House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.


Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Excuse me. I would ask the hon. member for Beaches—East York to forgive me. I should have recognized the hon. member for London—Fanshawe and I do so now.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for London West for giving this House the opportunity to debate such an important issue. While I absolutely agree with the motion, it needs to be more specific, because like everything else with the Conservative government, Canadians, and certainly women, cannot trust the Conservatives. They manipulate things. They turn and twist things. We need to be very careful as we respond.

As has been stated, Status of Women Canada has carefully and very recently reinserted the word “equality” on the website. However, it is only a word. The work, the raison d'être, of the mandate should encompass more than just a word. It must include the essential work: the research, lobbying and advocacy done by women's organizations across the country. That, of course, is what is really at stake.

The government is systematically dismantling the gender equality mechanisms that women in Canada fought hard to establish. The government cannot be trusted. It is failing ordinary women in Canada and it is stalling women's equality.

The government has already de-funded and disastrously altered Status of Women Canada. It has cancelled the court challenges program. It has refused to sign onto international agreements that would advance women's equality in Canada. As well, it has failed to implement recommendations from the pay equity task force and the expert panel on accountability mechanisms for gender equality.

After hearing from hundreds of witnesses, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women conducted a study on the impact of recent funding changes to the programs at Status of Women Canada. That committee made five key recommendations.

The first recommendation is that Status of Women Canada reverse its decision to close the 12 regional offices of Status of Women Canada. The second is that the department maintain its policy research fund to fund independent policy research. The third is that Status of Women reinstate the goal of equality in the mandate of the women's program. The fourth is that Status of Women must also remove limitations on funding for research and advocacy activities in the revised terms and conditions of the women's program. The fifth is that SWC provide funding through the women's program and that it be made available to non-profit organizations as well as for profit organizations.

While the word equality is bandied about by the government, real equality has been removed from the core of the women's program. By changing the requirements for funding under Status of Women, groups that do research and advocate changes to public policy to promote women's equality will no longer be eligible for federal funding. The objective of women's organizations is to advocate on behalf of women, and this restriction will silence the heart of the women's movement. One has to wonder if that has not been the goal: to silence the women of this country.

I am also very concerned that for profit organizations are now eligible for funding from the women's program. Generating funding proposals is very difficult. It is very time consuming, especially for not for profit organizations, which have very tight budgets and very few people to do the important work. It is even more difficult with the now defunct regional offices, with 12 of 16 gone. For profit groups have the means to hire experts in preparing funding applications, while the non-profit groups struggle just to stay open, just to stay alive.

The Conservative cuts to the operating budget of Status of Women Canada and the closure of those 12 of 16 offices across the country is a major setback for women's equality. The government eliminated nearly half of the Status of Women's staff responsible for the advancement of women's rights and 40% of the operating budget for SWC.

Along with the closure of the offices at Status of Women Canada, the government also cancelled the research policy fund, which supported independent, nationally relevant, forward thinking policy research on gender equality issues. This fund supported research that identified policy gaps, trends and emerging issues.

I am afraid the department will not be able to produce the same calibre and diversity of research. What on earth will we do without all that input? How will we make good policy in this country?

In addition to these recommendations made by the committee on the Status of Women, New Democrats believe Canada needs an independent Status of Women department, with full funding and its own minister. An effective Status of Women department must be able to research, monitor and advocate for women's rights and support women's groups because they are promoting gender equality. We need them there.

While the government has cut women's equality at the program, policy and research level, it has also cut women's access to equality at the judicial level by cancelling the court challenges program. This small program provided the most vulnerable Canadians with the ability to access equality under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is clear that the cancellation of the program was an ideological decision, not a fiscal decision. It is part of the plan to systematically dismantle gender equality mechanisms in Canada.

Internationally, the government has failed to provide leadership on gender equality. Domestically, it has failed to provide leadership. When compared to other countries, Canada is underperforming. The 2007 global gender gap report by the World Economic Forum places Canada 18th, behind Sri Lanka, the Philippines and most European countries.

