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

9:55 a.m.

Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Chief Steve Barlow

I'm going to throw that over to my expert.

9:55 a.m.

Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Det Collin Harris

The proceeds of crime go back to the province, and the province decides where that money goes to. It doesn't necessarily come back to the jurisdiction that seizes it. It gets divvied up in the province.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Does anybody keep a tally? Say, for example, in your city in 2018 you're going to have $35 million in cash. I know it's probably way too high, but does anybody keep track of that?

9:55 a.m.

Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Det Collin Harris

I believe the province does keep track of what is divvied up amongst the municipalities and the areas. However, I do not have that information for you at this time, sir.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

I mean that....

9:55 a.m.

Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Chief Steve Barlow

I'll follow up really briefly with this because we're short on time. For the proceeds of crime, one of the most difficult issues we have is actually proving that it is a proceed of crime. It's something that's very small on our scale when it comes to crime fighting in Alberta right now.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Yes, that's because most people usually have a million dollars in the frame of their house—a million dollars cash in small bills.

In our last meeting, I brought up the fact that maybe the tax collected on the sale of cannabis should be going back into rehabilitation and so forth, so that even people who are against the idea of legalization could say, “Well, at least the tax dollars are going to help those who need the help”, and they could also see that there should be a direct link between the proceeds of crime and the attempt to help people who are addicted by what these dollars have come up with.

Maybe that's something we could mention, because in the province—I don't care what province you're from—there's a black hole there and it never seems to circulate its way back through. Whether it's for beds or for extra police officers, I could see that being a good effort.

This is probably more of a hypothetical question. If meth is $5 for a shot—if you want to call it that—is a lot of this just economics? A king can of beer is probably $2. A gram of marijuana is probably between $7 and $8, depending on where you're buying it. I think at the cannabis store in Ontario it's $7 or $8 for a gram. Is this just pure economics 101 for an addict, the fact that I can get the biggest bang for my buck with meth? Is that the idea?

10 a.m.

Drug Expert, Calgary Police Service

Det Collin Harris

I believe it is. It's one of those things. We have seen a dramatic drop in the price of methamphetamine in the last three years.

It wasn't so long ago that meth was roughly the same price as a gram of heroin, being $250 probably about five years ago. It's one of the most dramatic drops that I have ever seen in a substance, and I've been a police officer for 30 years. The price for a gram of cocaine has remained practically the same throughout my entire career, but the price of meth has dramatically dropped.

It's that glut of product that's in the market, and it's also the fact that the highs associated with it are that much longer and that much more intense.

As you mentioned, yes, it is bang for the buck. They're getting a great deal of product for a very cheap amount. Those individuals who are disenfranchised and marginalized, as Dr. Juurlink mentioned, use that drug to stay awake. The only time that they're safe is when they're awake, and that leads to prolonged use.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

For the drugs coming in from B.C., there's only so much you can do about that, obviously. For the meth coming in from Mexico, is it mission impossible to try to intercept every load of meth coming in to this country, or are there strategies that would help alleviate that?

10 a.m.

Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Chief Steve Barlow

I think we can always strengthen our borders when it comes to the movement of drugs. It is always going to be a significant problem of ours, not just with meth, because it's something that either comes from the south or is going to come from the west when it comes to Alberta. We could use assistance that way, but it does end up leading back to what we've talked about earlier today, which is the people involved in this, the users. They're the ones who.... In my humble opinion, if we're going to spend significant dollars, that's where we need to spend them right now.

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Mr. Lobb, your time is up.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Thanks.

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

We will go to Dr. Eyolfson next.

10 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mayor Bowman and also Chief Lane, we know that the first place you take people to deal with acute intoxication, when they're not manageable for regular rehabilitation facilities, is the emergency department, because there's nowhere else to go.

We've already had one emergency department close and turn into an urgent care. That was the Vic. They've announced that very shortly the Concordia will no longer be taking ambulances, in its conversion to an urgent care.

Are we expecting this will cause any problems, the fact that there are fewer places to take them and that acute management of these problems is going to be getting more crowded in fewer places?

10 a.m.

Chief, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service

John Lane

The acute management is accomplished quite well in the field through chemical sedation. A patient who is uncontrollably psychotic probably can be most effectively managed in the field through chemical sedation. That, of course, involves both law enforcement and paramedics.

