medical professionals who monitor drug users and can help save their lives in the event of an overdose. They also provide clean needles so that drug users do not contract life-threatening blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, while also connecting them with treatment and other health care services. In some cases, this is their first contact with a medical professional.

Second, in March 2016, Health Canada removed naloxone from the federal prescription drug list, clearing the way for this life-saving drug to be purchased without a prescription. Naloxone is a drug that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid-induced overdose. This change will make the drug more accessible to those most likely to need it, including friends and families of drug users, as well as first responders, such as paramedics or law enforcement personnel.

However, improving access to naloxone is only one piece of a comprehensive approach to reducing overdose deaths.

The effects of naloxone eventually wear off and overdose symptoms can reoccur. In fact, repeat doses of naloxone may be needed to save the life of someone who has overdosed on a stronger opioid, like heroin or fentanyl.

This underscores the importance of calling 911 for an overdose, even when naloxone is administered. To encourage individuals to call 911 in overdose situations, Bill C-224 would provide immunity from minor possession charges for anyone who experiences or witnesses an overdose and seeks emergency help. This is a harm reduction measure that is typically known as good Samaritan legislation and has been implemented in more than 30 U.S. States.

The good Samaritan drug overdose act is consistent with our government's approach to drug policy. It would support efforts by law enforcement to help curb overdose deaths and would recognize the importance of saving lives. Law enforcement personnel are often the first to arrive at the scene of an overdose and in some communities, law enforcement is the only first responder available. This bill sends a clear message to all Canadians that every life matters.

Bill C-224 also complements our government's efforts to curb overdose deaths, including through improved access to naloxone. This bill would help to ensure that people who experience or witness an overdose would not be afraid to call 911 for fear of charges for minor drug possession. At the same time, let me assure the House that our government recognizes the extremely important role that law enforcement plays in drug control and we commend the ongoing efforts of our police to protect the safety of Canadians by getting dangerous drugs off the street.

We know there are illicitly produced opioids like fentanyl that are being sold in Canada and we know drug trafficking brings gang activity and crime with it. That is why law enforcement efforts are focused on drug trafficking and associated violence.

Our government recognizes that problematic substance use is both a health and safety issue and that reducing demand is an important piece of this puzzle. We believe government has an important role to play in helping to protect Canadians from the problems substance use can create. That means preventing and treating addiction, supporting recovery, and reducing the negative health and social impacts of drug use on individuals and their communities.

We know that a major predictor of having an overdose is having experienced an overdose in the past. Therefore, rather than arresting those who are suffering from a disease of addiction, an overdose is an important opportunity for first responders to intervene and help direct individuals toward community and social services to obtain treatment for their illness.

I fully support Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. It is an example of a balanced approach to drug control. It aims to address a systemic barrier that is preventing individuals from seeking help for an overdose, while not impeding law enforcement from focusing public safety efforts on the issues that are truly at the crux of Canada's drug problem, which are drug production and trafficking.

Once again, I congratulate my colleague for introducing this very important bill.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8:25 p.m.
See context


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, speaking to this bill was very important to me. As we have heard, it will save lives.

I also want to thank my colleagues who have already talked about the bill, since many of them shared some very emotional personal experiences.

When a loved one dies of cancer, it might be easier to talk about than when a family member dies of a drug overdose. Often we are more embarrassed to talk about that.

However, it is important to do so and to point out that this problem affects a lot of people, even people from good families who seem to be fine. This problem really affects everyone.

When I was 15, I lost a cousin. He died of a PCP overdose. PCP is commonly used in veterinary medicine, but unfortunately, it caused a lot of devastation around me when I was a teenager. It was a very difficult period in my life. Losing my cousin was very painful.

Since I do not know all the details, I cannot say whether such a bill would have saved his life, but I think that in situations like his, it is important that other people are not afraid to call an ambulance.

Unfortunately, young people, especially, are afraid they will get arrested or that their parents will find out what happened. They are very scared. Telling those young people that they have nothing to worry about in this type of situation could truly save lives. That is why it is important to pass this bill.

Another reason why it is important to pass the bill is that it would help health care professionals in identifying the substances involved. There are far more synthetic drugs on the market than ever and it is extremely complicated. The treatment is not necessarily the same every time. It depends on the drug the person used.

Someone on site needs to be able to quickly tell the ambulance attendants and the police what the person in distress consumed. That someone cannot be afraid to reveal that information, first hesitating and then finally after 15 minutes of interrogation saying that the person took something else.

The first responders have to be able to tell people that they have nothing to fear, that they will not be charged with anything, that they will be protected, and that they have to quickly say what the person consumed so that treatment can be administered as soon as possible.

There are various antidotes on the market for different substances, but those antidotes have to be administered very quickly in order to prevent unfortunate consequences.

This bill would also help health care professionals identify the substance, which is another important factor to consider in overdose cases. People must be able to respond quickly and need to know what medical treatment is required.

Another factor, which may be more specific to rural areas, is access to ambulance services. We all know that more and more parties are organized in isolated areas or places that are not necessarily accessible.

