Good day, honourable members of the standing committee, and thank you for inviting Health Canada to participate in your discussions today.
My name is Carole Bouchard. I'm the director of the office of controlled substances at Health Canada. The office of controlled substances is the organizational unit within the drug strategy and controlled substances program that is responsible for the administration of the legislative framework for controlled substances and precursor chemicals in Canada.
In this regard, I thought I would take this opportunity to provide you with some background on the legislative framework and specifically the precursor control regulations, so as to inform your discussions on this particular legislative proposal about methamphetamine that is before you today.
As you may know, Canada's federal legislative framework for drug control includes the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or the CDSA, along with its associated regulations. CDSA and its regulations provide the parameters for the legitimate medical, scientific, or industrial use of controlled substances and precursor chemicals, and it also lays out the offences and penalties that apply when persons are found to have carried out unauthorized activities.
The act includes eight schedules. The schedules identify the controlled substances and precursor chemicals covered by the act. They are generally grouped with consideration of chemical structure, pharmacology, and abuse liability and dependence potential, and are mainly organized in such a way that lower-numbered schedules are associated with higher penalties for offences. For example, morphine is included in schedule I, and the maximum penalty for offences involving the import, export, production, and trafficking of morphine is life imprisonment, while a simple possession offence carries a penalty of seven years.
By consequence, the maximum penalty for offences involving the import or export of substances included in schedule IV, diazepam, for example—where diazepam is a drug used for the treatment of anxiety—is three years, and it's not illegal to possess substances in schedule IV unless one is found to be in possession for the purpose of trafficking or exporting. These schedules, of course, can be modified by regulation when necessary.
In addition, the CDSA allows Canada to fulfill its obligations under three United Nations treaties, namely: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs; the Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
Canada respects many of the specific obligations laid out in the UN drug control conventions through a diverse network of regulations made under the CDSA, perhaps the most important ones in terms of your discussions today being the precursor control regulations, which outline the rules governing the production, distribution, import, export, possession, and sales of precursor chemicals in Canada.
Precursor chemicals, in this context, are substances that may be used in the illicit production of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine. Given that the bill in front of you relates specifically to methamphetamine, perhaps I will now turn to how this substance is currently regulated under the CDSA and how the precursor control regulations, or the PCRs, which came into force in 2003 and 2004, work to prevent the illegal import, export, production, distribution, and sale of substances used in its production.
Currently, methamphetamine, including its salts, derivatives, isomers, analogues, and salts of derivatives, isomers, and analogues, is listed in schedule I of the CDSA. This was not always the case, in that prior to 2005, methamphetamine was listed in schedule III to the CDSA. The movement of methamphetamine from schedule III to schedule I has increased the maximum penalty associated with its illegal importation, exportation, possession for the purpose of exportation, production, as well as trafficking, from 10 years to life imprisonment. Similarly, the maximum penalty for illegal possession has increased from three years to seven.
As many of you will be aware, methamphetamine is produced domestically in clandestine laboratories using ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, and other chemicals commonly used in industrial applications, for example, red phosphorus, which is widely used in the production of matches.
The fact that methamphetamine can be made so easily using ingredients that are relatively cheap and easy to obtain, and that it can be administered using a variety of routes, for instance, intravenously or orally, have made methamphetamine an attractive drug of abuse that is readily accessible in comparison to other illicit drugs.
In a sense, therefore, the PCRs were established in order to respond to domestic concerns, primarily from law enforcement agencies, regarding the ease with which chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacturing of drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy were able to be imported into, exported out of, and moved across Canada. They also enabled Canada to fulfill its international obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
That said, because the chemicals that would be regulated under the PCRs were currently being used legitimately, either in households or in a variety of other industries--for example, in cold medication and in paint products--the regulations had to balance those needs with the desire to curb the use of the same chemicals in the illegal production of synthetic drugs. Inherently, this principle of balancing the needs of legitimate users and the need to reduce abuse and diversion is one that applies in scheduling decisions.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the PCRs, these regulations contain provisions authorizing the importation, exportation, production, packaging, distribution, and sale of precursor chemicals through a pre-export notification, licensing, and permit scheme. The regulations also impose security, record keeping, and reporting requirements on companies conducting activities with precursor chemicals. Health Canada inspectors are authorized to monitor and investigate compliance with the regulations. And where an inspection or investigation yields evidence suggestive of diversion for illicit purposes or criminal activity, this is referred to and investigated by law enforcement.
The implementation of the PCRs has been reported to have had a positive impact in helping to decrease the cross-border trafficking of the chemicals regulated by them and has contributed to greater collaboration between U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies. Both the U.S.–Canada cross-border threat assessment reports, produced jointly by the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as the International Narcotics Control Board annual reports have also spoken favourably about the PCRs.
That said, we are always looking at ways to improve the effectiveness of the regulatory framework for precursor chemicals. In this regard, I would be remiss if I did not mention that our ability to administer the PCRs has just received a boost with the allocation of new funds to Health Canada under the enforcement action plan of the national anti-drug strategy. These funds, which are part of a $22 million envelope aimed at assisting law enforcement agencies in tackling illegal drug production and distribution operations, with a focus on gangs and the clandestine production of methamphetamine, will be specifically targeted at increasing the compliance and enforcement capacity of the office of controlled substances and increasing the drug analytical service's ability to support law enforcement agencies via the analysis of seized substances.
As you may know, Health Canada is a key partner in the national anti-drug strategy, which aims to address a wide range of issues associated with illicit drug production, use, and abuse.
In conclusion, our department, with our federal partners, continues to work diligently at administering the CDSA and the PCRs in order to ensure that controls are applied where warranted but that legitimate trade is not compromised. As the proposal that you are debating today will capture a wide range of substances and materials that are found or used in the production of a large number of industrial and consumer products--for example, cold medications, fabric dyes, jugs, pails, and other examples--I trust that the information I have provided will be helpful as you continue your deliberation.
Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions.