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An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts

Sponsor

Jane Philpott  Liberal

Status

Considering committee report (Senate), as of April 13, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-37.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to, among other things,

(a) simplify the process of applying for an exemption that would allow certain activities to take place at a supervised consumption site, as well as the process of applying for subsequent exemptions;

(b) prohibit the importation of designated devices — unless the importation is registered with the Minister of Health — as well as prescribed activities in relation to designated devices;

(c) expand the offence of possession, production, sale or importation of anything knowing that it will be used to produce or traffic in methamphetamine so that it applies to anything that is intended to be used to produce or traffic in any controlled substance;

(d) authorize the Minister to temporarily add to a schedule to that Act substances that the Minister has reasonable grounds to believe pose a significant risk to public health or safety, in order to control them;

(e) authorize the Minister to require a person who may conduct activities in relation to controlled substances, precursors or designated devices to provide the Minister with information or to take certain measures in respect of such activities;

(f) add an administrative monetary penalties scheme;

(g) streamline the disposition of seized, found or otherwise acquired controlled substances, precursors and chemical and non-chemical offence-related property;

(h) modernize inspection powers; and

(i) expand and amend certain regulation-making authorities, including in respect of the collection, use, retention, disclosure and disposal of information.

It makes related amendments to the Customs Act and the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act to repeal provisions that prevent customs officers from opening mail that weighs 30 grams or less.

It also makes other related amendments to the Criminal Code and the Seized Property Management Act.

Elsewhere

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.

Votes

Feb. 15, 2017 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Feb. 14, 2017 Passed That Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
Feb. 14, 2017 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, not more than one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the report stage of the said bill and not more than one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill and, fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration of each stage of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the report stage or the third reading stage, as the case may be, of the bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.
Feb. 1, 2017 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.
Feb. 1, 2017 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He went on in his letter to state:

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

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

He finished by saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
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Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec

Liberal

Peter Schiefke LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth)

Mr. Speaker, today I will be talking about Bill C-37.

I rise today in support of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, which contains essential amendments to address the current opioid crisis as well as problematic substance use more generally.

Problematic substance use and addiction pose significant risks for individuals, families, and communities. Our government is committed to addressing this complex public health issue using an approach that protects public health and maintains public safety through drug policy that is comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based.

Problematic substance use and addiction pose significant risks for individuals, families, and indeed, communities. Our government is committed to addressing this complex public health issue using an approach that protects public health and maintains public safety through drug policy that is comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and most importantly, evidence based.

A comprehensive public health approach to this crisis must include harm reduction alongside prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Harm reduction recognizes that not all individuals are ready, willing, or able to seek treatment for drug addiction. Those who for whatever reason are outside the treatment system deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Just like every other Canadian, their lives are valuable and they are worth saving.

Supervised consumption sites and other evidence-based harm reduction measures provide services to active drug users to help improve their health and prevent harms, including death. I know some members in the House talk about supervised consumption sites as controversial and say that they have well-grounded concerns about this portion of Bill C-37. Today, I want to address these concerns by discussing the evidence on supervised consumption sites. This evidence is available in peer-reviewed journals, including some of the most esteemed medical journals around the world. We are living in a time when opinions can somehow become facts simply by stating them in a public forum. This concerns me and it should concern everyone in the House.

As Canadians, we are lucky to have the most well-researched supervised consumption site in our own backyard, Insite. While supervised consumption sites have existed in Europe since the 1980s, the studies done on Insite produced specific, measurable evidence of the impact of this supervised consumption site on drug users and on the surrounding community. Insite began as a pilot project and was the focus of a significant scientific evaluation. Over 30 peer-reviewed journal articles came out of this evaluation, all of which demonstrated that Insite was achieving its objectives without having a negative impact on the surrounding community. I will not stand here and list off each of these studies, but I will mention a few.

For example, a 2004 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that in the 12 weeks after Insite opened, the number of drug users injecting in public and the number of publicly discarded syringes and injection-related litter were reduced as a direct result of Insite being there.

Further, a 2006 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that at least weekly use of Insite and any contact with the facility's addictions counsellors were both independently associated with people entering a detoxification program more quickly.

Finally, given the opioid crisis that we are currently facing, I want to highlight a 2011 study published in The Lancet. It found that fatal overdose rates in the area around Insite decreased by 35% after the opening of the site. This is compared to a decrease of only 9.3% in the rest of the city during the same time period.

Furthermore, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction indicates that the common concerns regarding supervised consumption sites, such as increases in crime and drug use, are simply not grounded in evidence.

It is clear from the research that supervised consumption sites can play an important role in a community's response to problematic drug use. However, this does not mean that supervised consumption sites should be opened without taking into account the needs of a community and public health and safety considerations through a thorough review of an application. Rather, it means that the application process should start from a place that acknowledges the evidence. Sites need to be properly established, considering the need for a site, community concerns, and local conditions that may influence the effectiveness of the site. They must be properly maintained to ensure clients continue to receive proper care and communities continue to have confidence in the service that is being provided.

It is understandable that Canadians may have questions and concerns regarding the establishment of such a site in their community. These sites are still relatively novel in North America. That is why consultation with communities plays an integral role in the success of a site.

The Supreme Court clearly recognized the importance of consulting with community members when establishing such facilities and included community support or opposition as one of the five key factors the Minister of Health must consider when assessing any application.

I do want to make one thing clear. Consultations are just one part of the application process. The government is committed to evidence-based decision-making. That means casting aside current ideological debate during discussions about drug use, taking all of the relevant information into account, and making informed, evidence-based decisions.

That is why Bill C-37 would replace the 26 criteria currently in the legislation with five factors described by the Supreme Court of Canada in Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. PHS Community Services Society, et al. in 2011.

Reducing the number of criteria applicants would have to address would relieve the administrative burden on communities seeking to establish a supervised consumption site, but it would also do so without compromising the health and safety of those operating the site, its clients, or the surrounding community. Removing the application criteria from legislation allows the government to maintain a thorough evidence-based application process that can be adapted and updated over time to reflect emerging science. At the same time, it would keep communities at the heart of applications and allow applicants to respond more quickly to emerging health issues.

