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

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

I call our meeting to order.

Welcome, everyone, to meeting 129 of the Standing Committee on Health.

I want to welcome all of our guests who are here at the table and who are with us by video conference. We have a number of people today to provide us with testimony and information.

That creates a problem for the chair. Each member of Parliament has a certain number of minutes to ask questions. I'm going to have to keep the time tight, so I would ask the members to direct your questions to one of the participants. That would be best. If you ask everybody for their opinion, we will always go over our time period.

Mr. Ouellette.

8:45 a.m.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Winnipeg Centre, Lib.

I would suggest, if possible, shortening people's time period equally among all the parties, so that we all get a chance to finish whole rounds and hear all the testimony and the various ideas from all the members.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Your proposal is...?

8:45 a.m.

Winnipeg Centre, Lib.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette

It's to shorten the time, if need be, because if the testimony goes a little bit long—

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

I will keep a closer check on the time. Usually I let people answer their questions no matter how long it takes, but today I'm going to have to limit it. I hate to interrupt anybody who is providing us with good information, but today I'll probably have to do so.

Let's start with our introductions.

From the Calgary Police Service we have Chief Constable Steve Barlow and Detective Collin Harris, the drug expert. By video conference from the City of Winnipeg we have His Worship Brian Bowman, mayor; the chief of police, Danny Smyth; and John Lane, chief of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service. From RJ Streetz Foundation, by video conference from Brandon, Manitoba, we have Kim Longstreet, president. Welcome.

From Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre we have Dr. David Juurlink, head of the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology. This is a repeat visit for you. Welcome back.

We're going to open with a 10-minute statement from the Calgary Police Service.

Calgary, you have the floor.

8:45 a.m.

Chief Steve Barlow Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I took over the helm of the chief of police in Calgary in October of this year. Prior to that, I oversaw our patrol operations division, which currently looks after the entire front line of the Calgary police.

I've been asked to speak to you today about the impacts of methamphetamines—commonly known as meth—from the municipal policing perspective. I won't go into great detail about the production of meth because I'm assuming that's been covered off by the RCMP. From the Calgary perspective, very few meth labs are found in our city. The vast majority of our meth is imported from British Columbia or from Mexico.

Over the last five years, meth seizures in Calgary have increased significantly, with 2018 predicted to be the highest yet. Currently, we're sitting at about 130% over our five-year average, with more than 1,769 incidents this year alone. Fentanyl has also seen a big increase since 2013. Calgary is currently 242% over the five-year average. Just last week, my officers seized approximately 10 kilograms of meth in Calgary—worth about $400,000—along with some cocaine and fentanyl.

This same trend has been seen across Alberta. Lethbridge police reported that they're currently sitting at 275% increase over their four-year meth seizure. The Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team reports that the quantity of meth seizure during their investigations went from 59 grams in 2013 to more than 27 kilograms in 2016. Adding to the glut of the supply, the price of meth has dropped significantly. In 2015, it was selling for about $100 per gram. We're now down to close to $50 per gram. Putting that into perspective, we're looking at about $5 a hit. This one dose can last up to 24 hours.

Meth is consumed by injecting or smoking and produces a very long high—up to 24 hours—usually followed by a binge of uncontrolled drug and alcohol use, which can last anywhere up to two weeks.

In Alberta, we're finding that needle debris is a common complaint in many places in our downtown core. A longer high, cheaper prices and increased availability gives meth a significant draw for individuals with substance use disorder. Fentanyl has received a lot of attention. We strongly believe fentanyl is a community health crisis, but meth is a crime and safety issue. Fentanyl affects individual families in a very tragic way, but meth impacts the perception and reality of safety in our community in Alberta.

Meth is fuelling much of the crime in our city. We're currently ranked number one in the country for stolen vehicles and have witnessed a number of recent unprovoked violent attacks on innocent bystanders. These are innocent people who happen to be in the public place when a meth-fuelled individual takes drastic actions to cause them life-threatening harm. This summer alone, I ended up witnessing, through my officers, a woman who stabbed three people within 20 minutes—all random. In another case, a senior sitting on a bench in our downtown core was stabbed multiple times.

