Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the wonderful opportunity to speak to the amendments adopted in the Senate relating to Bill C-37. This is an act, as we know, to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and to make related amendments to other acts.
Before I begin, I thank my colleagues in the House and the Senate for their work on the bill to date, for reviewing this important legislation, and for recognizing the urgency of the issue. I particularly want to thank all my colleagues who supported getting the bill through the House as quickly as possible.
This bill, as proposed, will help our federal government and its partners to combat the existing opioid crisis and deal with the more general drug problem in Canada.
For that reason, I urge my colleagues to support the bill so it can be adopted without delay and to help protect the health and safety of Canadians and their communities.
It is clear that we are in the midst of a national public health crisis. Last year in British Columbia, more than 900 people died from illicit drug overdoses. If trends continue in 2017, we can expect 1,400 people in British Columbia to die this year as a result of overdoses.
However, British Columbia is not alone. In Alberta, close to 500 people died from overdoses in 2016.
We are also seeing signs that the opioid crisis is spreading to other parts of Canada.
For example, seizures of fentanyl have increased in almost every province over the last year.
Our government is responding. We are taking actions that are compassionate, collaborative, comprehensive, and evidence-based in our approach to drug policy. Our aim is to take a public health approach to addressing the opioid crisis and problematic substance use in general, while also ensuring law enforcement officials have the tools they require to keep communities safe.
That is why, last fall, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and I announced the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy.
This new strategy replaces the previous approach by addressing problematic substance use as primarily a public health issue, restoring harm reduction as a key pillar of Canada's drug policy, alongside prevention, treatments, and enforcement, and supporting all those pillars from a strong evidence base.
Bill C-37 and the revised amendments our government proposed support this strategy by updating the law to focus on harm reduction measures.
Streamlining the application process for supervised consumption sites is central to this legislation.
Solid evidence shows that, when properly set up and maintained, supervised consumption sites save lives, and they do it without increasing drug use or crime in the neighbourhood.
To this end, Bill C-37 proposes to amend the current legislation in two ways. It will establish a streamlined application process that aligns with the five factors set out in the Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2011, in Canada vs. PHS Community Services Society. It will also improve the transparency by requiring decisions on supervised consumption site applications to be made public, including reasons for denying such an application.
We need to create an environment that encourages communities that want and need these sites to apply for them. I can assure the House that Bill C-37 and the revised amendments our government is proposing will ensure that communities that want and need these sites do not experience unreasonable delays in their efforts to save lives.
The first amendment specifies that should the Minister of Health choose to post a notice to seek further public input regarding an application, the public should have a minimum of 45 days to provide feedback.
Some members, and indeed members of the public as well, have questioned why we are accepting this Senate amendment. To be clear, the ministerial authority to post a public notice regarding an application for up to 90 days exists under the current legislation. Bill C-37, as introduced by our government, made that time period more flexible but retained the optional nature of the posting and the optional nature of an extra consultation. The only thing that would change with the Senate's amendment is that should a public notice for further consultation be posted, it must be posted for a minimum of 45 days.
Our government supports this amendment, as it would ensure that in the special cases where further community consultation was warranted, communities would receive a reasonable amount of time to provide comment on specific applications.
I will repeat that this consultation would not be required by legislation, and indeed, it would be the exception rather than the rule.
The second Senate amendment would give the Minister of Health the authority to establish citizen advisory committees for approved sites where deemed necessary.
Our government understands the intent of this amendment. It could be to bring together supervised consumption sites and community members. However, adding this oversight of supervised consumption sites, which is not used for any other health service as a legislated requirement, would further stigmatize their clients and potentially reduce the use of these critical facilities. As such, we respectfully disagree with this amendment.
The final amendment adopted by the Senate would require that clients of supervised consumption sites be offered an alternative pharmaceutical therapy before they consumed substances at the site. While the intention of this amendment may be to encourage the provision of evidence-based treatment options to people who use drugs, it is critical that the application process for supervised consumption sites not be hindered by additional federal requirements for immediate access to treatment services. This could impose an additional burden and make it more difficult to establish and operate supervised consumption sites.