The government has failed aboriginal women in Canada by refusing to sign on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The president of the Native Women's Association, Beverley Jacobs, states:

While the adoption of the Declaration brings me great joy, Canada’s unprincipled decision to vote against the Declaration demonstrates a lack of commitment not only to Indigenous Peoples but to human rights more generally.

The government has also failed to live up to its commitments under the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women by not implementing any of the 23 recommendations from the CEDAW committee.

At a national level, the government has also failed to provide leadership on gender equality by refusing to implement the recommendations from the 2004 pay equity task force and the 2005 expert panel on accountability mechanisms.

Clearly, the government has and will continue to systematically dismantle gender equality mechanisms unless we are prepared to fight back, and I can assure the House that the women of this country are prepared to fight back.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it appalling that the member who spoke for the government said that this time could be used for other important issues, as if this is not important. The other comment she made was that the Conservatives would not fund one opinion over another. The last time I looked, I thought that women's rights were human rights and not subject to opinion. They are not a matter of opinion; they are a matter of fact.

I will present a scenario. Two years ago, the Conservative government removed equality from the Status of Women program and shut down 12 of 16 offices.

After two years of aggressive lobbying from all opposition parties in the House of Commons, all provincial Status of Women ministers across this country, all women's organizations in the country and after advocacy organizations, like Women and the Law, were forced to shut their doors, and after they shut down the women's rights and then the voices of women in this country, the Conservatives came out with the word again and put it somewhere. Why? Because we are coming to an election soon, after all, and the Conservatives want to be perceived as moderate. They are trying to fool women.

Yesterday they put the word “equality” in the cover page and not actually in the program mandate. Because my colleague and I issued a press release and were pretty aggressive on that, today we have a different version. The Conservatives have now put “equality” in the program mandate but the criteria for the funding with respect to research and advocacy on behalf of women is still not there. They are still not eligible for funding and regional offices are still shut down.

This shows real contempt for Canadian women on the part of the Conservative government in my view. The Conservatives are playing a shell game with the women of this country, because at the core of the Conservatives they really do not believe in women's equality. I do not believe so after what I have seen.

All the projects funded may help the individual woman who is lucky enough to access some of those programs the Conservatives are funding that deal with their specific problem individually, whether it be access to training or something else, but it will not change the conditions, the policies and the environmental culture that caused that problem in the first place. It will most certainly not help the thousands of Canadian women who are affected by the systemic barriers to services or the law.

For example, women in this country cannot access civil law because legal aid funds do not cover that and yet their spouse, who may have assaulted them, can access legal aid assistance under the Criminal Code, while the woman cannot access it because it is civil. That is pretty sad.

Those are the kinds of injustices for which those organizations work and fight. It is the research on policies and laws that discriminate against women that was done by women's organizations and then their lobby that really gave women their voice, which then resulted in changes by government, things like changing the assault of women. Police never charged the person who assaulted when they went to a home. The woman had to charge the person. Now it is the police who must charge the person who assaults.

Parental leave, rape shield law, property rights at time of divorce, all of these things were done because women had voices through organizations that did research and then helped them to lobby for those things.

The Conservatives are playing, as I said, a disgusting shell game because of a possible election coming up. They do not truly believe in any of this. Otherwise this would not be happening at the eleventh hour and they would have done it properly and made the proper changes.

Another example is that the Conservatives initially took out the word “political”. Now they have inserted another word that says “democratic”. However, it means very little. It is attached to nothing. Women's organizations will still remain shut down. Advocacy on their behalf will remain shut down as well. Pay equity will still remain a dream for women. The United Nations recommendations to give women more equal rights will still not be a reality and will not mean anything.

I have been told that the government cannot fund women's organizations that lobby and yet it can give $500,000 to the Canadian Conference of Defence Associations, which is a lobby organization for defence contracts. We cannot give money to women's organizations to lobby for women's rights in this country. How sad is that?

The government has made women voiceless, just like it has done with its backbench members who cannot say anything. Women in Canada are not allowed to be advocates.

Does the government really think Canadian women are stupid? The minister should be ashamed of herself and either show respect for Canadian women or resign. It is quite obvious she has absolutely no influence over the Prime Minister in this area of policy.