Just recently, we had a woman standing on our CTrain platform and another young lady came up behind her and pushed her off the CTrain platform. She was not hit by the train, but is now paralyzed. This young lady—our suspect in this case—was high on meth at the time.

It is also a significant officer safety issue. Earlier this year, Honourable Chief Justice Wittmann released an independent report on a review of force in the CPS. In the review, Justice Wittmann found drug use and mental health concerns were identified as factors for 46% of subjects involved in our officer-involved shootings. The primary weapons used by subjects were vehicles, edged weapons and firearms.

Our auto theft team tells me that most of their arrests recently have been meth-addicted offenders—every single one of them. These offenders often drive impaired. It's different from alcohol impairment. They're very motivated and take immense risks with the safety of the public. They are determined to evade apprehension out of fear of not being able to get their next fix. Since October, we've had 139 vehicle events where a driver, typically in a stolen vehicle, flees police. We believe the majority of the drivers in these situations are under the influence of drugs and are constantly putting our public at risk.

We had four confirmed cases of impaired driving in 2016 involving meth. In 2017, that had jumped to 13. This year, we are waiting for toxicology, but we expect that to be well above 17. These figures do not include the people with whom we are involved in pursuits. This is just the regular public.

Meth is also driving our residential break and enters in Calgary. What I'm finding more alarming than anything is our nighttime break and enters, when families are home asleep. We are finding that these numbers are going through the roof. The major reason behind it is that these offenders are going into the homes and stealing the keys of the vehicles because they aren't able to steal the regular vehicles, since the newer vehicles are harder to steal.

They use the meth to keep themselves awake for their crime sprees. Offenders frequently report that they experience insomnia and remain awake for days at a time, while consuming meth. During these periods, the offenders are prolific in their activities and commit large volumes of crime, beyond what could otherwise be expected.

We've recognized the need to take immediate action in Calgary. We've started up an operation, which will be a long-standing operation, that will be dealing with our drug houses and all our social disorder and property crimes in the community. We're also working to educate our citizens on the current trends and pressing drug-related issues within our community, while working with our partners to find solutions to address the root cause of the addiction.

When I look at the tools on an officer's belt, there isn't a single one that will help people in the throes of an addiction. We can arrest the drug traffickers, who are preying on our vulnerable addicted population, but if the demand is there, another trafficker will take their place. My officers are worn out with the continual grind of arresting the same individuals for drug and property crimes in the morning and having them back on the street during the day.

What we need is an answer to the mental health and drug addiction plaguing our province and our country. We need to stop reacting to the specific substance of harm and deal with the strategies of obtaining treatment for all substances. We need to continue working with our partners in health and in the social sector to put forward the resources and evidence-based solutions to mental health and addiction. We need to find new ways to address the low-level criminal aspects in our justice system.

We are really good at processing cases involving physical harm to people, but I would rather be able to stop it before it gets to that level and another innocent person is harmed.

Thank you for your time.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you for your testimony. It's amazing.

Now, we're going to go to the city of Winnipeg. I believe Your Worship Mayor Bowman is going to make an opening statement for 10 minutes.

8:55 a.m.

Brian Bowman Mayor, Office of the Mayor, City of Winnipeg

Thanks very much, and good morning to everyone who is part of this parliamentary committee.

Thanks very much for the opportunity for us to join you here from the city of Winnipeg. You're going to hear some repetition of the presentation you just heard from the chief of police in Calgary.

Winnipeg is like any other big city right now in Canada. We're not immune to illicit drug use in our community. One of the most significant challenges that our police and our community are facing right now is not only the presence of opioids, but of course, the rising presence of meth in our community. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly prevalent here in the city of Winnipeg. According to our police, seizures of meth this year to date are in excess of 20 kilograms, which is nearly double that of 2017.