For example, there would no longer be a requirement for applicants to submit evidence that supervised consumption sites are effective and have public health benefits. As I noted earlier, the evidence in this regard is clear. Instead, applicants would need to demonstrate the need for the site and the public health benefits of the proposed site for the local community. This change would help ensure that applicants considered their local context, including the needs of their community, when designing their proposed site.

This government is committed to making objective, transparent, and evidence-based decisions. With respect to supervised consumption sites, the evidence is clear: properly established and maintained sites can save lives without having a negative impact on the surrounding community.

I urge all members to support Bill C-37 so that we can move forward on addressing the opioid crisis through a comprehensive response that includes evidence-based harm reduction measures that help save lives.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was delighted to hear that the consultation was an integral part of the strategy and that the community was at the heart. However, all of the language around community consultation was removed from the bill.

Several amendments were also voted down. I will touch on some of them. One was regarding obtaining letters of support or opposition within a two-kilometre radius of a site. That was voted down. One was regarding identifying schools and day cares within a two-kilometre radius. That was voted down. One was regarding obtaining a letter of support or opposition from the mayor and council, or the police chief. That was voted against.

There is no criteria laid out within the bill, and I wonder where the integral part of community consultation within Bill C-37 is as it relates to the comments that my colleague has just made.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Peter Schiefke Liberal Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, one thing I can say is that this government takes this crisis very seriously. There are many aspects of Bill C-37 that are going to do some good across the country. We are ensuring that we are doing all that we can as a government to respond to this crisis.

There are two key components. One is to ensure that we provide the CBSA with the tools necessary to allow it to look at packages that are less than 30 grams that are coming in from the United States and elsewhere. This would make sure that the primary source of this product coming into our country is being addressed by the CBSA. The other component is to ensure that we register the pill pressers and other devices that are required to make some of these opioids.

We are taking a comprehensive approach, a wide-eyed view. I am very proud of the different initiatives that are included in Bill C-37. I will add that we are always looking at different ways that we can ensure we are doing right by Canadians, particularly youth who are affected by the opioid crisis. We are going to continue to look at different ways that we can help them.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-37. The bill would amend the minister's powers and discretion when it comes to approving drug injection sites in communities across Canada. It would remove community safeguards and put these important decisions entirely in the hands of a single minister and not in the hands of the local community.

In an ideal world, we would not have to deal with the issue of drug addicts and where they choose to consume their deadly drugs, but we do. In an ideal world, drug abuse and the crime it causes in our communities would not be something we would have to face, but it is. In an ideal world, every addict would be on the road to recovery and the success rate would be 100%. That is just not the case. In reality, drug abuse has been around as long as anyone can remember, and it is getting worse. Literally, people are dying every day from their addiction and drug abuse.

Many years ago, before I entered politics, I served on the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, or AADAC. I served on it for a number of years. I learned a lot about drug addiction and the incredible pain that it causes. The experience there affirmed to me why we should never deal with drugs in a cavalier manner.

Canada already has good legislation in place to permit drug consumption sites or safe injection sites, whatever we want to call it, but let me stress before I continue that there is no such thing as a safe injection site as there is nothing safe about drug injection and the abuse of drugs.

The Liberals and the NDP claim that this current legislation is so onerous that no organization can succeed in getting the drug consumption site approved, yet we see that the government approved three of them in Montreal earlier this month. This proves the current legislation does strike a good balance.

Referring to the current legislation and its purpose, the Supreme Court of Canada has set out clear criteria that must be met before a drug consumption site can be approved. One pillar of the current Conservative legislation was strong community consultation, which the Supreme Court agreed was essential. These consultations were not meant as a way to prevent sites from opening, but rather to adhere to the advice of experts in the field and to respect the community that would eventually have to support such a facility.

Experts in drug addiction have testified before Parliament that for a drug consumption site to be effective and have any benefit, there must be a buy-in from the local community, a buy-in from the local law enforcement, and a buy-in from the local health officials.

Let us stop for a moment and explain what these sites are. These sites are a designated place where we allow people to cause harm to themselves while immune from the law of the land. They can shoot up with a deadly illegal drug as long as they do it at one of these sites. If they do the same thing a block away, they are breaking the law. We must ask ourselves, how do we allow certain people to break the law multiple times a day, and how do we square that with society's expectations as laid out in our criminal laws? How do we condone the use of illegal drugs as a society and then tell our kids that they are not good for them?

Very few people who are offered help at these injection sites ever accept an offer for treatment. They do not want to give up their highs and face the reality that awaits them. Of those who do enter treatment, even fewer see the program through. Of those who see the program through, even fewer actually stay clean.

I have had numerous conversations with addictions counsellors in the past, and many have told me that the reality is, finding someone they can take from a drug abuser status to a somebody clean status is like finding a needle in a haystack. They say that in reality, most of these people currently addicted to drugs will die from their addiction. They may die earlier in life. They may develop health-related issues. They may die while engaged in crime to feed their addiction or they may simply overdose.

These addiction counsellors say that these sites do save lives but then they question if they really do. If an addict's life is saved today or tomorrow or next week, but that individual dies the week after from an overdose, was that life really saved? The counsellors suggested that these consumption sites are therefore not really a conduit to treatment but rather facilities for self-destruction and abuse until the addiction wins the war on its victims. That is a sobering assessment of what we face.

Therefore, we really need to target the source of this problem as it appears rarely fixable after the fact. We need to prevent access to addictive substances before an addict develops. We need to stop the Liberal and NDP attitude of acceptance when it comes to drugs. Instead of campaigning to make drugs legal, those members should be campaigning to make it harder for folks to get introduced to the world of drugs. I along with my Conservative colleagues have been pushing for the Liberal government to tackle the root cause and that is the continuous flow of illegal drugs into our country and onto our streets.

I was appalled when all Liberal members voted down a motion I introduced a few months back in health committee to get the Chinese ambassador to come and tell us what his government is doing to prevent deadly drugs from being shipped into Canada, because 98% of illicit drugs come from China. Voting down that motion was disheartening and disgraceful. The Liberal government is more concerned about being friends with the Chinese government than it is with stopping the flow of deadly drugs on Canadian streets.

