Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act

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


Ron McKinnon  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill.


This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, 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, provided by 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.

Opioid Crisis in CanadaGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2018 / 9:55 p.m.
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Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Chair, I have listened to this debate right from the very start and I appreciate our colleagues sharing their stories and coming at this from a point of respect.

It is interesting to stand here and talk about a national crisis, which is really truly what we have today.

I will gear most of my speech towards the impact that this crisis is having on my province of British Columbia. British Columbia has had a significant number of deaths each month, approximately 100 deaths per month. Last January our minister of health called on her federal counterpart for help with this issue. She asked the federal government to declare this a national health crisis.

I heard some of the arguments and talking points from our government friends. I listened intently to our friends in the NDP. I listened to the passionate speeches given by my friend from Sarnia—Lambton as well as my good friend from Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte. It is clear that we are not there yet. We still have a crisis. People are still dying every day.

I listened to a comment by the government House leader. I hope she was not heckling me.

We cannot stand up and say we are winning this war. I get it. I understand this is an election year and government members are standing up and saying their government has pledged $350 million for this. This is a take-note debate. We should be listening. The government should be taking notes. We should be trying to move forward. We should be having a healthy discussion.

I will bring us back to the very first emergency debate that we had here in the House after the last election. It was on the suicide epidemic on Attawapiskat First Nation.

I do want to offer this before getting more heckles from anybody across the way. I have come to this debate with some personal experience in terms of a loss from an overdose.

I will bring members back to the debate that we had when our colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam brought forward his good Samaritan bill, Bill C-224. In that debate I talked about a day in 2008 when I received a call that my brother, who was not a drug user, was found deceased from an apparent overdose. It is still to this day hard to discuss. I strongly believe that our colleague's Bill C-224, the good Samaritan bill, will save lives. It allows people who are with someone who may overdosed or is struggling with some form of massive intoxication from some form of drug to dial 911 and ask for help knowing that they themselves will not be prosecuted.

Since 2016, over 8,000 Canadians have lost their lives because of this. In 2012, the death toll from fentanyl or opioids in British Columbia was 42, and right now we are sitting at over 1,000 in 2018 alone. This is a crisis like we have never seen before.

This past March was the worst month in B.C.'s five-year-old fentanyl crisis. There were 162 deaths. As a matter of fact, the week of July 23 was the worst week for Vancouver Fire and Rescue. It responded to 147 overdoses.

In preparation for this debate, I talked with a friend of mine who is with the RCMP. I also talked with a friend of mine who is with Vancouver Fire and Rescue. I asked if safe injection sites were helping. They did say that safe injection sites probably do help. However, they said that it probably helps those who are on the streets more so than the blue collar worker or the teenager, or the real estate agent that died recently of an overdose, who did not know what was in the drugs. They said the challenge that we have, and I do not think I have heard this brought up yet, is the drug is getting across our border. We are powerless.

People can say what they want about President Trump but at the G20 recently, he managed to get China to designate fentanyl as an illegal substance. I have to get the exact words. It is a controlled substance, “China agrees to make fentanyl a controlled substance after talks with the U.S. at G20 summit.” That means that people from China who sell fentanyl to the U.S. will be subject to China's maximum penalty under the law. We need to get tough on this ourselves.

To give an example of what we are dealing with here, fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than heroin. A dose the size of a grain of sand can kill. When prescribed by doctors, it is prescribed in the millionths of a gram. If someone takes ibuprofen for a headache, the dosage is usually around 400 milligrams. Imagine cutting that pill into 400 pieces. Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than heroin.

It has been described as readily available to purchase on the Internet, that it is as simple as ordering a book from Amazon. That is how easy it is to get. A kilogram of fentanyl over the Internet costs around $23,000. A kilogram of fentanyl would be about the size of a cantaloupe, and on the streets that kilogram which costs $23,000 sells for $20 million.

That is the problem we have today. We need to be investing in things that will help us along the way, but we need to get people the treatment they need. Is a blue collar worker who is addicted to fentanyl going to check into a safe injection site? What about that real estate agent? What about a high school student who is at a rave or a party and ingests something, and he or she has no idea what he or she ingested?

It is now found in marijuana. It is found in cocaine. It is found in ecstasy. It is found in crack. It is coming across our borders, and we seem to be powerless to stop it. I would offer, respectfully, that our first line of defence is to make sure that this drug does not come into this country. We have to make it tougher for those who are importing it. We have to make it tougher for those who are selling it.