Meth, combined with other drug addictions, is incredibly stretching the limits of the resources in our community, especially those who are struggling to keep up with the demand on the front lines. You're going to hear later, if we have an opportunity during questions and answers, from Chief Danny Smyth of our Winnipeg Police Service and Chief John Lane, the chief of our Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, who can answer more specific questions, given that they and their teams are on the front lines in their respective capacities.

We're also hearing from other community groups. Groups like our Bear Clan or community foot patrols are reporting the nightly cleanup of needles in various locations across our community.

Conversations that I've had with families have been, for me, very educational and disturbing. I've heard about their experiences over many years dealing with loved ones they're trying to help, and sadly, those who have been lost due to addictions. I've talked with families from all walks of life. Meth doesn't distinguish between the area of the city in which you reside or your family's income. Addictions and mental health really know no bounds. We're seeing that here in the city of Winnipeg.

I've been in office now for just over four years. Over that time, much of the country has been talking about the opioid crisis, which we are seeing here in the city of Winnipeg, but another disturbing and challenging story is emerging that I would like this committee to really hear loud and clear. That, of course, is the rise of meth use.

Meth is not a new drug to the world, but as I've come to learn from those with lived experiences, meth is highly destructive to the individuals using it, as well as to our community, in significant ways. Meth doesn't have the same danger with overdose, but we've been told the drug is, of course, highly addictive, and with excessive and repeated use can cause users to behave in ways that are violent and unpredictable.

I've learned from presentations by stakeholders that there are many impacts related to the addictions that come from mental health issues. What we're experiencing in Winnipeg is more citizens being directly impacted—and even more indirectly impacted—as a result of the actions of violence associated with the drugs we're seeing right now on our streets.

There is a key connection, of course, between mental health and addictions, but also, with meth, there is the connection with homelessness. We certainly hear from those with lived experience that they will use meth to simply stay awake at night, so they don't freeze to death in the cold weather climates we experience across Canada and in the Prairies.

In 2018, a new concern of mine is certainly growing. As we look at—and are now dealing with—the legalization of cannabis, the concern is whether or not organized crime is increasingly shifting its energies to meth. I don't have any stats to back that concern. I just raise it as something we'll be watching for in the coming months and years, if and when those stats are available.

In terms of statistics, what I will say is that both of our chiefs can hopefully provide you with some additional and much more detailed information about what they're seeing with their teams. But I will talk briefly about what the City of Winnipeg's actions have been to date to help with illicit drugs.

First, the Winnipeg Police Service launched an illicit drug strategy some time ago that speaks to a three-pronged approach: education, enforcement and intervention.

The City of Winnipeg has made land available to our provincial government for the Bruce Oake memorial recovery centre. It's still in the public hearing process for rezoning so I can't get into too many details, but the story around this facility has been widely reported. In short, the city has sold land and a facility asset to the Province of Manitoba for $1, for the purpose of long-term addictions treatment to be made available in a greater capacity than what we have right now.

We've also been supporting the end homelessness strategy. This is a United Way Winnipeg multi-stakeholder strategy to help those Winnipeggers affected by homelessness. As well, we continue to advocate for the destigmatization of those who are affected by mental health and addictions in our communities so that they can get the treatment they so desperately need.

The last thing I'll mention is what we are currently working on. The primary responsibility of our council, the city, governments, of course, isn't health care, but when we see a crisis with meth, we have to do what we can to coordinate and leverage the resources of multiple stakeholders and multiple levels of government. Our council has unanimously called for a tri-government-level meth task force. We've been having very positive discussions with local members of Parliament, including one our MPs who I know is there this morning, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, as well as with the provincial government. These discussions are happening, and it's our hope that we'll be able to announce very soon the formal creation of a meth task force so that we can better coordinate and align all of our energies on the ground here in the city of Winnipeg, in the province and of course from our federal government partners.