The Liberals and the NDP want to make it really easy to open up a drug consumption site by removing the safeguards, removing community consultations, and turning a blind eye to the effect it will have on the community. The NDP wants to remove all of the burden of proof from the applicants when it comes to opening up drug injection sites. It is funny. Those members want a less onerous application process for safe injection sites, yet they want to increase the burden on job-creating applicants when it comes to building pipelines. They argue that safe injection sites will save lives. I say that getting pipelines built will save lives as building them would reduce our escalating suicide rate in Alberta. High unemployment and the despair in our oil patch is also costing lives.

As I stated before, the experts are telling us that we need community buy-in for these facilities to be successful. Why do the Liberals and the NDP want to sneak these facilities into our communities without proper consultation?

Drug consumption sites do have some benefits. They allow us to hide our problems away from the streets and they do save addicts so that they can fuel their addiction for another day. In very few cases they also facilitate a path for recovery. Let us not kid ourselves and believe that there is a lot of light at the end of this tunnel. These sites do help keep things like dirty needles out of our parks. They do make it cheaper for the health care system to monitor and save some addicts. They do not reduce the drug problem in Canada. They do not stop people from becoming addicts. They very seldom get addicts off drugs. These sites do not curtail the profits for organized crime. They are not a silver bullet. They are one very weak tool in our fight against addiction and its deadly toll.

If we want these sites to have some positive benefit and improve outcomes then we need community buy-in and this is done through open, transparent, and exclusive consultations. Sadly, this is not what this bill would do. It would weaken the existing legislation. Therefore I must vote against it.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-37. Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is a key priority of this government, and that is why on December 12, 2016, the Minister of Health, with support from the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, introduced Bill C-37 in the House of Commons.

This bill would make several amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Customs Act in connection with the government's efforts to address the current opioid crisis as well as problematic substance use more generally.

This a comprehensive bill that seeks to balance the important objectives of protecting public health and maintaining public safety. It is designed to better equip both health professionals and law enforcement with the tools they need to address this issue.

Over the last decade, the harms associated with problematic substance abuse in Canada have become more complex and have been changing at a rapid pace. The line between licit and illicit substances has blurred with the opioid crisis, prescription drug misuse, and the rise of new designer drugs.

The government is committed to helping Canadians affected by problematic substance abuse. Legislative and regulatory controls are certainly an important part of this approach. However, as we know, drug use and dependency pose significant risks for individuals, families, and communities. Our approach to addressing problematic substance abuse must include preventing and treating addiction, supporting recovery, and reducing the negative and social impacts of drug use on individuals and their communities through evidence-based harm-reduction measures. These obviously must also be part of our approach to addressing the problem.

Harm reduction is viewed by experts as a cost-effective element of a well-balanced approach to public health and safety.

It has been a very good debate. I have listened intently, and it has been very informative.

HealthCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 10th, 2017 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and pleasure to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Health in relation to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts. The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.

At this time, I want to thank all members of the health committee who worked diligently to get this through in an appropriate time. Although there were some philosophical differences, everyone appreciated the sense of urgency and helped to get the bill through. I want to thank all members from all parties for their co-operation on this bill. We think that this bill will save lives.

Bill C-37—Time Allocation MotionControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2017 / 3:25 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, an agreement has been reached between a majority of the representatives of the recognized parties under the provisions of Standing Order 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts.

Therefore, I move:

That, in relation to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill; and

That, fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that NDP members, who claim to care about this issue, would co-operate in this fashion.

I propose to them another option. My House leader has circulated a motion to all parties, and I hope you will find unanimous consent for the proposal.

The motion separates out the supervised injection sites section of the bill. It also adopts at all stages the remaining parts of the bill. We are also willing to allow the supervised injection sites section of the bill to go to committee today, without the need for time allocation. I know the members across would like that.

Therefore, I ask for unanimous consent of the House for the following motion. I move that Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts be divided into two bills: Bill C-37(A), an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts (supervised consumption sites), and Bill C-37(B), an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts; that Bill C-37(A) be composed of clause 26(6), new section 31(1.1); clause 26(7), revised section 31(8); clause 40(6), revised section 55(1)n; clause 40(14); clause 40(15); clause 41, and clause 42; that Bill C-37(B) be composed of all the remaining parts of Bill C-37; that the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel be authorized to make any technical changes or corrections as may be necessary; that the House order the printing of bills C-37(A) and C-37(B); and that Bill C-37(A) be placed on the Order Paper for consideration of the House at second reading and referral to the Standing Committee on Health; and Bill C-37(B) be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.

If we can get together and unanimously make these changes, we can start saving lives today, instead of having to go through procedural shenanigans. It would make a real difference to Canadians. I think we would all like to co-operate on that.

Second readingControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2017 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for Vancouver East.

I thank the House for allowing me to speak today on Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts. Before I get into the substance of Bill C-37, I would like to remind the House of some of the events that occurred before it was introduced.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government must grant Vancouver's safe injection site, Insite, and other such sites section 56 exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to uphold the fundamental right of all people to life and security. The Supreme Court added that safe injection sites will “decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that [they] will have a negative impact on public safety”.

In response to this decision by Canada's highest court, the then Conservative government finally tabled Bill C-2 in 2015. With the thinly veiled intent of not allowing new supervised injection sites to open, the government put in place 26 conditions for obtaining a legal exemption, making it virtually impossible to open new centres.

As if that were not enough, the bill also gave discretionary power to the minister responsible to refuse to grant the legal exemption even if the 26 conditions were met. I always maintained that it would not be possible to obtain an exemption given the number of requirements already imposed by the law. However, this discretionary power proves that the Conservatives were not going to allow, under any circumstances, new centres to open.

I sat on the committee and heard witnesses, with supporting evidence, describe the benefits of injection sites, including harm reduction and public health, and tell us that public safety would not be jeopardized.

By refusing to consider clear and compelling evidence that supervised injection sites save the lives of many very vulnerable people, the Conservatives and their ideological approach only continued to marginalize and criminalize people suffering from addiction. This unfortunately also resulted in overdoses and deaths that could have been prevented.

A serious opioid crisis is plaguing the country, particularly the west coast, as my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, our health critic, has repeatedly stated here in the House.