We have to educate Canadians that it could be found in anything they are trying. How many times do we have to pick up the newspaper and read about a teenager who went to a party or who was on a party bus and ingested a pop or a drink and overdosed? That is the reality. That is what we are hearing.

I do not have the answers. The people I have talked to who have been tasked to save lives, whether it is the RCMP or other police officers, say that safe injection sites may help, but we need to get people the treatment. We need to get beds. We need to stop the drug from coming into our country. When drugs the size of a grain of sand can kill, we have to do whatever we can to stop them from coming into our country. With that, I will cede the floor.

December 6th, 2018 / 9:55 a.m.
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Deputy Minister, Department of Health

Simon Kennedy

Mr. Chair, on this issue I would say that Health Canada sees the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act as an important part of the government's strategy on dealing with the opioid crisis, in particular around the issue of stigma reduction.

We have heard anecdotally that there has been some progress with that legislation, but there's probably more that we can do to help support its adoption and awareness across the country.

I don't have good empirical data I can share off the top of my head, for which I apologize. I would be happy to see if I can get some firm statistics, but what I can report is that my own staff in their dealing with people at the front lines have indicated that there's probably more we can do to raise awareness and boost awareness at the street level in various places across the country. That's something we're looking at very carefully, to see whether we can put an additional profile on the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act as part of our go-forward public education and anti-stigma work.

I don't know if the member is aware, but the other thing is we have been printing up wallet cards and doing a lot of activity to increase awareness and to make sure that frankly the young people in the community and people out in the cities and towns across the country are aware that this legislation exists and aware that this option is now there.

There's a lot of activity going on, but I think our assessment is that we could do more and there's more that needs to be done.

December 6th, 2018 / 9:50 a.m.
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Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Thank you.

I have a very quick question. My other questions are all about the opioid crisis, which has been very thoroughly canvassed with the minister.

I would like to talk about the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which was my private member's bill that has been law now for about a year and a half. I wonder if you can tell me—and I hope you can tell me—that there have been positive impacts and maybe what they are.

November 29th, 2018 / 8:45 a.m.
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Suzy McDonald Assistant Deputy Minister, Opioid Response Team, Department of Health

In the collaborative spirit of the way we do all our work around controlled substances in Canada, I'll be giving remarks on behalf of my colleagues, but we're all happy to answer questions, obviously.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My name is Suzy McDonald. I am the assistant deputy minister for the opioid response team at Health Canada, but I'm also responsible for the regulation of controlled substances in Canada and the federal government's approach to drug and alcohol use under the Canadian drugs and substances strategy.

Problematic substance use is an ongoing health and safety concern in Canada. While the opioid crisis and cannabis legalization and regulation are often top of mind for Canadians, Health Canada is very much aware that a growing number of people are also struggling with methamphetamine use. In particular, we know that provinces such as Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are seeing increased reports of methamphetamine use, hospitalizations and interactions with law enforcement. Some first nations communities are also reporting significant health and safety issues related to meth use.

Methamphetamine is generally an inexpensive drug that can produce a short-term or a long-term effect, depending on how it is taken. It can be smoked, snorted, swallowed or injected. It can increase attention and energy and create an overall feeling of well-being or euphoria. However, its use can also lead to addiction and harmful effects, such as paranoia, aggressiveness and even psychosis. A methamphetamine overdose can cause convulsions, cardiac arrest, stroke and, in some cases, death.

We know that people use stimulants for a variety of reasons. These can include for personal enjoyment, to relax, to socialize, or to cope with pain, stress or other related trauma. Compared to other substances used in Canada, such as alcohol, cannabis and opioids, rates of meth use are relatively low. However, we are seeing reports that other drugs are sometimes mixed in with meth, including highly potent opioids like fentanyl, which further increases the potential for harm and increases the risk of fatal overdose. In fact, available data for some jurisdictions suggest that meth may be playing a growing role in overdose deaths where polysubstance or dual-substance use is involved.

The Government of Canada is concerned about all forms of problematic substance use, and we are taking action through the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, through our four pillars of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.

In terms of prevention, we know that we need to take a broad approach, which includes both informing Canadians about the risks of meth use and addressing the underlying social determinants related to its use. This is a role that all levels of government undertake in Canada, along with a large number of non-governmental organizations.