On top of all this, the Conservatives have shut down the court challenges program, which allowed women to challenge government laws on policies that assisted women to attain their rights. This was a very valuable tool for women and it remains shut down. This again shows to me that this work means nothing, otherwise the government would have reinstated the court challenges program which gave women the strength and power to access their rights.

Unless people have money in this country, they cannot access their charter rights. The government has left it up to only those men or women who have money. No one else can access their charter rights.

Equality is not a word that should be thrown around lightly without substance behind it. Many people are struggling all over the world to fight for their equality and many are dying for it. We in this House have been talking about Afghanistan. Our soldiers have given their lives in Afghanistan to assist women, in part, to regain their rights in Afghanistan and yet the government turns around and plays charades in its shameful games with Canadian women's rights, human rights. I find that appalling and embarrassing as a Canadian. I cannot believe that the Conservatives would do that.

We are lucky to live in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism, compassion and goodwill toward one another but we are not perfect. We have a history of issues and problems in areas marked with violence. We are learning from that but we have a great deal more to learn. We should be condemned for the way we treat women and for the way we treat our aboriginal women in particular.

In a time when we should be moving forward and correcting these past wrongs, what does the government do? First, it cancels good programs and then, because it thinks it will go to the electorate and the polls indicate that women may not vote for the Conservatives, they put a word back in that means absolutely nothing.

By eliminating the early learning and child care agreements that we had established across this country, by eliminating the Kelowna accord, a real plan to help eradicate poverty among first nations communities and by closing 12 out of 16 Status of Women offices across this country, the government is telling women too bad, so sad. The Conservatives claim it is not their problem if women do not have child care and cannot go to work. They are saying that they should stay on welfare.

I met with rural women this summer and their major problem is that they do not have access to government services in their region. Many of them do not have access to computers, transportation and many other services. The government is telling these women to figure out a way to look after the problem themselves because it is not its problem.

This is a sad day in our country. Canada has shown the way around the world in many different ways through our international development agency, as I know from my time there. We have advocated for women's equality. We are ensuring that other governments in the world, like South Africa, have women's equality in its constitution. Africa actually has a champion for all women's policies. We have been aggressive and strong around the world, and then we do not even do it in our own home. It is a disgrace.

Status of WomenPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

[For continuation of proceedings see part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from part A]

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

February 7th, 2008 / 6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely the HIV infection rates in aboriginal people in the downtown east side of Vancouver.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:30 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC


That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the Speaker for agreeing to my request earlier today to have this emergency debate tonight. I think it is very important that we have members here tonight and that we focus on this most urgent issue, not only in my community in east Vancouver and specifically in the downtown eastside but I hope that it will illuminate and draw attention and visibility to the plight of aboriginal people across the country, those who are infected by HIV-AIDS, those who are living in poverty, those who are living in the cities but also those aboriginal people who are still on reserve.

This is a deeply concerning issue. It is something that I face and deal with in my community every single day. When I see the devastation of people and the housing that they live in or people who are homeless on the street, when I see the soaring rates of infection for HIV-AIDS, I have to ask myself, why in a country as wealthy as Canada, why in a country that has all of the human capacity, all of the resources at its disposal, do we have an infection rate that is parallel and in some places exceeds what we see in the developing world?

Why do we have such terrible poverty among aboriginal people? Why do we see people who face the grind of daily poverty, who face a lack of access to health care?

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

I hope this emergency debate tonight will cause us to reflect and think, but most important, to propel the government to take action to resolve this crisis not only in my community but across the country.

There was new research done by Evan Wood, who is a research scientist at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. He produced some alarming results based on a four year study. It shows that the HIV infection rate for aboriginal people in the downtown eastside is twice as high as that for non-aboriginal people. I would point out that already in this community that is so under stress, the HIV infection rate is much higher than in the general population.

The research is very disturbing, but it is not new. This particular report is new but there has been lots of research that has taken place. For example, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network tells us in a release put out today that HIV-AIDS continues to be a serious health concern for all aboriginal communities, but the rise of HIV rates among aboriginal people is most apparent in Canada's inner cities where an increasing proportion of aboriginal people now live. We know from the recent statistics from Statistics Canada that there is a much greater emphasis now of aboriginal people in the urban environment.