Luckily, when faced with what seems like an impossible task, our community can rise to the challenge. In the early 2000s, our city was plagued with arson and auto theft, and we came together to knock both back. We know how to get things done by working together. That's why I wanted to appear before this parliamentary committee—to make the case for us to better coordinate our energies and our actions among all three levels of government.

I have three requests of Parliament that I'd like to submit to you. I think they could make the greatest impact with the responsibilities and the resources that are aligned with the federal government.

The first, of course, is to create a national strategy on illicit drugs, which would include meth and not just opioids. FCM, who has appeared before your committee.... I'm part of the big city mayors' caucus, and we've called for a national strategy on opioids. I would urge you to expand that national strategy to include meth, because it is growing in cities, and not just in Winnipeg. You've heard from Calgary, and I know others, where a national strategy is required. We'll be there to support those actions and the development and the implementation of such a national strategy if and when it gets developed.

Secondly, strengthen border protection. We're advised that the drugs are coming in from other countries, such as Mexico. Of course, greater border protection—as is the responsibility of the federal government—to combat the importation of illicit drugs would obviously help.

Most importantly, my third request is to provide greater focus and greater resources on mental health, addictions and homelessness. As long as the demand is there, these other efforts will not be as effective. Resources are required in cities like Winnipeg. Our resources are stretched, and of course we really do need the support of the federal government to help with mental health, addictions and homelessness.

That being said, these are my introductory remarks. Chief Smyth, Chief Lane and I are available to answer any other specific questions you might have today.

Thanks very much.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you.

Now we'll go to the RJ Streetz Foundation and Kim Longstreet, by video conference from Brandon.

You have 10 minutes. Welcome.

9:05 a.m.

Kim Longstreet President, RJ Streetz Foundation

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to the committee and to tell my story of loving someone who is addicted to meth.

Recently, my son wrote me a short note in which he expressed his love for me, his thankfulness for my ongoing support and his pledge to himself to once again try for sobriety.

He wrote the note on September 26 of this year, about four days prior to learning that his bed date was going to be October 18. By his math, he could continue to use meth for about another nine days. He would then attempt to detox himself so he could enter the program clean. On admission day, he was tested and immediately sent to detox. He went on to complete the 28-day program, returned to Brandon and immediately relapsed. This scenario has played out numerous times over the last six years.

The first 18 years of my son's life were normal by today's standards. I raised him mostly as a single parent. He was a model child, an athlete, a popular boy. He graduated from high school, went on to attend university and made it on to the men's basketball team. Everything he had ever wanted in his life was right there for the taking, but his dreams of playing basketball ended when using drugs became more important.

For 11 years now I've watched my son slowly succumb to the world of drugs, to marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, crack and meth. Of all the drugs he has used, meth is the one that won't allow him to function in life. With the other drugs, he was still trying to get his education, play basketball and hold down a job. Meth took everything away except his need for the drug.

Meth is an ugly drug. It has been called the “evil” drug and having witnessed my son under the influence of it and also withdrawing from it, I can attest to the darkness in which it shrouds the substance user. The violence that comes with the drug is very real. Homemade weapons are a necessity for the paranoia that comes with using meth. I have been witness to the extreme behaviour that propels someone on meth to barricade their home from whatever evil it is that makes them do it.

My son tells me that he doesn't want to do bad things, but he has a genuine fear of the evil that manifests in his mind. This evil is the violence that service providers talk about. It's the “get them before they get me” psychosis that propels someone on meth to become violent.

It is impossible for anyone to understand the pain a mother feels when her child is hurting and she knows she can do nothing about it. We fix things. We're moms. We can do anything—but I can't fix this one.

Two years ago, after nine years of hoping things would turn around for my son, I gave in to the exhaustion that comes with loving a substance user. I took an eight-week leave from my job and used that time to grieve the loss of my son as I've always known him to be. I had a new normal and it was time to get on with it. After my eight-week hiatus from life, I made a decision to share my story with my community as a way to ring the alarm bell about the meth crisis upon us. I did this with my son's permission to share his story with mine.