We also know that public awareness campaigns will not suffice, as social determinants of health often underlie problematic substance use. For example, we know that homeless individuals or lower-income individuals are at greater risk of harm related to problematic substance use.

We also know that substances can be used as a coping mechanism by those who have experienced trauma, violence, social marginalization and loss of cultural identity. For aboriginal people, that may include the loss of language and culture, racism, discrimination and the intergenerational trauma of residential schools.

Through the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, the federal government is committed to working collaboratively to better address the social determinants of problematic substance use and develop upstream efforts to help prevent problematic substance use before it begins.

Moving on to the issue of treatment, the evidence clearly shows us that problematic substance use is a health condition that can be managed and successfully treated for those who are ready. Unfortunately, methamphetamine use is a very difficult condition to treat. To date, the most effective treatment options for methamphetamine use include psychosocial counselling and behavioural management approaches. Unlike opioid use disorder, where medication-assisted treatment is available, there are currently no drug-based therapies to treat problematic meth use. This is an area where more research would be useful.

I know from my experience in managing the federal response to the opioid crisis that there are simply not enough drug treatment services in Canada to meet the demand. To help address this gap, the federal government committed $150 million for an emergency treatment fund to help improve the availability of treatment options in Canada, including for those struggling with methamphetamine use. To date, five provinces have signed bilateral agreements with the federal government under the emergency treatment fund, including Saskatchewan, which is using some of the funds to enhance treatment services for people seeking help for substance use disorders, including crystal meth use.

ln addition, the federal government has made a number of investments in federal budgets to support expanded mental health and drug treatment services in first nation communities, including $200 million over five years, and $40 million ongoing, provided in budget 2018.

Harm reduction is a key factor of the federal approach to the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, there is no similar range of options for harm reduction related to methamphetamine use. More specifically, there are no drugs that can reverse the effects of a methamphetamine overdose, as in the case for an opioid overdose, which can be treated with naloxone.

The most common evidence-based approach in methamphetamine harm reduction focuses on reducing the risk of blood-borne infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C, which can be contracted by sharing drug-using equipment, such as syringes and pipes.

The Canada Public Health Agency is investing $30 million over five years through the harm reduction fund to reduce those risks by supporting projects in Canada that will help reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C among people who share equipment for using drugs by injection and inhalation.

Another key component to harm reduction is addressing stigma toward people who use drugs. In particular, the visible physical effects of methamphetamine use, coupled with sometimes very erratic and unpredictable behaviour, create a highly stigmatized image. This perception creates barriers when accessing treatment and other harm reduction and social support services, and it is something that we are committed to working to reduce to help ensure that people get the support they need.

For example, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act encourages people to seek help in the event of an overdose by providing some legal protection for those who experience or witness an overdose. We hope this act will reduce the fear of police attending overdose events and encourage people to help save a life. As part of budget 2018, the federal government invested $18 million over five years for actions to address stigma toward people who use drugs, including a national anti-stigma campaign, which has just been launched, and training for law enforcement officers. Although much of what Health Canada is doing on stigma is done in the context of the opioid crisis, we are confident that it will also have a positive impact in other areas.

Drug regulation and enforcement is the fourth pillar of the Canadian drugs and substances strategy and remains a critical part of the federal government's approach. It encompasses a wide range of activities, including enforcement, regulation of activities with controlled substances and precursors, border control, financial surveillance and tax audit measures to reduce the profitability of drug trafficking.

Methamphetamine is controlled under the federal government's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, as are many of the chemicals used in its production. Given that many of these precursors are legal substances, it can be difficult to control their availability and diversion. The RCMP is working in close partnership with chemical industry partners through the national chemical precursor diversion program to identify suspected criminals and organized crime groups that attempt to acquire precursor chemicals that can be used to produce methamphetamine. Health Canada continues to work with its partners, including the Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to examine options around scheduling and control of novel precursor materials.

While some methamphetamine is produced in Canada, a proportion of methamphetamine consumed in Canada is likely trafficked into Canada from other countries such as Mexico. The Canada Border Services Agency continues to work closely with its international and domestic law enforcement partners to disrupt the methamphetamine supply at the border.

Our partners at Correctional Services Canada are also taking a number of actions to reduce the demand for illegal substances, including methamphetamine, among the federal incarcerated population. These include preventing contraband from entering federal prisons, increasing awareness of the harms from problematic substance use and supporting innovative and effective treatment and harm reduction approaches, such as the recent implementation of a prison needle-exchange program.