As written, this amendment could result in charter challenges on the grounds that an individual's safety and security could be jeopardized if that person could no longer access the services offered at a supervised consumption site. It also represents significant jurisdictional issues, since it could be construed as regulating a health service or clinical practice.
In addition, repeated offers of pharmaceutical treatment could actually discourage people who are not yet ready to begin treatment from using supervised consumption sites. This would be counter to the aim of supporting communities that need these sites to save the lives of their community members.
For these reasons, our government proposes that we amend the wording to say “may” instead of ”shall” and remove subsection 2 of this amendment.
For all the reasons I just outlined, our government does not support the amendment to the motion moved by the member for Oshawa.
I also want to remind the House that this bill includes other important initiatives, because the opioid crisis is a complex problem that requires a comprehensive response.
The pathways to addiction are numerous, but they are connected through their origin in personal pain, whether that be mental or physical pain. These issues are all too often exacerbated by multiple social determinants of health, including poverty, homelessness, and lack of access to economic resources, making the reality of addiction and the path to recovery all the more difficult to navigate.
To add to this complexity, the drug environment in Canada has changed drastically in recent years. Strong drugs like fentanyl, carfentanil, and other analogs have made their way into Canada, and they are often being disguised as prescription drugs like Percocet or oxycodone, or they are mixed with other less potent street drugs, such as heroin or cocaine.
With that in mind, l would like to take this opportunity to specifically discuss the Senate amendments with respect to establishing supervised consumption sites.
This crisis is impacting high-risk, long-term drug users as well as recreational drug users who do not expect that the drug they are using could contain fentanyl. As we all know from the devastating local news reports across this country, the crisis is also affecting young people who are experimenting with drugs. That is why, in addition to important provisions regarding supervised consumption sites, Bill C-37 also includes proposals that would modernize the current legislative framework and create new law enforcement tools to confront the ongoing crisis.
For example, Bill C-37 proposes legislative measures to prohibit the unregistered import of pill presses to Canada. If passed, it would allow border officials to open international mail of any weight should they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the item may contain prohibited, controlled, or regulated goods. As well, it would grant the Minister of Health the necessary powers to quickly temporarily schedule and control a new and dangerous substance.
It is important to point out that Bill C-37 and the revised amendments our government is proposing are part of a suite of vital measures that our government has taken to combat the opioid crisis. For the benefit of the members, I think it is worth mentioning some of our government's other initiatives.
We have made naloxone available without prescription, and we have expedited the review of naloxone nasal spray to ensure that multiple formats are available to Canadians. We have granted exemptions to Insite and the Dr. Peter Centre to operate supervised consumption sites in Vancouver, and we have now issued exemptions for a total of three supervised consumption sites at fixed locations in Montreal and are expediting reviews for the approval of 18 additional sites in 10 cities: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Surrey, Ottawa, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, and Kamloops.
Our government has also rescinded the prohibition on access to an important treatment option, prescription heroin, to treat more serious addictions.
We have finalized new regulations to control chemicals used to make fentanyl, making it harder to manufacture illegal substances in Canada, and we have supported the passage of the important Bill C-224, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which I am pleased to say achieved royal assent on May 4. Finally, we are providing $100 million in federal funding to support the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, as well as an additional $10 million in emergency funding to British Columbia and $6 million in emergency funding to Alberta.
It is important that members understand that there is no single action that will end this opioid crisis immediately. There is no single law or policy that will do so. It requires comprehensive, urgent action. The adoption of the amendment our government is now proposing and making Bill C-37 law would be, however, a very important step forward in supporting a new approach to drug policy in Canada.
As proposed, this legislation would give our government and law enforcement agencies more effective tools to fight problematic substance use and provide more support to communities that are battling this crisis locally.
The amended legislation would also help our government work with partners to implement an evidence-based approach that is comprehensive and collaborative. Therefore, I encourage all members to support Bill C-37 and our approach to the Senate's amendment in order to protect Canadians and save lives. I thank my colleagues for their important work in this regard, and I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to discuss it.