In 2016, in British Columbia alone, opioid overdoses took the lives of 914 people, 80% more than in 2015. In April, the situation prompted B.C. public health authorities to declare a state of emergency for the first time in the province's history.

Although we do not have statistics for the number of overdose-related deaths in Canada, it is estimated to have been over 2,000 across the country in 2015. It is easy to imagine the death toll in 2016 being much higher because of the rapid spread of extremely powerful opioids across the country.

Overdoses and drug-related deaths are on the rise in every part of the country, and the crisis is expected to hit Ontario and Quebec this year. The opioid crisis in Canada is now officially out of control.

One of the main reasons the crisis is mounting is that fentanyl is cheap and easy to transport, and just a small amount can be used to make thousands of doses. Because this drug is so cheap, and because too few resources are invested in raising awareness and prevention, young and inexperienced users are overdosing. In many cases, they do not even know that there is fentanyl in the drug they are using.

In February 2016, when the crisis was emerging, the New Democratic Party called for the repeal of Bill C-2 to make it easier for organizations to get legal exemptions to open supervised consumption sites.

Last fall, the NDP got the Standing Committee on Health to study the opioid overdose crisis. In its report, the committee made 38 recommendations to the federal government.

We were also the first to request that a national public health emergency be declared in order to give the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada the authority to take extraordinary measures in order to coordinate a response to the opioid crisis, including the creation of injection sites on an emergency basis. Last December, after Bill C-37 was introduced, we also tried to have the bill fast-tracked in order to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible.

The Liberals say they support supervised injection sites, and yet their government has not approved a single new facility since coming to power. In fact, the Minister of Health initially argued that legislative changes to Bill C-2 were not even necessary, even though the real problem was with the bill itself, with its 26 separate requirements acting as effective barriers to any new sites, as had been pointed out by stakeholders and the NDP.

Faced with the growing crisis across the country and mounting pressure from stakeholders and the NDP, the Minister of Health finally gave in and, on December 12, 2016, introduced Bill C-37, which we are debating here today. Specifically, the bills seeks to simplify the process for applying for a legal exemption so that communities dealing with the opioid crisis can actually open supervised injection sites.

In the preamble, the bill states:

Whereas harm reduction is an important component of a comprehensive, compassionate and evidence-based drug policy that complements prevention, treatment and enforcement measures;

It is in the context of harm prevention that the City of Montreal and the public health authority officially submitted their application for legal exemption in May 2015 for three fixed services in three neighbourhoods and one mobile service. They are still awaiting. It is not surprising. Not a single supervised consumption site has opened in Canada since Bill C-2 was passed.

We are not the only ones calling for the government to move forward with implementing injection services. In summer 2015, the mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, who wanted to get moving on this by the fall, said the following to The Montreal Gazette.

“What are we waiting for? People are dying”.

One year later, in July 2016, Sterling Downey, municipal councillor and Project Montréal critic, asked the mayor a question:

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

Then, concerned organizations also tired of waiting. Jean-François Mary, executive director of the Association québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des personnes utilisatrices de drogues, had this to say to the Montreal Gazette.

The organizations that are supposed to host the sites don’t even dare set opening dates anymore. We’re stuck in a grey area where, every year for the last three years, we’re told they’ll be open in the spring. But it doesn’t happen.”

We need to move forward quickly. Many groups, such as Anonyme and Dopamine in Montreal, have been waiting for too long to establish services that have been proven to save lives.

In the meantime, in Montreal alone, 70 people on average die every year as a result of drug overdoses. As I have already said, the crisis in western Canada will be coming to Quebec this year. Even without this crisis, and if only for the sake of harm reduction and public health, the services provided by supervised injection sites are vital.

In Montreal, 68% of injection drug users have hepatitis C. Opening these centres could do much to decrease the incidence of disease related to the use of syringes. Speaking of syringes, Hochelaga, the riding I represent, is the second largest area in Montreal after the downtown area, which has the largest number of injection drug users. A supervised injection site could help get needles out of parks where our children play.

I will support this bill in the hope that it will come into effect quickly.

Second readingControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, last night I was here and I listened to the NDP rage for hours against the Liberal government. Today we came into question period and we heard that their whole electoral reform position has been betrayed by the government.

The New Democrats had the opportunity about a half-hour or an hour ago to start saving lives today. They chose to stand against that. We could have taken huge steps today, right now, to deal with this ongoing opioid crisis, and New Democrats have chosen not to support that.

For years and years we have heard them talking about time allocation and raging against it. Today we find the New Democrats in bed with the Liberals.

Can the member tell us why New Democrats are now supporting the Liberals in their ongoing attempt to limit debate on bills in this House, including on Bill C-37?

Second readingControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that the opioid crisis unfolding right now in our communities, big and small, right across Canada, is nothing short of a national emergency. The suffering and damage this crisis is causing, not just in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the epicentre of the crisis, but in Vancouver East and cities across British Columbia and Canada, is absolutely devastating.

I am very grateful for the Herculean efforts of first responders, front-line workers, medical practitioners, family members, advocates, and activists who have and are continuing to work tirelessly to save lives in the midst of this terrible crisis.

People are dying in our communities. Both the city of Vancouver's chief medical health officer, Dr. Patricia Daly, and the provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, have declared this crisis a medical health emergency. In fact, this is the first time in the history of British Columbia that a health emergency has been declared.

It was noted by Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, that the number of overdose deaths across Canada has vastly outpaced the toll during the 2003 SARS crisis that gripped this country and was declared an emergency by the Ontario government. He stated, “Forty-four people died of SARS. We lose 70 people a week to opioids in Canada”.

Still, the federal Minister of Health has refused to declare this a national health emergency.

From the beginning of 2016 to October 2016, 338 Albertans died from an apparent drug overdose related to opioids. Fentanyl was involved in 193 of them. Two Ontarians die from opioid overdoses a day. An average of 79 people die of drug overdoses every year in Montreal. If this is not a national health emergency, I do not know what is.

Today I am here once again urging the government to do what is right and what is necessary: declare a national public health emergency. Let us remember as we debate Bill C-37 that people in communities across the country are still dying.