I'd like to touch on one final area of the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, and that is the serious role of evidence. Evidence is the foundation of everything we do.

Supervised sites are another part of the government's harm reduction approach. Although the use of meth in supervised consumption sites varies widely across the country, preliminary data shows that up to 40% of visits to some sites in western Canada are by people who come to use methamphetamine.

The federal government supports high-quality research on substance use through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian research initiative on substance misuse.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research are currently supporting a pilot project to identify effective interventions to reduce methamphetamine use among men who have sexual relations with other men, an activity that has been associated with an increased probability of contracting HIV/AIDS.

In addition, the substance use and addictions program is a federal grants and contributions program that provides $28.3 million annually to provinces, territories and non-governmental organizations that support evidence-informed and innovative initiatives targeting a broad range of legal and illegal substances.

While it is difficult to paint a detailed picture of the scale of the methamphetamine problem in Canada, we are committed to working with provinces and territories and key stakeholders to fill gaps in our knowledge. Health Canada, the Public Health Agency, Stats Canada and other organizations are exploring targeted data and research initiatives to better reach marginalized populations.

We are also working toward developing and implementing a Canadian drugs observatory that would act as a central hub to provide a comprehensive picture of the current drug situation in Canada, identify emerging drug issues before they escalate, track public health interventions and other control measures, and facilitate data sharing.

In closing, I would just like to say that we are deeply concerned about the growing number of Canadians who are struggling with methamphetamine use. Through the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, we will continue to work with provinces, territories, indigenous leadership and communities, people with lived and living experience and key stakeholders to address the issue using a comprehensive, collaborative and compassionate public health approach based on the latest available evidence.

Last, we have recently launched an online public consultation to inform potential next steps on the Canadian drugs and substances strategy. This consultation closes on December 4. We look forward to feedback from Canadians on how we can improve our approach to substance use issues in Canada, including our actions to address methamphetamine. At last count, I think we had more than 1,200 responses to that, so we expect a fair amount of analysis to happen.

In closing, thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss what we believe is a very important and growing issue in Canada. We look forward to the presentations to this committee from other stakeholder groups and to the committee's forthcoming report and recommendations.

My colleagues and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

HealthOral Questions

November 2nd, 2017 / 2:45 p.m.
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Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick


Ginette Petitpas Taylor LiberalMinister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his work and his tireless efforts in this matter. Like him, I was extremely disappointed yesterday when I heard the opposition leader's outdated belief. Unlike the Conservatives, our government is actually supporting law enforcement where it matters. Rather than prosecuting those with mental health and addiction issues, we are disrupting illegal drugs at the border and diverting people out of the criminal justice system.

With Bill C-37 and C-224, our government is taking a compassionate, evidence-based approach to reduce barriers to treatment and encourage innovative measures to prevent overdoses and save lives.

October 3rd, 2017 / 3:45 p.m.
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Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

This is a coordinating amendment, following along from the addition of clause 8.1 earlier in this process. It brings the language that was introduced into the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with the passage of Bill C-224, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, concerning the use of the word “overdose” to instead use the phrase “medical emergency”. This will bring the CDSA into conformity with the newer language incorporated into this act by means of clause 8.1.

(Amendment agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])

(Clauses 196 to 199 inclusive agreed to)

(On clause 200)

October 2nd, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. It was Bill C-224.

October 2nd, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Chair, the purpose of this amendment is to bring the provisions of my private member's bill, Bill C-224, to bear on this legislation. As you remember, Bill C-224, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which received royal assent in May and passed all stages in both Houses—I believe, unanimously—amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to exempt from charges for simple possession, certain breaches of conditions, and so forth, people who seek emergency medical or law enforcement assistance for themselves or another person in the event of an overdose.

This is working, and it is an effective tool to help stem the tide of death that pertains to overdoses in this country. However, should this bill pass and receive royal assent, cannabis would be removed from the scope of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and the provisions of that act would no longer apply to cannabis, which means that those exemptions would no longer apply to cannabis.

What this amendment would do is it would add into this section those self same exclusions that were previously introduced and passed in the Controlled Drug and Substances Act.

We have also suggested a minor change. The word “overdose” is sometimes confusing to people. They don't know necessarily whether a particular medical situation is in fact an overdose, and so they are reluctant to make the call. This would change the language to “medical emergency” as opposed to using the word “overdose”.