In July of 2017, I shared my concern with my city's council. Since then, I have been advocating non-stop to raise awareness about meth and its impacts on a community. I see this advocacy as contributing to my community's willingness to address the meth issue we currently face.

The City of Brandon and our Brandon School Division sponsored five sessions last week called NEO, “Not Even Once: Brandon Fighting Addiction”, which featured well-known speaker and advocate Joe Roberts, the “Skid Row CEO” and founder of Push for Change. He presented to each of our three high schools and also gave an open evening session for service providers and other interested individuals.

Our Brandon Police Service has added two members to its crime support unit, a drug investigator focused on meth and a youth intelligence officer focused on youth who have been exploited, are missing or have run away due in part to meth.

We have a community mobilization unit. These are service providers who collaborate on services for citizens with risk factors that lead to emergent response from police, health and other agencies. A steady uptake in meth use has increased the need for resources beyond what is currently available.

In October, our Prairie Mountain Health opened a rapid access to addictions medicine clinic, which is open twice weekly for two hours. They also offer a needle exchange program, with 30,000 needles distributed in 2017.

Addictions Foundation of Manitoba has increased its crystal meth presentations in communities, some detoxing and longer stays have been added to their current programming, and they have improved their pathway planning.

The Canadian Mental Health Association is in the process of developing supportive recovery services for addiction and those in recovery to learn to live a productive life.

Our Brandon Friendship Centre has numerous options available to provide programs and services for aboriginal people, and it recently held a forum in the community about meth.

Brandon Bear Clan Patrol does twice-weekly patrols by volunteers with the purpose of providing a sense of safety, solidarity and belonging to both its members and to the community they serve. In 2017, the Bear Clan picked up 50 needles in our community. In 2018, to date, they have picked up more than 550 needles.

Westman Families of Addicts is a support group started in 2017 that currently supports 206 families in the Westman region who have been affected by meth.

Last week, the Government of Manitoba made two announcements that will assist in addressing the fallout from meth use in our province. A request for proposals for in-province residential treatment has been sent out by the government with a submission deadline for January 15, 2019. The intent is to provide service to 15 individuals per year with concurrent mental health and addictions disorders. Also, in the coming months, a tendered contract will be awarded to provide long-term withdrawal—detox—management beds. The number of detox beds has yet to be determined.

Very positive progress has been made so far, but based on my personal experience, we have a long way to go as a nation. I am in agreement with what previous witnesses have recommended as steps to take going forward.

If we trust what history has taught us about meth, we know that it periodically cycles in and out of the drug world. Knowing this, I think it's imperative that we make illicit drug use a topic for our school system to integrate as part of their curriculum.

Dr. Gabor Maté references the fact that we have lost our human connection. He also said something that is important for all of us to remember as we move forward. There is no war on drugs, because you can't war against inanimate objects. There is only a war on drug addicts, which means we are warring against the most abused and vulnerable segments of society.

After 11 years of coping with my son's substance use disorder, I can honestly say that I wish it were over, one way or the other. Every time I hear a siren or the phone rings at odd hours, I wonder if this is the call. To some, this will make me sound like a terrible parent, but sometimes I do imagine that it is the call from which my son will finally have peace from the war that our society appears to be losing.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you very much for that. I just can't imagine what you're going through and what you've been through with this.

Now we will go to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Juurlink.

December 11th, 2018 / 9:15 a.m.

Dr. David Juurlink Head, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Good morning. Thanks for the opportunity to speak here today. You'll hear a bit of overlap. I guess that won't surprise you.

You all know that this is a stimulant. What you might not appreciate is that, chemically, it's almost indistinguishable from the prescription drug Adderall. I assure you that you all know someone who has that medicine, those capsules, in their cabinet at home.

People use this drug for a variety of reasons. Some use it intermittently, socially, to disinhibit or facilitate interactions with others or to increase sexual drive, especially in the community of men who have sex with men. Some people use it to be functional—long-haul truckers and construction workers—and some people use it because they're dependent on it and will do whatever is needed to procure it. As you've heard already, it's incredibly cheap and its effects are incredibly long lasting.