Ken Clement, who is the president of CAAN, points out, “Many of our people do not have access to trauma care and treatment. We consider colonization, loss of land and territory, loss of language and the residential school system all social determinants of health impacting the epidemic amongst our people”. That is something that I see every day.

The City of Vancouver website points out that the life expectancy for aboriginal people in our city is 9 to 13 years less than the average population. Daily, the Vancouver Native Health Clinic on East Hastings Street, a wonderful place, deals with a tidal wave of people who need support and help and it barely has the resources to keep going.

Dr. David Tu, the clinic coordinator, says, “once infected, aboriginal people are only half as likely as non-aboriginal people to start HIV treatment and are twice as likely to die of HIV compared to non-aboriginal HIV positive people in this same neighbourhood”. Remember that this is a community where already the HIV rate is practically off the books. He says, “This speaks to the failure of the medical system to effectively engage urban aboriginal peoples in the system of care and prevention”.

He goes on to say that the history of racism, the history of discrimination toward aboriginal people in the health care system is something that we have to overcome and we have to do that in mainstream society. Again, the West Coast Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society, WAHRS, which is a great grassroots organization of people who are injection drug users and who are living with HIV-AIDS and hepatitis C, tells us that its street outreach HIV prevention program had its federal funding cut a year ago.

The same group also had the funding cut for hospital visits that helped people when they were finally in treatment and they were actually getting some help. This program was making sure that people were completing that treatment and yet that funding, peanuts, was cut for that program. The funding is so low that the group may not be able to continue after this year. That is another group that has been struggling to survive and it is coping with a very large demand.

I cannot talk about this issue without also relating it to the underlying issues. Those are issues of racism and colonization, but it is also about the growing gap between wealth and poverty in our society. It is about the issue of aboriginal people who are being left to die, aboriginal people who are being left without the support and care that they need.

For example, we know that according to a recent Pivot report, of all the people who self-identified as being homeless in their affidavits, 28% were aboriginal, even though aboriginal people only represent 1.8% of the general population in greater Vancouver.

The same report found that aboriginal people make up 30% of the total homeless population in Vancouver. It also found that of the 70% in the report who identified as aboriginal in the GVRD, they identified as street homeless. That means they had no physical shelter, that they sleep on the street or in doorways, parkades, underpasses and parks, compared to 57% of the non-aboriginal homeless population.

In Vancouver just in the last year, we have seen the loss of 560 low income housing units. Not all of them were in the downtown east side, but the vast majority of them were.

In the years between 2003 and 2005 we saw the loss of another 400 units. We know that a single employable person gets to live on $600 a month, yet by the federal government's own market basket measure, it costs about $1,300 a month to live in our expensive city. We can see the incredible disparity between people who are being left behind and people who have no resources and are very vulnerable and at great risk. We now have about 2,000 people in Vancouver who are homeless.

Even the United Nations has drawn attention to this great issue. In his report, the UN rapporteur calls on the federal government to bring in a comprehensive national housing strategy that focuses its attention on aboriginal people in particular.

The same rapporteur in his October 2007 report called on the federal government to commit funding and resources for a targeted national aboriginal housing strategy. Where is it? Where is the housing for the people who need it in my community and in other communities? The government cannot even get the statistics right. The same UN rapporteur said that the government should work with other organizations to develop proper statistics and indicators for homelessness and housing insecurity. What an outrage that we do not even know what the full picture is.

I have to say that despite this alarming health crisis and despite the seriousness of the situation and the lives that have been lost and injection drug users who are now infected and living in poverty, still there is a great sense of community spirit.

For three years I have been trying to get support for the native youth centre in my riding. The federal government has not yet committed to the project.

Today I demand of the government that it get its priorities right and that it pay attention to the people who are most at risk in my community and other communities. We have billions of dollars in the federal surplus. Why is it not going to help these people?

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for my colleague. I have a great deal of sympathy for the cause she is defending and for the people who are afflicted by this situation.