I think this avoids for us a situation where someone who might be in possession of marijuana but in a circumstance where someone has been called in relation to, say, an opioid overdose is subject to possession charges that would take from them the incentive to call for help, which is really what we want to do. We want to encourage people to call for help when help is needed.

I hope for support from the committee for this amendment.

Resuming DebateControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2017 / 12:50 p.m.
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Markham—Stouffville Ontario


Jane Philpott LiberalMinister of Health

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.

Royal AssentOral Questions

May 4th, 2017 / 3:15 p.m.
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The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the schedule to this letter on the 4th day of May, 2017, at 11:30 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace

The schedule indicates that the bills assented to were Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, and Bill C-224, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (assistance — drug overdose).

Now I believe the hon. opposition House leader has the usual Thursday question.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2017 / 6:05 p.m.
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Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to express to you my thanks for so many dedicated women and men, in the House administration and at the library, for their incredible work. Without them, Bill C-224 would not have achieved the success it has had up until now.

In particular, I want to thank Marc-Olivier Girard at the private members' business office, Isabelle D'Souza and Wendy Gordon at the office of the law clerk, and Michael Dewing at the Library of Parliament.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2017 / 5:55 p.m.
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Louis-Hébert Québec


Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to support private member's bill, Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act, including the amendments made in the Senate. These amendments bring further clarity to the bill and they expand the circumstances where immunity would be provided to increase the likelihood that bystanders would seek emergency help during an overdose, expanding the opportunities for the bill to safe lives.

Simply put, the bill would help to address the systemic barriers that would prevent many Canadians from seeking help from first responders during an overdose. Their fear is that they may be charged and convicted of drug possession once first responders arrive.

I want to take this opportunity to commend my colleague, the member of Parliament for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, for bringing this important bill forward and for proposing a simple legislative change that would help save lives. His work on the bill is an honour to him, the House, and to the people he represents.

As everyone in the House knows, we are in a crisis situation. Opioid related overdose deaths in Canada have increased at an alarming rate and we must continue to act to save lives.

In British Columbia alone, there were over 900 overdose deaths in 2016, and so far the rate of death from drug overdoses in 2017 sadly shows no sign of decreasing. There were 102 overdose deaths in B.C. in February of this year. This is an average of 3.6 deaths a day for that month. These are not just abstract numbers. Each one represents a Canadian who has lost his or her life in a way that is preventable.

Most overdoses occur in the presence of others and, like many other emergencies, a person's chances of surviving an overdose depends on how quickly he or she receives medical attention. Calls to 911 during an overdose are typically either not made or may be delayed to such an extent that the victim can suffer irreparable brain damage or other harms.

A 2014 report from Ontario found that only half of those surveyed said they would call 911 in the event of an overdose and wait at the scene for emergency personnel to arrive. This is consistent with international research where studies have found 911 call rates for overdose events to be as low as 15%.

At a recent forum discussion on the future of drug policy, the Minister of Health pointed out that as one part of responding to the opioid crisis, we needed to call out stigma and reduce the discrimination associated with drug use.

The high rates of drug overdose deaths we are seeing in the country and the low rate at which Canadians are willing to contact emergency services when they witness an overdose are unacceptable and clearly point to an issue that is being made worse by stigma and fear, the impacts of which must be addressed before we lose more lives.

The Government of Canada is supporting the response to this crisis through the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy, a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidenced-based approach. The strategy is built on four pillars—prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement—and will also serve to improve the evidence base.

The good Samaritan drug overdose act is in keeping with our government's approach to drug policy. The elimination of drug possession charges for people seeking help for an overdose is a harm reduction measure that strikes a balance between public health and public safety. What is more, the implementation of this bill will provide the opportunity for law enforcement officers to strengthen their relationship of trust with drug users, a relationship that could put drug users in a safer environment and give them better access to treatment when they are ready to seek it.

As originally written, Bill C-224 guaranteed anyone experiencing or witnessing an overdose immunity from minor drug possession charges if that person contacted emergency services or law enforcement for help.

The Senate has made several amendments to the bill. Most of these amendments are meant to bring further clarity to the legal text so it can be more easily interpreted by law enforcement and the courts.

I will not spend too much time on these amendments except to say that the government supports them and that they certainly strengthen the Bill. For example, the proposed amendments make it clear that the law will protect those who call and leave the scene as well as those who arrive at the scene after the call has been made. In addition, the amendments clarify that witnesses to an overdose, as well as the person who has overdosed, will be provided with immunity under this proposed law.