As I think you heard the mayor say, it particularly effects the homeless population. They use it to keep moving, to stay awake and protect their meagre belongings, and sometimes, to change the mental state that accompanies exposure to and discomfort from the elements.

We see the harms of the acute use of meth in a variety of different ways. It can cause anxiety and frank psychosis, and this is a common reason for coming to hospital. First responders see this all the time. It's one of the main ways that meth can cause people to die. They engage in high-risk sexual activity. They can have seizures, strokes and heart attacks in their twenties. With chronic use, they can have heart problems, dental problems, skin problems and neuropsychiatric problems including depression. Even for those who do manage to stop, the depression can be long lasting and crushing.

People can die from this stuff through a whole host of mechanisms, including the suicidality that comes with the effects of this drug on the brain over the long term, and of course the mixing of it with other drugs. Sometimes that's not within the person's control.

What could be done to make this better? Right now, when patients are brought to hospital after meth use, there's a lot of tinkering and turfing, and then they're sent back out. I think we could be a lot more proactive and less reactive with how we handle people with meth addiction.

Unlike with opioids, we don't have a lot of good drug options. With opioids we have two very effective drugs for people who stick to them, drugs that are shown to reduce death. We don't have that same sort of chemical treatment with meth addiction. What I think we'd have to do—and you've already heard this—is engage people who use meth in treatment and improve access to supports, including qualified addiction care. Many people who use meth don't know about or have access to the path to treatment.

We could better treat their underlying psychiatric disorders and untreated mental health problems that often help these patients find meth in the first place. I think that would go a long way towards reducing the burden on law enforcement and the criminal justice system for patients who use meth.

We could improve access to their associated health problems, whether it's HIV from sharing needles, hepatitis C or the PTSD that so many of them have in the first place.

We could actually help them get better access to low-income housing, or shelters that don't require them to arrive late and leave early in the morning. I think that alone would go a long way to decreasing the demand for meth in a particularly reliable customer base.

To the extent that there is domestic production—there is some—we could make the main ingredient in Sudafed, pseudoephedrine, a prescription-only drug. It's not going to solve the problem, but you'll have fewer lab explosions if you do that.

I want to spend the last few moments of my time talking about something that I know is not popular. It's the issue of decriminalizing drug use. I know many of you will have views on this, and perhaps they're immutable. I'm not talking, of course, about the property crime or the physical or sexual assaults that accompany drug use. Those require punishment, as do the people who deal the drugs. I'm talking about the simple possession and use of drugs.

The mayor made a comment about reducing stigma. Part of the stigma comes from the fact that this is an illegal behaviour. Drugs have been around for a very long time, and people have used drugs for as long as there have been drugs, so drug use is here to stay. If you have had a few drinks on occasion, maybe one or two more than you intended to have, you are a person who has used drugs. You just happen to use a socially acceptable drug that's legal to use.

I think that in political circles as well as in social ones, there's a tendency to oversimplify the decriminalization discussion and sort of assume that people who don't forbid drug use therefore must condone it. That's simply not true. Whatever your view is on this issue, I think we should be able to agree that it would be better if fewer people had drug-related problems, and it would be better if fewer people died.

It's worth asking what criminalizing the simple use of drugs accomplishes. The threat of going to jail or of a criminal record causes people to hide their drug use. This is why so many people, especially with opiates but also with methamphetamine, die alone at home, in alleys, or in Tim Hortons' washrooms. It promotes stigma, as I mentioned earlier, as does the word “addict”, and I would discourage the use of that word. These are often people who've endured hardships that maybe you and I have been lucky to avoid. Maybe they have an untreated mental illness. Maybe they've had exposure to drugs or alcohol in the womb, and maybe, as children, they endured physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Maybe we can't expect them to be quite as resilient as those of us who grew up without those forces in our lives.