If an ambulance or the police cannot arrive on the scene promptly and there is an additional delay because people do not dare make that call, and then once responders arrive, people are reluctant to say what substances were consumed or what exactly happened, the response time increases tremendously.

Ensuring that someone will promptly call to report that an individual has overdosed and needs help and that the substance can be quickly identified will somewhat reduce the challenge faced by ambulance services in rural areas.

We cannot control or change the fact that some towns are further away from hospitals and ambulances than others. However, if we can at least reduce the response time, we can save lives.

As members know, I am a nurse. I decided to practise primarily in intensive care and emergency. That is really what I enjoy the most. I have seen cases of overdose, which, unfortunately, are often due to a mixture of substances.

It got so that I dreaded Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. For nurses, the night of Saint-Jean-Baptiste is really one of the worst nights to work. Every year, we have to intubate teenagers to save their lives at the last minute. Unfortunately, on big party days like that, teenagers are nervous and scared of getting caught, and they might leave someone who is a bit too drunk alone somewhere.

Often, it is someone else at the party who realizes there is a problem and ends up calling the ambulance. The person making the call has no idea what happened. They find an unconscious teenager somewhere, but they have no idea what caused the problem. They do not know if the teen just drank alcohol or consumed a mix of other substances. That makes treatment much more complicated. Having to intubate a 15-year-old without knowing whether it will save his or her life is not an easy thing to do.

As parents, we realize that our children could find themselves in this situation one day. We can try to control everything to ensure that our children have a good life and do not have problems. However, we know that one day or another, when they are not in our sights, something like this will happen. The situation is not really obvious.

Sometimes, our children have good friends who think about stepping in, but sometimes they are really too scared. Recently, my husband got a call and went to pick up one of his teenage cousins who had abused substances. In that case, it was just alcohol, but the young people were scared. They at least thought to call the young man's mother, but they did not call an ambulance. My husband's aunt did not really know what to do, and so she called my husband and asked him if he could go and help his cousin. That is what he did.

In this situation, the young people could have responded in a different way. They could have been scared, chosen to leave him in a room, and waited for him to sleep it off. Unfortunately, that might not have ended well.

It is absolutely crucial that we pass this kind of legislation in order to protect young people. Not only must we pass it, but we also need to make sure the public is aware. We need to make sure that the message gets out there to Canadians, so that people know that they no longer need to worry about being charged in the event of an overdose. That is very important. Even if we pass this bill, if people still think they can be arrested and get into trouble, we will be no further ahead.

What will need to happen, and it is up to us to do it, is to send a very clear message to all Canadians to make sure they know that they no longer need to be afraid to call an ambulance. It may seem pretty obvious, but not all young people follow what is happening on the federal political scene very closely, and they are unfortunately often disconnected from politics. Our greatest challenge will be to ensure that all young people have this information.

This is how we will save lives. We will save them not only by passing legislation, but also by ensuring that people are aware of our laws. I hope that what I am doing today will have a positive impact on the lives of young people, as well as on the nursing profession, and that we will be able to save lives, especially at parties, where the circumstances can be more difficult.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8:35 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, I will let him know there are only about four minutes remaining in the time for debate, at this hour at least, for this particular motion, but we will get started. I will give him the usual signal. He will have, of course, the remaining time when the House next returns to debate on this question.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8:35 p.m.
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Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act.

As we have heard, the bill would encourage people to call 911 to report drug overdoses by protecting them from prosecution for drug possession. It would also exempt anyone at the scene from possession charges, but it would not apply to more serious offences like trafficking or impaired driving.

Drawing on my 20 years' experience as an emergency physician, I can say with confidence that, if passed, Bill C-224 will save lives.

We have all seen the headlines about rising numbers of overdose deaths in Canada, especially from the powerful opioid, fentanyl. On Friday, April 15, British Columbia declared a public health emergency with over 200 overdose deaths in the last three months. In the emergency room and too often in the morgue, we see the human toll behind these numbers.

Victims of drug overdoses are not statistics. They are our fellow Canadians. They are our neighbours, our friends' kids, maybe our own family. I stand today to say with conviction that in a medical emergency brought on by an overdose, fear of the law should not prevent people from picking up the phone and saving a life.

I hope all members will join me in thanking the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for bringing forward this timely and important piece of legislation. Common sense tells us and evidence confirms that Bill C-224 will help eliminate the delays in treatment that lead to debilitating injuries and death. I only wish Parliament had passed such a law years ago. It is heartbreaking to think of the lives that could have been saved.

In my own clinical experience in the emergency room, I have encountered patients who, because of their signs and symptoms, have caused me to suspect that they are under the influence of one or more potentially dangerous substances. The findings of physical examination alone are too variable to provide sufficient information, and laboratory tests often take too long to be of benefit.

I have to ask these patients, or those who accompany them, what substances they have taken. Typically, they are reluctant to provide this information. However, once I explain that there is no risk of prosecution due to patient-physician confidentiality, they give me honest answers and I am able to provide better care.