The more substantive amendment proposed by the Senate would expand the immunity provided by Bill C-224 to include protection from charges for offences concerning a violation of a pre-trial release, probation order, conditional sentence, or parole relating to simple possession.

I understand that this broadened scope of the immunity provided under this good Samaritan bill may cause some of the members of this House to reconsider their support for this bill. However, we are in a crisis situation where preventable deaths are occurring daily. I urge all members of this House to maintain their support for this important piece of legislation.

The Government of Canada would not be the first to provide such immunity. In fact, 15 states in the U.S. have a good Samaritan drug overdose law that provides immunity from charges of possession as well as protections from probation or parole violations.

There is a simple reason why the Senate has proposed these amendments and why these 15 U.S. states have covered such violations under their good Samaritan laws. It is because fear of being charged for the possession of a controlled substance is only one reason why people are afraid to seek help during an overdose.

The Ontario report I mentioned earlier also looked at reasons why people were afraid to call for help during an overdose. The two most common barriers to calling 911 during an overdose event were fear of arrest, and being on parole. Of those respondents on probation or parole, only 37% indicated they would call emergency services and wait for help to arrive if they witnessed an overdose.

Extending the immunity guaranteed by Bill C-224 would increase the number of situations that could be a matter of life or death. However, this would not prevent law enforcement officers to focus on public safety and security efforts concerning the most serious offences, especially if officers were to discover the production or trafficking of controlled substances when they were called to the scene of a crime.

As many people have pointed out, fighting the current opioid crisis will not be an easy task. Passing the good Samaritan bill will not fix the whole problem, but it can be part of the solution and it is a big step in the right direction. I hope that all members of the House will join me in supporting this important bill.

I would again like to thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for his dedication and hard work. I am very proud to serve with him.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2017 / 5:45 p.m.
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Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by thanking and congratulating my colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam. As the member for Gatineau pointed out earlier, I too was in the House for the first hour of debate on this bill. I heard his very moving testimony.

People sometimes forget that the issues our constituents bring to us and our political parties' positions are not the only things that motivate us in our work. Sometimes, we are motivated by very personal stories.

That is why it is so gratifying to see a member do so much to improve legislation about such an urgent public health issue. This is something we can all support, and the NDP is very pleased to do so.

I know there is no place for jokes in a conversation about such an important issue, but we also want to thank the Senate for its work. That is not something the NDP says a lot. I think these amendments are reasonable and improve the bill. We can continue to support the bill with these amendments, and we hope this matter will be acted upon quickly. This is something we have been waiting for for a long time.

We just heard from the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford from British Columbia, who has been working hard on this file, as well as the member from Alberta. People often think that this is an issue that concerns western Canada, and it is, as proven by the thousands of deaths that have occurred since the beginning of this public health crisis, that is, the opioid crisis. However, this crisis is making its way east. We recently began seeing cases in Ontario and Quebec. That is why it is important that we all work together to pass the necessary legislation to save lives.

We are talking about Bill C-224, the good Samaritan bill. As my Conservative colleague just clearly illustrated, people might wonder why anyone would not seek help when someone they are with, often a friend, has overdosed, whether in the context of a party or any other situation.

Obviously, the legal consequences may dissuade people from seeking help. Unfortunately, all too often, young people are the ones who suffer the consequences of substance abuse and the associated legal ramifications. It is therefore essential that we put in place a legislative framework to ensure that people are not afraid to ask for help. That is the least we can do.

The Senate proposed some very important amendments to clarify and improve this bill. The Senate changed some of the wording so that the bill provides clear explanations of the measures to protect against possession charges, which is the intent of the bill. We want to make sure that it is clear that anyone who is with the victim of an overdose, often a friend, and who calls 911 to get help for the victim will not suffer the legal consequences that would normally apply.

As part of its amendments, the Senate also proposed that overdose victims and those at the scene when help arrives be protected from being charged with an offence concerning a violation of pre-trial release, probation order, conditional sentence, or parole.

These are offences that do not pose a direct threat to the public, as my Conservative colleague pointed out earlier. For example, this type of exemption would not apply in a case of impaired driving. The types of violations targeted are those likely to be committed by a person who is at the scene of an overdose or who could, him or herself, be a victim requesting help. That is very important.