When someone who uses drugs and is a criminal as a result of using it is discovered, they're arrested and jailed. In jail it's often easy to get drugs. Sometimes it's easier than it is in the community. It is easy to share needles and transmit disease. People will sometimes die in prison or shortly after release. Even after the arrest, they have a permanent criminal record and all that goes with it. They have all the things that exacerbate drug problems: unemployment, social exclusion, trauma and family separation. Those things get worse after jail, not better.

I think the main argument, if I understand it correctly, for criminalizing drug use is that it deters the use of drugs, and there's very little evidence that claim is true. According to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, it does not do what you might think it does. In truth, we have very little to show for the vast societal resources consumed by our current policies aside from overburdened police departments, courts and prisons. I'd ask you to consider that tough drug laws don't result in fewer drug-related problems and deaths. They do the exact opposite.

There's a medical maxim. It's sort of simple on its face. If what you're doing is not working, stop doing it. As MPs, you might want to reflect on that in the context of drug criminalization. Portugal, as you know, did this in 2001. They were faced with a huge threat from heroin. In 2001 they decided to approach this as a health problem as opposed to a criminal one. They decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Today in Portugal, if you're found with drugs, you're offered help; you're not put in jail. Today in Portugal, you can tell someone you use drugs without fearing going to jail or a criminal record.

In the wake of that change, drug deaths fell, maybe not exclusively due to the change, but they fell nevertheless. New cases of HIV plummeted, and drug use didn't increase. In fact, it even fell in some segments of the population. In Portugal—and here's a statistic I hope stays with you—six people per million died from drug overdoses last year. In Canada, that number is in the order of 110. It's one of the highest drug-related death rates in the world.

I think it's time to acknowledge that our approach to drug use isn't working. It's really been a failure. As I said before, drug use is a health issue, and when we treat it as a criminal one, we promote fear, isolation and harm. We don't arrest people for drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. When people come to me with a problem with those drugs, we offer them help to the extent that we have it. We help them moderate their use or help them quit. When it comes to other drugs, we expend untold resources on measures that are plainly ineffective and even counterproductive, like imprisonment and interdiction.

I realize that the idea of decriminalizing drug use will be unpopular in some circles, particularly in political ones, but the alternative is staying a course that has quite clearly failed. One day in the future, Canada will eventually change its laws regarding drug use. I don't know when that will be. It might be decades hence. I think that, not long thereafter, we'll look back and ask what took us so long to start approaching this as a health problem. How many people died because for so many years we used the wrong approach?

I'll end my comments there.

Thank you.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you very much to all of you for your comments. They all come from a different perspective, and they help us start to understand some of the challenges we're facing.

I think we have everybody except Ms. Longstreet. We're still trying to connect. We lost the connection.

We'll go to questions now, starting with Dr. Eyolfson.

You have seven minutes, and I'll give you a flag as you approach your seven minutes.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, all, for coming. This is very valuable testimony. I'm so grateful everyone could come, in particular our guests from the Prairies. Thank you for coming here. It's cold and snowy here, so you'd feel at home, had you made it here.

Mayor Bowman, Chief Smyth, Chief Lane, thank you for your perspectives. As you know, I spent 20 years as an emergency physician in Winnipeg. I'm familiar with a lot of these problems. Interestingly enough, when I left the practice of emergency medicine three years ago, I had never seen an acute methamphetamine intoxication. It was around—I knew what it was, people gave a history of it—but certainly from the Winnipeg perspective, talking to my colleagues now, this problem has exploded in the last three years from something I'd never seen to a daily occurrence.

Mayor Bowman, I was pleased to be able to meet with you when you met with the Manitoba caucus regarding the task force we discussed on methamphetamine and illicit drugs. One of the issues that has come up—and this was talked about in our meetings discussing opioids, and was brought up by a witness in one of our recent meetings on this—is the issue of harm reduction. We had very clear testimony that harm reduction and safe consumption sites would be beneficial to this for a number of reasons. That testimony will be available in the briefs.