Bill C-37 came on the heels of an announcement by the B.C. government, which was no longer willing to wait for federal approval and decided that it would take “the extraordinary measure” of signing a ministerial order making the provincial operation of temporary overdose prevention sites legal.

For those who want to put up roadblocks to harm reduction initiatives, including supervised injection facilities, I say this. It has been more than a decade since Insite, the first supervised injection facility in North America, was established. There has not been one single overdose death in that facility. Insite has saved countless lives. It has reduced the spread of diseases. The evidence is clear, and it is irrefutable.

Van East led the way, and I am so proud of the progressive forces and the movement in a community that cares so deeply that it took this issue and drove it until we had the first supervised injection facility in North America.

I still recall vividly the imagery of 1,000 crosses planted at Oppenheimer Park in our community, what we call the killing fields. Each one of those crosses bears a name, the name of a person who somebody loved in our community, a daughter, a son, an aunt, an uncle, somebody's child. I still recall how family and friends came together and mourned those preventable deaths. It was a call to action, and we drove the issue and eventually Insite was established.

It is sad to me that despite this irrefutable evidence-based outcome, there are still those who want to block this critical health measure.

The former government took every step possible to undermine the work of Insite. Even after the Supreme Court of Canada's 9-0 decision that ordered the government to exempt Insite from prosecution, stating clearly that the government cannot close Insite because of its ideology, the Harper government passed Bill C-2, the ill-named Respect for Communities Act, which introduced near insurmountable barriers to opening new supervised injection sites in Canada. The roadblocks have been widely condemned and no doubt have contributed to preventable deaths.

After more than a year of foot-dragging, thousands of overdoses, and hundreds of needless deaths, the Liberal government today is finally bringing in measures to address the ideological relic of the years past.

While I support Bill C-37, to be clear, I would much rather that the bill was about repealing Bill C-2. Nonetheless, this is a move in the right direction. It is a step forward, so I am here to support it.

Bill C-37 has to get through the House, then it has to be sent to committee, then has to go to the Senate. It will be some time before the bill passes. I want to applaud my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, the NDP's critic for health. His proposal to try to get the bill through all stages as quickly as possible, sadly was rejected.

Many concerned citizens and organizers are so frustrated by the glaring absence of substantive action on this that they have felt compelled to act unilaterally with pop-up supervised injection sites. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. This is a testament to those individuals' courage and dedication to saving lives in our community.

Let me take a moment to thank them and acknowledge the numerous volunteers and activists; the leadership shown by Ann Livingston and her peers at VANDU; Sarah Blyth, the former Vancouver Park Board chair; and many others for their incredible dedication and caring. Were it not for their efforts, I can say with confidence that many more people would have died.

In going forward, as we wait for Bill C-37 to become law, what action can be taken to save lives? Let me start with a shout-out to all the tireless first responders for their incredible efforts.

I heard first-hand from firefighters about their experiences in this crisis, particularly from those men and women at Fire Hall No. 2, with the incredible overload of calls that came into that hall and the stresses firefighters had to face each and every day as they had to witness death. Imagine that as their work every single day.

It is not limited to Fire Hall No. 2 in my riding. In fact, all the other fire halls in my community across East Van have had an increase in calls with respect to overdose challenges and issues. I heard from firefighters who told me that during their shifts, sometimes they would have two, three, four, or more calls to go out and try to save lives. That is what they are faced with. Imagine the stress.

The BC Coalition of Nursing Associations hosted an emergency forum on the nursing response to the opioid crisis. Like so many, they are devastated by this medical health emergency, and they themselves are suffering from stress, trauma, and exhaustion. All first responders, nurses, health care workers at emergency rooms, and front-line workers with NGOs are overextended, and they deserve our support.

While the Minister of Health said that the Liberals would take action and provide support to first responders, we are still waiting. Let us get on with it.

I want to say that we need to do much more. We need to move to a longer-term resolution. Real effort needs to be made to provide addiction treatment. For some, traditional treatment works; for others, not so much. We need to move forward with providing treatment that deals with the addiction, including opioid prescriptions and opioid substitutes. The goal of stabilizing people and getting them away from the illegal market saves lives.

We also need to look at the issues around the social determinants of health. We need safe, secure, affordable housing. We need to address poverty. We need to look at the issue of breaking that cycle. We need to address aboriginal child apprehension.

We need a comprehensive approach so that we can move forward once and for all and save lives.

Second readingControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2017 / 4:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-37, an act that would better equip both health and law enforcement officials to reduce the harms associated with problematic substance use in Canada.

One of the many important amendments proposed in the bill is to streamline the application process for communities seeking to establish supervised consumption sites. Supervised consumption sites are controlled hygienic settings where people can bring previously obtained drugs to use under the supervision of health care professionals and gain access to or information regarding other health and social services, including treatment. In other words, supervised consumption sites are a harm reduction measure and have been proven to be effective for communities where they are needed.

Our government, since the beginning of its mandate, has been very clear in its support for harm reduction measures. These measures have been proven to reduce the negative health and social impacts associated with problematic substance abuse.

Addiction is a complex issue. I also want to be clear with my fellow members in the House that addiction is a health issue and not a criminal one. Not every individual will respond positively to the same treatment and not every individual is even willing or able to enter treatment on any given day. Evidence demonstrates that individuals who are outside of treatment are at increased risk of major health and social harms, including overdose and death. This is why we must be pragmatic in our response and must let evidence guide us to effective solutions. Now, more than ever, as our country grapples with an ever-increasing opioid crisis, it is essential that evidence-based harm reduction measures be part of the government's comprehensive drug policy.

On December 12, the Minister of Health announced the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy, which restores harm reduction as a key pillar alongside prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Officially including harm reduction in Canada's new drug strategy was the first step. Putting that commitment into action to save lives is the next step.

The evidence available on the effectiveness of properly establishing and maintaining supervised consumption sites is indisputable. These sites save lives without having a negative impact on the surrounding community. Let me be clear. This commitment will save lives, including in my community.