On more than one occasion this ability to gather information has prevented tragedy. However, this degree of confidentiality is not guaranteed in the community when people have to communicate with first responders. This freedom to communicate frankly with emergency services must be extended to anyone in our communities who witnesses or experiences an overdose. How can we compare the value of convicting someone on a minor charge with the value of saving a life?

In 2016 we see addiction as a health issue. I speak as an emergency physician with much of my 20 years of clinical experience in the poverty-stricken core of Winnipeg. I am aware that some people perceive persons who overdose as having made a bad decision and are therefore responsible for their fates. Perhaps they believe that saving overdose victims is not a moral obligation. However, it is almost unanimously accepted by the medical profession that addiction is an illness.

Furthermore, it is not widely understood by the public that drug abuse is highly correlated with underlying mental illness, as many individuals with undiagnosed or poorly controlled mental illness ingest substances in an attempt to self-medicate.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 8:40 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I appreciate it is always a little awkward when you have to go partway through your speech and then leave the rest for another time, but the member did quite well.

The hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley will have about six and a half minutes remaining for his remarks when the House next resumes debate on the question.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from May 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-224, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (assistance — drug overdose), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2016 / 1:30 p.m.
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The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley has six and a half minutes remaining in his time from the previous debate.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2016 / 1:30 p.m.
See context


Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Madam Speaker, I am proud to once again rise in strong support of Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. I would like to thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for bringing up this vital piece of legislation. Now is the time to help our fellow Canadians in need.

Drawing on my 20 years of experience as an emergency physician, I can say with confidence that, if passed, Bill C-224 would save lives. During my clinical experience, I have witnessed and treated many overdose victims in the poverty-stricken downtown core of Winnipeg. Emergency room doctors, nurses, and first responders are better able to help people when they know what the victims have ingested into their systems. Finding out what someone has ingested is vital when determining what one can do to help them.

The findings on physical examination are often too variable to yield any useful information and laboratory tests can take too long to be of benefit. I often have to ask these patients or those who accompany them what substances they have taken. Typically, they are reluctant to provide this information. However, once I explain that there is no risk of prosecution due to patient and physician confidentiality, they give me honest answers and I am able to provide better care.

Doctor and patient confidentiality should be extended to the individuals who accompany the victims and fear of the law should not prevent someone from potentially saving a life. As physicians, nurses, first responders, and as a society, we all have a duty to care for the most vulnerable in our communities. I believe this bill would help our vulnerable population be less afraid to ask for the help they need for their friends and themselves.

Some may argue that people who routinely ingest harmful drugs are responsible for their outcome and what happens to them is their choice. I disagree. It is almost unanimously accepted by the medical profession that addiction is an illness. Furthermore, it is not widely understood by the public that addiction is highly correlated with underlying mental illness. Someone with an undiagnosed or poorly controlled mental illness may take harmful substances in an attempt to self-medicate. This bill is vital to helping these vulnerable individuals.

Critics of this bill might claim that by preventing legal sanctions against drug users, this bill facilitates and encourages drug use, as is claimed with other forms of harm reduction. On this point, the evidence is also clear. Harm reduction saves lives, improves outcomes, increases access to rehabilitation, and does not increase either the use of drugs or incidence of crime. This is the conclusion of the Canadian Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.

While we have made steps in other areas of harm reduction, Canada lags behind other jurisdictions on this issue. In the United States, over 30 states and the District of Columbia have some form of good Samaritan overdose immunity law. In 2014, the House Standing Committee on Health recommended considering good Samaritan overdose legislation in the future. This recommendation has yet to be implemented. What are we waiting for?

When looking at this bill, we should consider the evidence. A Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council study found that fewer than half of respondents would call 911 in an overdose situation, citing potential charges as a major barrier. A study of Washington state, which passed good Samaritan overdose legislation in 2010, found that almost 90% of respondents aware of the law would make the call.

When considering this legislation, it is important to recognize these people are our sons, daughters, friends, and family members. Young people at a house party may be too scared to call for help for their overdosing friend if they fear charges. Too often we have seen this story in the news, how fear caused delay, and there should not be a need for hesitation or a second thought when calling to save a life. If this bill is passed, scared young people at a house party will be more likely to call 911 if their friend is in trouble. A bystander will be more likely to put compassion and conscience before fear and self-interest.

I expect this legislation will receive very wide support in the House, with very little opposition. In fact, if any members are considering opposing this bill, I urge them to please talk to a recovering addict, an emergency room doctor, or a victim's family. Members should ask these persons with direct experience if they think this bill could save lives, and then they should vote their conscience.

Evidence-based legislation should appeal to our hearts as much as it appeals to our logic. We need a law that responds to the rising fatalities associated with opioid use. With these rising fatalities, it is now more important to act. The future victims of an overdose cannot wait any longer. The sooner this legislation is implemented, the more vulnerable Canadians could be saved because someone made the right decision to make the call to save a life.

We are dealing with an ongoing and escalating tragedy. Let us wait no longer. The time is right to pass Bill C-224. As the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam has said, there is no time for saving lives like the present. Let us pass Bill C-224. Let us save lives.