I want to come back to the question I raised earlier, because it often comes up during discussions on substance abuse or the use of certain illegal substances.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached. Consider the example of the debate surrounding the opioid crisis and safe injection sites. Whether we like it or not, there is a link between that and the bill currently before us. The question remains, and political courage is needed. That is why we are happy to see that the House supports this bill and the efforts made by our colleague, the bill's sponsor.

There is a misguided idea out there that we support illegal activities and encourage people's addictions. On the contrary, we want to tackle a public health problem. We want people who have health problems and who cannot find the support they need to get help. That is what we hope this bill achieves.

This is very important if we want to be able to address the crisis we are facing at this time. Indeed, as I have said, this often has an impact on young people. Even in the context of the debate on the legalization of marijuana, there is often talk of the importance of prevention, education and all of those issues. It is all very well and good to talk about the money that would be invested and to engage in prevention or educate people on the subject, but if there is no legislative framework to assure us that people will be able to get help, whether it be through the good Samaritan bill or safe injection sites, all of that is futile. It is very important to ensure that all the efforts made by the government or by Parliament via the various proposed bills are closely linked.

I will provide a few figures on the opioid crisis in British Columbia. I think it is important to share these statistics in order to illustrate the extent to which this is a public health issue. I am saying this as the NDP public safety critic. This is no longer a public safety issue, but rather an issue related to people’s health. In my view, it is the reason why we have to start studying evidence-based policies. On this subject, I recognize the efforts that are contained in this sort of bill.

I must acknowledge that, although we see this in the news, we do not necessarily see it in my riding, in our own backyard. For the people listening to us, I think it is important to demonstrate the extent to which this is a health-related crisis.

There was a record number of deaths in British Columbia in December. The number reported was 142. That was up from the previous monthly peak in November 2016, which was 128. That is enormous. In December, as the holidays were approaching, 142 families lost a loved one because we did not act fast enough. I believe that no one in the House, whatever their political allegiance, wants to continue in this direction and have this reality on our collective conscience. This is an unacceptable number of deaths.

In Vancouver, every week between 9 and 15 fatal overdoses are reported. It is scary and completely unacceptable. If we can support bills like this one and efforts like this, which will give us a legal framework to provide people with the help they are looking for, then we can transition into the government making further efforts. We would be prepared to support the right kind of progressive, fact-based efforts because that would help address this urgent health crisis and eradicate this scourge. I think that this is our collective responsibility.

Again, I want to thank my colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam. I want to reiterate how inspiring it is to see such incredible efforts being made for such a personal story. I also want to thank the Senate for its work to improve the bill. We hope that this is just the first step. We have to move forward and put an end to this public health crisis once and for all.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
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Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise in strong support of Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act, as amended by the Senate and introduced by the hon. member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam.

I want to first commend the hon. member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, whom I have the privilege of serving on the justice committee with, for his leadership and stewardship in raising this important issue and moving this important legislation forward. Without more, Bill C-224 is a good bill, a needed bill, and a bill that would save lives. It could not be more timely. It could not be more timely, because Canada faces an opioid overdose crisis. It is a crisis that has claimed the lives of thousands of Canadians. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours, colleagues are gone, taken. It is a crisis that has torn apart families and devastated communities. It is a crisis that is not slowing down.

The opioid crisis is particularly acute in my home province of Alberta. In 2016, Alberta emergency responders responded to some 2,267 fentanyl-related events and 343 Albertans died from a fentanyl overdose. That is up from 257 in 2015 and way up from the two dozen who died in 2012. Even more concerning is that we are seeing more and more potent opioids, such as powdered fentanyl, being pushed out onto our streets. Powdered fentanyl is 80 times more potent than morphine. The percentage of deaths in which fentanyl has been detected has increased from 5% in 2012, to 30% in 2015, to a staggering 62% in 2016.

The vast majority of drug overdoses occur in the presence of at least one other person and yet, far too often, individuals who witness a drug overdose do not do the right thing. They do not pick up the phone. They do not call 911 to get help. One may ask why someone would not call for help. The simple answer is that far too often they are afraid. They are afraid of being charged with a criminal offence. They are afraid of being caught up in the criminal justice system, so they do not call. They do not act, and the consequences of inaction can be fatal.

