Evidence of meeting #129 for Health in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was meth.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Robert-Falcon Ouellette  Winnipeg Centre, Lib.
Steve Barlow  Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service
Brian Bowman  Mayor, Office of the Mayor, City of Winnipeg
Kim Longstreet  President, RJ Streetz Foundation
David Juurlink  Head, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
Collin Harris  Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service
John Lane  Chief, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service
Danny Smyth  Chief of Police, Winnipeg Police Service
Karin Phillips  Committee Researcher
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Marie-Hélène Sauvé

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you very much.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

You time is up. We have to move on to Mr. Webber.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I will focus my questions on my fine fellow Calgarians.

Detective Harris, thank you for coming back again.

Chief Barlow, thanks for being here.

I'm going to talk a bit about your dealings with dealers. A couple of months ago your fine people in Calgary arrested two suspects, and you found 66 kilograms of cocaine and 30 kilograms of methamphetamine worth $8 million street value. There was $41,000 of cash. They had a taser. You arrested these individuals. Apparently, it was one of the largest drug seizures in CPS history. You took them in for processing.

Are these the individuals who you were talking about earlier, Chief, with regard to their being in and out of the system within days and back out on the street?

9:35 a.m.

Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Chief Steve Barlow

Some of these individuals would be in and out. I wouldn't be able to answer that specifically on that case alone. I may lean over to Collin here in a moment.

The ones that we're dealing with are the everyday ones. These are the stolen cars, the break and enters, the stolen property, the breaking into everything they can downtown. They're the ones who are in and out. It's a revolving door. It's unfortunate, and I'm not blaming our justice system. It's just the way it works right now. When we get into some of these bigger busts, some of those people, I guarantee, would spend some more time in jail. As I said, Collin may be able to answer that one a little more specifically.

The unfortunate piece is that a lot of our users are stuck in this ever-turning style of criminal behaviour because that's the low they've gotten to as users, and they continue to come into contact with our system. These people are not being arrested for possession. These people are being arrested for other crimes that relate to their addiction problem.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Detective Harris, do you have anything to say on that?

9:35 a.m.

Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Det Collin Harris

In all of our larger scale operations, individuals who are importing these large amounts, depending upon their criminal history, typically may spend a brief period of time...until they're able to post bail. If they're able to post bail, then they're able to get released on conditions and they're back in our communities, maybe not as quickly as some of the smaller scale individuals who get arrested, however they are back.

We've all seen the drug world to be very profitable for those individuals. At times their activities continue.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Dr. Juurlink has talked about decriminalization, and of course, it's brought up a lot by our colleague here, Don Davies.

I just want to know your thoughts, Chief and Detective, about decriminalization. Do you think it would provide more resources for treatment and less responsibility for police to continually arrest those same individuals who have small amounts of drugs on them?

9:35 a.m.

Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Chief Steve Barlow

As I mentioned before, sir, we will not arrest our way out of this problem. That is absolutely 100%. That's not what we're dealing with. I'm going to say, anecdotally, that probably 75% to 80% of the charges that we are laying with these people are property crimes. A lot of the higher end ones are the attacks against people, the random attacks. Those are the ones that are very concerning to me, not that I'm not concerned about people's property, but the randomness of this is the issue.

We will need to continue working with our partners in health and social services to support each other when it comes to working our way through this problem. Personally, if we were to get into the decriminalization at this level, I don't think it would make a difference on the street-level crime that we're dealing with. But of course, I will say that I don't have facts to back that. That's strictly what my officers are faced with every day.

I do want to give Collin a chance.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Certainly.

December 11th, 2018 / 9:35 a.m.

Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Det Collin Harris

I certainly believe it's a topic of discussion and one that merits some discussion and some more study. I agree with Chief Barlow that we're not targeting those individuals who have a substance abuse disorder. We don't focus our investigations on those individuals. They're just ultimately the individuals we tend to spend a great deal of our time on. We need more resources, and I think that's the biggest thing, going forward, dealing with all our external partners. Our addiction services are overwhelmed.

Typically, when we've utilized informants or witnesses to assist in our investigations, those people would look to us for money or charge considerations, and one of the biggest things we've noticed in the last number of years is that people are coming to us asking for help to get assistance and services.

That's a huge, telling factor in that these individuals want and need help, and I think we need to stop providing barriers to treatments and get more treatments. I totally agree, and we've said it numerous times. We're not going to arrest our way out of this. Society needs to change.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

We had a representative here from the nurses' union last time. She talked about how concerned they are about violence in hospitals and emergency rooms, and justifiably so. They talked about these RAAM facilities—rapid-access facilities—where you can bring in meth users who are aggressive. Do we have something like that in Calgary?

9:40 a.m.

Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Det Collin Harris

No, not to my knowledge.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Do you find the supervised consumption site in downtown Calgary to be beneficial?

9:40 a.m.

Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Det Collin Harris

We certainly have seen it to be beneficial. They are getting a great number of individuals attending, which is fantastic. It's good that individuals are utilizing the facilities.

However, as we mentioned before, it does bring in those individuals who wish to ply their trade. They know there are customers who are looking. As I mentioned before, we're not looking to arrest those users. I've had front-line members walk individuals to the site, to assist them in getting there safely. It's the individuals plying their trade who really score in the area.

We've also noticed that methamphetamine has increased in use at the safe consumption sites. Initially, it was opioids, but they're now seeing it trending towards more methamphetamine. I've also seen a lot more methamphetamine through injection use throughout the city.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Okay.

Mr. Davies, you have seven minutes.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to all the witnesses for being here.

Mayor Bowman, you were quoted in a September article from the CBC saying that your city “desperately” needs more long-term addiction treatment facilities to combat the current meth crisis and, I would imagine, drugs generally. In your view, Mayor, how many treatment beds would be needed to adequately address demand across Winnipeg?

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Office of the Mayor, City of Winnipeg

Brian Bowman

Front-line health care providers would probably be better equipped to provide you with the specific number. Let me just say that we need a lot more. I agree with the witnesses from Calgary. We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis—and it is a crisis. We absolutely, desperately, need more long-term treatment for addictions, as well as mental health.

Sadly, the families and parents I have spoken with are very similar to the witness you heard from Brandon. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear what we heard this morning. Sadly, it's not uncommon, from what we've heard from parents. I think parliamentarians, and all politicians—municipal, provincial and federal—need to act in a way in which we realize that these could be our own kids, because it could be and it can be. No one is immune to this. My wife and I have two boys. They are eight and 10. Like many parents, I am very concerned about the risks for them. These drugs have no bounds.

The short answer is that we need a heck of a lot more than we have right now. The consistent message I hear from those with lived experiences, as well as people who are using or have family members who are using meth, is about the inadequacy of the long-term treatment options.

We're willing to do what we can, but we can't do it alone as municipalities. Yet our front-line service providers—

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

I'll stop you there, Mayor. I have other questions. Thank you for that.

Dr. Juurlink, I want to talk about drug policy generally. You have previously called on the federal government to declare a national public health emergency to address the opioid crisis. We've all seen the numbers: 4,000 Canadians died last year. The numbers have been going up each of the last three or four years. Eleven people are dying a day.

Can you explain to the committee why you make that call?

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

I've actually asked that for the last two years from this government. The repeated answer you get from the federal health minister is that the declaration under the Emergencies Act would do nothing and give the government no tools that they're not presently employing. I've suggested that's not correct. One measure that would be taken is under section 8 of the Emergencies Act. It allows the government to designate emergency clinics or shelters. This would allow the government to designate the overdose prevention sites—not supervised injection sites—that are currently popping up in cities like Vancouver, which that are operating illegally, as medical clinics under the Emergencies Act, thereby making them legal and qualifying for federal funding.

Do you have any comments on that? Are there any other tools you think would be available?

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

You've also been quoted as saying, “The illicit drug supply has never been more dangerous because of the profusion of fentanyl-related compounds”. We've heard evidence at this committee that sometimes fentanyl is discovered in meth and other drugs as well.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

This is why so many people are dying. They're dying because the drugs they're using contain much more opioid than they thought.

Dr. Juurlink, in your view, could we prevent overdose deaths by providing substance users access to a regulated, safe supply in known dosages through our health care system, for instance?