In regard to those with subacute psychosis, the people who are worried or anxious about the effects of the drug they may have consumed, the recent introduction of olanzapine at the pre-hospital level may well help to alleviate their concerns, but that's a relatively smaller proportion of the people we see.

10 a.m.

Liberal

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

If I may, I'll cut you off there.

What I'm getting at is this. I'm assuming that even if someone is acutely sedated in the field, once they're managed there, they are taken to the emergency department. Are they not?

10:05 a.m.

Chief, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service

John Lane

That's correct.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Has there been any concern? First of all, have there been any changes in, let's say, wait times for paramedics unloading patients because of this, the closures they've had, or they're increasing, more of a load from that, because you have fewer places to take these people once they're managed in the field?

10:05 a.m.

Chief, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service

John Lane

No, that's what I was getting to. The fact that they're managed in the field, I think, allows them to be safely transported a farther distance.

The other aspect is that we've seen the opposite. Our patient transfer times from paramedics to hospital staff are decreasing.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you very much.

Ms. Longstreet, thank you for coming and for sharing your story.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I practised emergency medicine for 20 years. I saw first-hand the effects of this tragedy of drug addiction. One of my greatest frustrations—and I'm sure you'll share this—is when people are brought in.... I don't mean when they're acutely intoxicated, but rather when there's a problem. They've been on a waiting list for months. They say he can't wait for months. If he goes out into the community, he's just going to keep using, a nd they don't know what to do. For my part, in the emergency department the frustration is that in our acute care hospital system, we have nothing. Maybe we'll make some calls, let someone in the system know there is someone and ask if we could get them bumped up. Sometimes they'll put their foot down and say they can't send them home. Then we have to say there's no place to put them, and nothing we can do for them here. It's frustrating on both ends.

Thank you again for your comment on the war on drugs. Many people have known the war on drugs was not a war on drugs; it was a war on drug addicts. It's been a war on our most vulnerable people. I think that as a society, we have to change that, so thank you for that message.

I believe that is my time.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you, and thank you for your message. I'm glad you said that to our guests.

Ms. Gladu, you have five minutes.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.

First, on the subject of decriminalization I took the point that decriminalizing the possession of drugs is not going to get around the problem of property theft that goes along with it and the violent activities happening with methamphetamines. I thought it would be worthwhile, though, to make a comment about Portugal and what they had in place before they went to decriminalization.

They had mandatory public education in the schools about the harms of drugs. They had truly universal health care in which mental health counselling and supports were paid for. It wasn't as though people couldn't get access to them. As to their treatment capacity, they had 170 treatment recovery facilities for 11 million people.

If we put that in the context of Canada, we would need 55,385 beds for our 36 million people, which works out—if it were evenly distributed, which we know it's not—to 164 beds per riding. That's the kind of gap we're talking about, in terms of treatment and recovery that we're missing.

One of my questions has to do with trying to get at the supply part of this. The drugs are coming in from Mexico and from B.C. Under a previous government there was a visa requirement for Mexicans, which was used basically to screen out the criminal element. Do you think it would be useful to put that back in place, or is it going to be ineffective?

I would direct that question to Chief Barlow and perhaps also the chief in Winnipeg.

10:05 a.m.

Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

Chief Steve Barlow

I don't see that reintroducing this would be the answer.

The reason I say so is that the criminal element changes as the environment changes, as with vehicles right now. I'll use them; they're an easy example. As our cars get newer and are safer and you can't steal them as easily, you can't stick a screwdriver into them. That's why the criminals are breaking into houses.

They change as the environment changes. I don't see bringing in a law about.... You mentioned people from Mexico. I don't see that as being the issue. I can't speak for Winnipeg or for eastern Canada. Realize that when we talk about meth coming from B.C., it's because of where we're situated. We have very few labs that we know of in Alberta.

It would be hard for me to say that the meth is coming from B.C. and making it straight across the country. I would say that their suppliers are also from that area.

But yes, coming from the south and from Mexico is common.

December 11th, 2018 / 10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

What about you, Chief Smyth?

10:10 a.m.

Chief of Police, Winnipeg Police Service

Chief Danny Smyth

Our experience is similar to Calgary's. Most of our supply chain is coming from the west, from B.C. It's fair to say that in some of the investigations we've been involved in, it looks as though it's being smuggled up from Mexico into B.C. and then across the Prairies.