We do know that, to date, the provincial government of Manitoba has been very resistant to safe consumption sites. They even had a draft report of their mental health and addictions strategy that initially said to increase capacity for harm reduction services, including a safe injection site in Winnipeg. This was removed in the final draft to the public.

Mayor Bowman, has there been any recent dialogue with the provincial government on this topic? Are they starting to have a different view, or are they still keeping this line that this is something that is not a suitable fit for Winnipeg?

[Technical difficulty—Editor]

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Okay. We're going to fix that.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

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

What I'll do is I'll make good use of my time.

Mr. Barlow, thank you so much for coming. I just wanted to expand on harm reduction. You talked about your harm reduction program you have in Calgary. We do know that there is a lot of political opposition often to these, there's often community opposition to these, and there are a lot of fears that there will be increased crime or problems with safety.

According to a recent story in the Calgary Herald, “The Calgary Police Service has been tracking incidents within a 500-metre radius of the facility since before it opened and says there has been no noticeable increase in calls connected to that area.” Does that sound like a fair evaluation of the situation there?

9:25 a.m.

Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Chief Steve Barlow

Actually, I wouldn't say it's a fair evaluation. What our issue is now is that people have stopped calling. What we have done is actually put more members down in that area.

The community has significant concerns with the one area of our safe consumption site, and it's to do with the population that has now migrated into that area. Crime rates have increased somewhat, but what we're finding is the homelessness and what comes with the homelessness, and the use of the drugs in that area with the spent needles. Some of them are going into these facilities, using the facilities, but also coming out with the spent needles.

The biggest issue we have is that our drug dealers have now, of course, learned where their clients have moved to. That's one of the biggest issues we're dealing with right now, having to work with our drug dealers and arrest our way out of that part of the issue, the dealing, not the people who are consuming but the dealers.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you.

This might be very difficult to quantify, given that there are so many variables. Does it appear to have caused any increase in general, or is it just the same amount that's going on but appears to be just concentrating because people are coming there? That may be impossible to answer, I understand, given the number of variables.

9:30 a.m.

Det Collin Harris Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Thank you for your question.

I am also a returning witness to the Standing Committee on Health. I appeared before to speak about prescription drug misuse and opioids. I've been with the service for 30 years, and I have seen a tremendous increase in methamphetamines over the last number of years.

As you mentioned, the number of instances isn't necessarily so much increasing, but I believe the daily use of individuals has increased dramatically. I deal with a lot of non-profits and a lot of service industries down in that area, and many of their clients, specifically youth—I can attest to that—have stated that last year their daily use may have been that 30% of them were using on a daily basis. Now, over 50% or 60% of them are using on a daily basis. That daily use causes other incidents to occur that are not necessarily reported to us.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you very much.

We don't have video, but do we have audio with Winnipeg?

Mayor Bowman, can you hear me?

9:30 a.m.

Mayor, Office of the Mayor, City of Winnipeg

Brian Bowman

Yes. Thank you.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

We can hear you now, so if you can just answer the question.

Thank you.

9:30 a.m.

Mayor, Office of the Mayor, City of Winnipeg

Brian Bowman

With regard to harm reduction, what I'll say is that, obviously, I take my cue from health care professionals and front-line service providers. The approach that I have taken is that we shouldn't be ruling any options out if they're going to help save lives and reduce the broader harm to our community.

Of course, I'll let the provincial government speak for itself, but my understanding in speaking with front-line service providers is that there are differences between the different substances, opioids versus meth.

Perhaps I could ask our chief of police and our fire paramedic chief if they might be able to add some context and some thoughts on harm reduction.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

Please go ahead.

9:30 a.m.

John Lane Chief, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service

The major concern with meth use in terms of harm reduction is the unpredictability of the intoxication. It's quite different from opioids. The unpredictability of the time course of the intoxication really complicates the aspect of the effects of safe consumption sites as far as methamphetamines go.

Really, the expertise here, I think, lies more within the public health service. Those are the experts that I would look to for expert advice on the use of safe consumption sites.