Surrey and, more broadly, British Columbia face a health crisis. I take solace in how neighbourhoods, communities, cities, the province, and now the federal government have stepped up to respond. I often hear stories in my riding of how this drug has devastated lives and families, but for every one story I hear, I hear three more about how folks have stepped up and responded, whether it is local soup kitchens or the newly created Surrey RCMP Outreach Team, which, in the last two weeks, responded to over 55 overdoses. It is heartening to see how Canadians have come together to respond to this crisis, and this new drug strategy is the next step.

I should have mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, that I will be sharing my time with the member of Parliament for Victoria.

This legislation is widely viewed by public health experts as a barrier to establishing new supervised consumption sites in communities where they are wanted and needed to help prevent the spread of disease and countless overdose deaths. It is time for these barriers to be removed and I am proud that Bill C-37 proposes to do just that.

Bill C-37 would support the establishment of supervised consumption sites by assuring communities that their voices would be heard and that each application would be subject to a comprehensive review, while, at the same time, starting from a position that would recognize and acknowledge the compelling evidence that supervised consumption sites work.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada considered this same evidence and concluded that where a "site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption."

To guide the making of future decisions, the Supreme Court set out five factors that must be considered. These include: evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates; the local conditions indicating a need for such a site; the regulatory structure in place the support the facility; the resources available to support its maintenance; and expression of community support or opposition.

Bill C-37 respects the decision rendered by the highest court in Canada by proposing to replace the 26-point criteria currently in legislation with these five factors.

Reducing the number of criteria applicants would have to address would relieve the administrative burden on communities seeking to establish a supervised consumption site, but it would do so without compromising the health and safety of those operating the site, its clients, or the surrounding community.

To help applicants through the supervised consumption site application process, our government would post an application form and simplified guidance document online. The application would indicate the type of information that would support the five Supreme Court criteria and would reduce unnecessary burden on applicants.

With respect to other stakeholders, such as the municipal government and local police, their views would continue to be considered through the requirement for broad community consultation, thus removing the need to attain formal letters from these stakeholders.

The proposed amendments will also simply the information required to support an application. For example, applicants will no longer be required to submit evidence that supervised consumption sites are effective and have public health benefits. The evidence in this regard is clear. Instead, applicants will need to demonstrate the need for the site and the public health benefits of the proposed site for their local community.

Further, with respect to renewals, existing supervised consumption sites would not longer require application. Instead, a renewal would simply be requested by informing Health Canada of any changes to the information that was submitted as part of a site's last application. This proposal will ensure that the existing sites can focus on serving the needs of their community rather than filling out onerous application forms.

Beyond the criteria, the Respect for Communities Act also includes specific principles that the minister must consider when evaluating an application.

Bill C-37 proposes to remove these principles so that decisions on applications can be based on evidence. It will also increase transparency around the decision made on applications for supervised consumption sites.

If passed, the bill will require decisions on applications to be made public including, if applicable, the reasons for refusing an application.

Our government is committed to making objective, transparent, and evidence-based decisions on any future application to establish supervised consumption sites, and we are committed to making those decisions within a reasonable time frame.

I can assure the House that the review process would continue to be comprehensive, but it would no longer present unnecessary barriers.

These proposed changes will introduce flexibility into the application process so it can be adapted and updated over time to reflect new science and allow communities to respond more quickly to emerging health issues.

I hope all members of the House will support this important legislation so we can better support communities in their effort to address this serious public health issue.

Second readingControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying a few words about how this affects the people of Victoria who sent me here to speak on their behalf. Where I come from this is not an academic debate; it is a crisis across our community.

In the first 11 months of last year, my community lost 60 people to overdoses. I personally know families who have lost loved ones. None of us remain unaffected. We have been robbed of far too many people who might still be our friends, our neighbours, and coworkers today if we had the services to prevent overdoses and provide the treatment that is so desperately needed in our community. Still, people in Victoria and across British Columbia have taken what action they can in the absence of leadership from their federal government.

Last April, British Columbia declared the first public health emergency in our history. In December, the provincial health minister authorized temporary overdose prevention sites. There are now three such sites in my city of Victoria.

On January 4, thanks to the hard work of so many in our community, the Vancouver Island Health Authority submitted an application for the first full service safe consumption site in Victoria, and there will be more. That application is now before the Minister of Health, and I hope that she will do everything in her power as I will do everything in mine to see that this life-saving community initiative is approved without further delay.

The hard work of those who are fighting to save lives on the streets of Victoria has not been in vain. Because of their efforts, we have three small overdose prevention sites in place. In its first month, one such site reported an overdose nearly every day. But because the right services were available, not a single life was lost. That is the difference these services make in the real world. That is why we called for this legislation a year ago. That is why we will not allow it to be delayed any further.

To understand the scale and urgency of this crisis, we need to look beyond our own communities. My home province, British Columbia, lost 914 citizens to illicit drug overdoses just last year. That is not only the deadliest year on record for us, it is on par with the highest overdose rates among the American states. Last year, Ontario lost two citizens a day. That many lives are now lost each and every day in the city of Vancouver alone.

Some 2,000 Canadians died of this in 2015. We know that many more died in 2016 as powerful opioids like fentanyl spread across the country. I know it can be hard to give meaning to numbers like that unless we know some of the victims by name.

Consider what my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway, our NDP health critic, reminded us of yesterday. In 2003, we lost 44 Canadians during the SARS crisis. During the opioid crisis, we are now losing that many fellow citizens every week. If 40 or 50 Canadians were dying of an infectious disease every week, this House surely would not stand idly by. So let me address something head-on.

There are some in this place who think there is nothing we can do to stop the crisis, who think that addiction represents a moral failure, that it has always existed on the margins of society, and all that has changed is that the drugs just get stronger.

For too long, that outdated view guided government policy, and refused to bend to evidence from doctors, courts, and front-line workers. So let us be clear. What we are facing today is unlike anything Canada has ever experienced before.

This is not just about Downtown Eastside Vancouver. It is about suburban kids experimenting with recreational drugs that turn out to be laced with opiates 100 times stronger than heroin, and then they die. It is about athletes and office workers becoming dependent on prescription painkillers, folks who have never struggled before with addiction, but now have nowhere to turn but the street.