The Standing Committee on Health, which I know my colleague, the hon. member for Calgary Confederation, serves on, studied Bill C-224. As well, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs heard powerful testimony from Christine Padaric, the mother of the late Austin Padaric. Austin was a promising high school student. One night he went to a party and made a choice that a lot of high school students make: he took drugs. He reacted and Austin's friends did not call for help. They did not call 911. They thought they could handle it on their own. Perhaps they, in part, were worried about the police arriving, maybe charges being laid, and maybe being caught up in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, they were not able to handle it and as a result, Austin died at the age of 17.

Sadly, Austin is not alone. There are many Austins out there, and there will be many more Austins if action is not taken. That is precisely what Bill C-224 seeks to do. It is to prevent future Austins by providing immunity from prosecution for individuals who witness a drug overdose, do the right thing, call for help, and as a result of doing the right thing, are found to be in possession of illicit drugs.

It is important to note that Bill C-224 applies, in terms of immunity from prosecution, to only simple possession. It would not apply to other offences, such as impaired driving or drug trafficking. Moreover, it would only apply to offences listed in schedules I to III of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: in other words, street drugs. What Bill C-224 would not do is provide immunity to drug pushers, drug dealers, and drug traffickers who are pushing dangerous and illegal drugs onto the streets that are killing thousands of Canadians each and every year.

Bill C-224 is legislation that makes sense. It went to the Senate and was amended in the Senate. I have to say that the Senate did a good job of improving Bill C-224, as the hon. member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam pointed out. There were amendments from the other place that would extend immunity from prosecution to breaches of release orders arising from simple possession. Those amendments make sense. They are consistent with the spirit and objective of Bill C-224. In that regard, I would submit that it does not make sense that a good Samaritan should be immune from prosecution on the basis of simple possession but then be charged for breaching a release order arising from the very same simple possession. That would be self-defeating.

While the good Samaritan drug overdose act is new to Canada, it is not a new concept. Indeed, some 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, have similar legislation on their books, and the legislation that has been passed in the U.S. is having the intended effect. More and more people are calling 911, and as a result, more and more lives are being saved.

I urge the speedy passage of Bill C-224 as amended. This legislation is needed. It is needed now. It is needed to save lives.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
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Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-224, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (assistance in overdose drugs) be now read a second time and concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand before you today to speak to Bill C-224, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting in the Senate gallery during report stage and third reading stage. The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs amended the bill in committee in order to correct the errors and omissions in the original version of my bill. The amendments to Bill C-224 are in line with my objectives and my intent in drafting the bill, and they clarify certain points.

They provide greater certainty for people who call 911 in the event of an overdose.

I have to thank the Senate for not only accepting my bill but, frankly, for making it better. They tightened up the language to ensure that a person who is being given assistance would not be charged, nor would anyone accompanying them be charged. That is the intent. As long as they are giving assistance they cannot be charged or convicted for possession.

Another Senate clarification makes it clear that both those who remain at the scene of the drug overdose and those who accompany the victim to seek medical assistance are also protected. Again, the Senate reinforced the language to ensure that the person suffering from an overdose is equally protected from prosecution.

If someone is suffering an overdose, or a friend comes to help, they may already be under some other court order for possession charges. The bill as amended by the Senate makes it clear this would not be held against them.

This was sober second thought in action. Senators have demonstrated once again that their collective scope and depth of knowledge really does make better law. I am grateful to Senator Larry Campbell for sponsoring the bill and to senators Murray Sinclair and Vern White for their amendments, which reflect their expertise in judicial proceedings and law enforcement.

In Senator Campbell's speech at third reading in the other place, he talked about the lives that have been lost in our home province. At the time he introduced the bill, he stated that 600 British Columbians lost their lives to drug overdoses, and by the end of 2016, 914 had died that year alone. We share the same hope that when this bill becomes law, this number will start to decline.

The scourge of overdose deaths is increasing across Canada, from coast to coast to coast, and the number of overdose deaths is rising. The bill will not fix the entire opioid problem. It only addresses one small piece of the puzzle. We all know that.

All members of the House and senators also know that to fight opioids in Canada, we, the legislators, must act quickly. That is why in its report the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs asked that the two chambers study Bill C-224 as quickly as possible.

Accordingly, here we are debating Bill C-224 today, because it was moved up in the order of precedence just one month after the Senate report.

I urge all my colleagues here in the House to come together today. Let us pass Bill C-224. We can send an important message to all Canadians that together we can start saving lives through a very simple action, by telling Canadians it is okay to call for help.