Mr. Speaker, the regulations made initially under the new legislation will not differ substantially from those that currently apply to such activities under the existing legislation.
One of the purposes of the regulation making power is to enable the government to respond quickly to changing professional practices. The flexibility provided by regulations will ensure the availability of such drugs for appropriate medical and scientific purposes while complying with international drug control conventions.
Any changes in the regulations will only be made following full consultation with all affected parties using a regulatory consultation process that has been used for years by the Department of Health. Both the official opposition and the Reform Party member suggested there would be inconsistencies between various provisions of the bill and the charter of rights and freedoms.
One of the aspects of the bill identified as giving rise to charter challenges relates to the powers of inspectors under part IV. Reference was made to the interim order provisions of section 34 which permit the Minister of Health to act to limit professional drug distribution activities where there is substantial risk of immediate danger to the health and safety of Canadians. In addition the requirement to answer an inspector's questions was equated with self-incrimination in a criminal context.
In reply the solicitor general pointed out to members that the Minister of Justice must examine every bill for compliance with the charter before it is tabled.
Inspections that we are referring to here are inspections conducted to determine whether regulated persons are complying with the requirements under which they carry on their business or their profession. There are many acts, both federal and provincial, which confer broad powers of entry on inspectors in the interest of ensuring public health and safety.
These provisions are not criminal law in the true sense, but administrative provisions that either have an independent existence or are incidental to criminal law. The applicable charter principles are not those that apply to criminal law provisions, but those that apply to administrative inspection regimens.
These types of provisions have been in force in Canada under federal drug control legislation for over 80 years. They effectively establish a federal regulatory scheme that governs the distribution and use of scheduled drugs in Canada in a manner consistent with limiting their diversion to the illicit drug market and consistent with Canada's international obligations under the United Nations drug control conventions currently in force in Canada.
Contraventions of designated regulations give rise to a hearing before an adjudicator as indicated in part V of the bill. It may result in a ministerial order which should effectively prevent a reoccurrence. No penalty of fine or imprisonment applies to a breach of these provisions of the regulations. Charter principles that would apply if imprisonment were available as a penalty are not applicable here.
Another area of criticism relates to the impact of the bill on physician-patient and pharmacist-patient confidentiality. Both members identified access to confidential files of patients as an unacceptable interference in the private lives of honest citizens. There is very little new here.
For over 30 years, under the narcotic control regulations the Minister of Health has exercised legislative authority to require a practitioner to provide any information concerning a patient treated with narcotics to the bureau of dangerous drugs, including the diagnosis, history and prescribing information relevant to the patient. This is the very information inspectors are being authorized to copy. Similarly, pharmacists are required to report prescriptions every two months to the bureau of dangerous drugs. Approximately 4.2 million prescriptions are reported to the bureau each year.
Subject to legitimate program activities required under the current and proposed legislation to protect public health and safety, physician-patient and pharmacist-patient confidentiality is and will be fully maintained. This information currently obtained is also subject to the Privacy Act, which prohibits its use or disclosure by any official except in accordance with that act. The Privacy Act ensures that all information collected by the federal government for program purposes is treated confidentially.
Concerning the so-called doctor shopping or double doctoring offence, the official opposition member cited evidence given by the Canadian Medical Association before the legislative committee which examined Bill C-85. It was argued that Bill C-7 would be unsatisfactory to doctors as they would be included within the ambit of clause 5(2). The Reform member asserted that this provision would mean that seeking help for an addiction would be a crime.
In fact, the criticism was accepted by the committee and it was proposed that the provision be changed to essentially return to the existing section found in the Narcotic Control Act. As a result, the provision now refers only to persons who receive prescriptions from doctors.
The Reform member's comments are difficult to understand. Clause 5(2) of Bill C-7 as it now stands could not be applied to a person who goes in any one month to only one doctor for his medical requirements. This provision deals not with dependent persons seeking help, but rather with dependent persons who are seeking drugs from many doctors but help from none.
We all understand that control of controlled substances is a complex matter which requires a carefully constructed legal basis in order to be effective, judicious and fair. I believe this bill is a most appropriate instrument for the administration of the laws and regulations we need.
We are dealing with an aspect of society which demands proper protection of the innocent, the inexperienced and the vulnerable. It also demands forceful prosecution of the exploitive, the criminal and the ruthless.
I believe this bill strikes just the right balance between these two requirements.
While we continue to minimize harm through education and prevention, and while we continue to show compassion for victims through treatment and rehabilitation, we must also strike at the criminal heart of this problem. In passing this bill, we will be making contributions to successful battles against drug abuse now and well into the future.