It is about firefighters and paramedics who have to wear masks to stop inhaling drugs so powerful that a dose no bigger than a grain of salt can be deadly. Opioid use disorder is a disease and it should be treated as such. One of those firefighters is Chris Coleman. He came from Vancouver to testify before the House health committee. He said this:

It takes a toll...to work extremely hard but to feel that you are having little or no impact on a problem that is growing exponentially, like a tidal wave, on the streets of your city.

...our brothers and sisters who work in the Downtown Eastside are in trouble. They feel abandoned and they feel hopeless.

It has taken the government far too long to act, but now we have a bill before us that can begin to help. By passing this bill we can lift the barriers, some of them at least, that prevent communities from establishing life-saving safe consumption sites. We can send a signal to provinces, like British Columbia, that the federal government will step up and do its part. We can show people like Chris Coleman, and the thousands of firefighters and paramedics, police officers, and front-line workers like him, that they are not abandoned, that their work does matter, that we do care, and that their community has their back.

We have to be realistic. This bill alone will not solve the opioid crisis. We are here because government after government has failed to invest in detox, treatment, education, and prevention. The government has failed to put in place that foundation of services that would save lives and connect drug users to the support they need to stabilize and begin the long journey out of addiction.

Hundreds of Canadians are now dying in the gaps that governments have let grow year after year. For more than a year, we have been calling for a bill to repeal the Conservatives' Bill C-2 and lift the barriers that the previous government erected to make it harder for communities to open life-saving safe consumption sites. When I spoke to that bill, I called it the “24 ways to say 'no' act”.

It has taken far too long to get here. I regret that the government took so long to come around to our point of view and accept that legislative action repealing Bill C-2, or replacing it, was necessary. Thankfully, here we are.

Bill C-37 would save lives. We must pass it as soon as possible. For that reason, the NDP moved in December to fast-track the bill right to the Senate. It was blocked. I want to make sure that does not happen again and that we get this done.

I will continue to urge the minister to declare a public health emergency and allow emergency overdose prevention sites to operate legally across the country. I will continue to call on the government to use the powers it already has and expedite applications from cities like Montreal, Victoria, and Toronto, that have been gathering dust as Health Canada sits around and looks at them for months at a time. I will continue to ask why the government continues to ignore the recommendations from major cities, medical authorities, and even Parliament's own health committee, on other steps to turn the tide on this crisis.

In conclusion, passing this bill is not sufficient, but it is necessary. Therefore, on behalf of a Canadian community at ground zero in this crisis, I urge all members to support this life-saving bill and pass it now before more Canadians are lost to this preventable crisis.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

January 31st, 2017 / 10:15 a.m.
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Markham—Stouffville Ontario

Liberal

Jane Philpott LiberalMinister of Health

moved that Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin debate today on Bill C-37 to address a serious and pressing public health matter, to improve public safety, and to protect the health of Canadians.

I am eager to work with all the MPs to help advance this important bill, in particular with my new parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Louis-Hébert.

This legislation is introduced in the context where Canada is facing a national public health crisis related to opioids, characterized by ever-increasing rates of harm, overdose, and death.

The opioid crisis raises many concerns, and the one we hear about perhaps most often is the rapid rise in the numbers of deaths from accidental overdose. Last year, in British Columbia alone, more than 900 people died from overdose. That is an 80% increase from 2015. The majority were linked to the swift spread of powerful drugs like fentanyl. Alas, the situation is getting worse. Last week it was reported that there were 20,000 overdoses in British Columbia alone. At a national level, deaths from overdoses are now more numerous than deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Before I continue, I would like to extend my condolences to the families and friends who have lost a loved one. We share their grief. We are aware of the pressing need to turn the tide of this crisis as quickly as possible.

I would also comment at the outset that while the focus of the legislation is on immediate action to address the opioid crisis, we must bear in mind that lasting solutions require an understanding of the roots of the opioid crisis, which are messy, but not mysterious. It should be acknowledged, for example, that pain is a central theme at the heart of the drug crisis. Sometimes, problematic drug use begins with physical pain, but we must also admit that emotional pain is a factor in substance use. To fully resolve the opioid crisis we must address the multiple social drivers, including poverty, social isolation, childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and mental illness.

Addressing the roots of the crisis demands a whole of society response. It means calling out stigma and discrimination as barriers to accessing care. It means building a society where children receive tender attention and adults are not isolated and lonely. It means an international search for effective answers and being willing to discuss bold policy alternatives and the evidence associated with them. We must deal with this crisis comprehensively, collaboratively, and compassionately. We must assess what works and what does not work, and then we must do what works.

The crisis is moving eastward in Canada, with more drug seizures of fentanyl and carfentanil.

Canadians are increasingly aware that problematic substance abuse spares no one—people of all ages and from all socio-economic groups—and that it has devastating consequences on individuals, families, and communities.

In the past year, I have met with bereaved parents, people who use drugs, first responders, addiction specialists, mental health experts, indigenous leaders, health educators, and others to learn their perspective on the challenges we face. A complex, multi-dimensional social challenge of this nature demands timely, coordinated, and effective action.

Before I discuss the details of this proposed legislation, I would like to thank many members of this House who have been outspoken on the urgent need to respond together. I thank the member for Vancouver Kingsway for his support and advocacy on the issue, and especially for his calls to pass this legislation by unanimous consent.

I would also like to thank the Standing Committee on Health. Its members are actively working on this issue, and they made a series of recommendations that we reviewed carefully. We have acted on that. I look forward to responding formally to the committee report in due course.

There are many important components of this proposed legislation that would support communities and enhance public health and public safety when it comes to the use of drugs and substances. Bill C-37 would save lives. It needs to be passed without delay.

At this point, please permit me to outline some of the federal actions to date on the matter.

Early last year we made naloxone, the antidote to overdose, available without prescription. We arranged an expedited review of naloxone nasal spray and ensured an emergency supply for Canadians.

We granted an exemption to the Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver to operate Canada's second supervised consumption site, along with an unprecedented four-year renewal of the exemption for Insite in Vancouver.

Last summer, we announced Health Canada's opioid action plan to improve education for the public and prescribers, to expand access to treatment, and to build the database.

In September, we overturned a ban on the use of prescription heroin, so that it is available to treat the most severe cases of addiction.

Our government has supported the good Samaritan overdose act to remove the fear of drug possession charges for individuals who call 911 when they witness an overdose.

We added regulations to schedule fentanyl precursors as controlled substances, making it harder for illicit substances to be manufactured in Canada.

In November, along with the Ontario Minister of Health, Eric Hoskins, I hosted a national conference and summit on opioids, which led to a joint statement of action to address the opioid crisis. That statement includes 128 separate commitments made by Health Canada, nine provincial or territorial health departments, and over 30 other organizations. In February we will provide Canadians with an update on the progress made so far regarding those commitments.

In work led by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the RCMP now has an agreement with China to combat the flow of illicit fentanyl.

Because this is a national crisis, we activated additional supports. In collaboration with the provinces and territories, we have established a special advisory committee on illicit opioids that includes the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health to advance information among jurisdictions related to the opioid crisis.

We have built a task force within the federal health portfolio to work with other federal departments in a comprehensive response to the crisis. We funded McMaster University to produce new evidence-based guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. They are now available for consultation.

We funded the Canadian research initiative in substance misuse to provide evidence-based guidelines for medication-assisted treatment; and with the support of the Prime Minister, we identified new federal funding of $5 billion over the next 10 years to address mental health and addictions. We know that untreated mental illness is a common cause of addiction, and early intervention is key.

We introduced the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy, to reinstate harm reduction as a pillar in Canadian drug policy and return the lead for drug policy to the Minister of Health.

In December, I introduced Bill C-37, which proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and other acts. This legislative framework is an important part of our comprehensive approach to drug policy. It aims to accomplish three important goals: one, to provide support for harm reduction, in particular the establishment of supervised consumption sites; two, to reduce the supply of illicit substances; and three, to reduce the risk of diversion of other legitimate controlled substances.

Evidence shows that, when properly established and maintained, supervised consumption sites in communities that want and need them will save lives and improve health without increasing drug use or crime rates.

Last year, I visited Insite in Vancouver to witness the important work it does to help vulnerable people and communities. I was moved by what I saw. Facilities like Insite promote health-seeking behaviour by introducing people who use drugs to the health system in a non-judgmental and non-stigmatizing manner. They have hygienic facilities and sterile equipment, and are supervised by qualified health professionals who provide advice on harm reduction and treatment options as well as prevention of overdose.

Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Minister of Health has the ability to provide exemptions to allow supervised consumption sites, but the Respect for Communities Act from the previous government introduced unnecessarily onerous requirements that must be met by communities before the Minister of Health could even respond to the request for an exemption.

We have heard desperate cries for help from communities most affected by the opioid crisis. They have indicated that the current requirements are burdensome and hinder their ability to offer services needed to reduce harm and to save lives. Currently there are applications being reviewed by Health Canada from across the country from communities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

Proposed legislation would simplify and streamline the application process for communities that want and need to establish supervised consumption sites. It would replace the current 26 application criteria with the five factors outlined in the Supreme Court of Canada 2011 decision regarding Insite. In fact, the criteria in the proposed legislation are exactly those written in paragraph 153 of the Supreme Court decision.

A vital criterion that Bill C-37 retains is the requirement for community consultation. It would improve transparency by adding a requirement for decisions on applications to be made public, including reasons for denial.

To support these proposed changes, Health Canada would post new information online about what is required in applications, how to process works, and the status of applications.

To help keep opioids and other illicit substances off the street in Canada, we need to make sure that they are not easy to produce. To that end, the bill proposes to prohibit the unregistered importation of pill presses and encapsulators. This measure has been included in part because certain jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, have asked for it. While it is true that those devices do have legitimate uses, they can also be used to manufacture counterfeit drugs that contain dangerous substances, including fentanyl.

This legislation would also give Canada Border Services officers greater flexibility to inspect suspicious mail, no matter the size, that may contain goods that are prohibited, controlled, or regulated. Protecting the privacy of Canadians is of the utmost importance. The measure would only be for incoming international mail where the prevalence of illicit drugs is greater. In fact, just one standard size mail envelope can contain 30 grams of fentanyl, enough to cause 15,000 overdoses.

Lastly, the bill updates a number of provisions regarding compliance and enforcement of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to modernize that piece of legislation. These legislative measures allow over 600 licensed dealers to manufacture, purchase, sell, distribute, import, export, and transport controlled substances for legitimate purposes.

The proposed amendments will allow Health Canada inspectors to conduct inspections in a variety of situations, especially in any location where it is suspected that any activities involving controlled substances are taking place. These amendments will help prevent the diversion of controlled substances to the illegal market.

Bill C-37 supports our government's new Canadian drugs and substances strategy, which the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and I announced on December 12. In the past, federal drug strategies aimed to balance public health and public safety objectives through key pillars of prevention, treatment, enforcement, and at times, harm reduction; but in 2006, under the national anti-drug strategy of the previous government, the harm reduction pillar was removed. Our government will pursue an evidence-based approach to drug policy. Accordingly, this new strategy would formally reinstate harm reduction as a key pillar, in addition to prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

It should be noted that the reintroduction of harm reduction does not diminish the importance of the other pillars. In particular, we must not let up on our efforts for prevention and treatment. I will continue to encourage the expansion of access to a broad range of treatment options, which are essential to reducing the number of overdose deaths. In reframing problematic substance use as the public health issue that it is, it returns the lead to the Minister of Health from the Minister of Justice.

In conclusion, the opioid crisis has taken a toll on many communities across Canada. It requires swift action, as well as a more balanced approach to deal with problematic substance use. Our renewed evidence-based approach would allow the government to better protect Canadians, save lives, and address the root causes of this crisis. Canada needs this action now.

While our focus must be on the current crisis, we must also pursue a balanced approach over the long term to address the upstream causes of problematic substance use.

We will continue to work with our partners, including the provinces, territories, municipalities, and indigenous communities.

While we cannot end this crisis immediately, we can markedly reduce its impact and set ourselves on a path to health for all. Measures proposed in Bill C-37 aim to take swift action to address the opioid crisis. I call on hon. members of the House to support the passage of Bill C-37 without delay.