However, I would like my colleague to tell us, since she seems so sincere, why she and her party helped scuttle the Kelowna accord when they agreed to defeat the previous government, and now she is crying foul. If she had not scuttled the accord, things would be different.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, is that not really just too bad. I had hoped that the debate tonight would be one where the members of the House would put their best foot forward and do the right thing, but here we have a Liberal member who is just coming out with the Liberals' little message book. They want to attack the NDP.

Let the record be clear. The NDP supported the Kelowna accord. We have always supported resources, programs, funding and assistance to aboriginal people in this country. In fact, we have been the outspoken critics both of the current government and the former government that had an appalling track record.

Why did we have to wait for 13 years to get to the Kelowna accord? Maybe the member would like to tell us that. It was the people of Canada who defeated his government, not the NDP.

Let it be clear that the NDP supported the Kelowna accord as we have supported all programs for aboriginal people. Shame on those members who are already turning this into another partisan debate instead of standing here and focusing on what are we going to do today, now, to help people who are dying in my community and in other communities because Parliament has not had the will to act.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for raising this issue. It is obviously an issue that is very important for Canadians not only in Vancouver but throughout Canada.

I wonder if the member could reflect on how we have found ourselves in this situation after 13 years of Liberal mismanagement of the file.

The minister is going to speak later on. I will have an opportunity, as will the member for Yellowhead and others to give the government's perspective on this very important issue.

I wonder if the member could frame the things that the Liberal government failed to do when it had the opportunity to do so.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to just dwell on 13 years. If we want to back and look at the reasons, we are looking at a terrible history of colonization of aboriginal people. We are looking at a residential school system and even today redress and healing from that terrible chapter in Canadian history has not yet happened. We can look at the last two years of the Conservative government, we can look at the 13 years prior to that of the Liberal government, we can look at years before that. It is a failure. Let us acknowledge that and now say what action will be taken.

It is not rocket science. We are talking about the basic essentials of human dignity. We are talking about the need for safe, appropriate, adequate housing. We are talking about the need for access to minimal and basic health care right in local communities so that people do not get shut out of the system. We are talking about adequate income assistance. How can anyone live on $500 or $600 a month when 60% or 70% of their income is going to a cruddy 10x10 room and they are even lucky if they have that and they are not on the street.

Those are the issues that we should be addressing and I hope we will in this debate tonight.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:45 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver East for bringing forward this urgent and pressing issue. She has been a tireless advocate for her community. She has been vocal and outspoken on the very pressing issues that she sees. I have had the good fortune to visit Vancouver East and see some of the good work, but also see some of the despair.

What prompted this emergency debate was a report in the American Journal of Public Health. The member for Vancouver East talked about the incidence of HIV-AIDS infection in Vancouver East. There are a couple of points I want to read into the record from that report.

The report states:

However, Aboriginal persons have been shown to commonly have lower life expectancy as a result of higher rates of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and lower access to health care and prevention services. Access not only means physical access but also culturally appropriate and meaningful access to health services.

I urge people to read this report because it is a stark criticism of Canada's failure to address this very urgent and pressing issue.

It goes on to say:

Our findings demand a culturally appropriate and evidence-based response to the HIV epidemic among Aboriginal injection drug users. Canada's drug strategy has recently been the subject of significant criticism. This criticism stems from the fact that resources are overwhelmingly devoted to law enforcement-based interventions, which have been shown to have negative health consequences related to health service interruption and limited evidence of effectiveness...

The report goes on to talk about the shocking incidence of incarceration of aboriginal people in Canada. It says that more than 20% of the incarcerated population is aboriginal. Yet the aboriginal population is only 3% of the overall Canadian population as a whole.

Before I talk a bit more about the problems, I want to point out there are some very successful culturally appropriate interventions in Canada, and I will mention one. It is the Nine Circles in Winnipeg. This client centred approach to HIV-AIDS patients talks about the fact that it wants to improve quality of life for those living with and affected by HIV-AIDS. It goes on to talk about the culturally appropriate services, which include elder support, cultural ceremonies and continued connection spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Those culturally appropriate services are extremely important. As the member for Vancouver East rightly pointed out, part of the legacy that many first nations are facing is the legacy of residential schools, which has meant that the cultural underpinnings in many communities have been disrupted and fractured and many people end up in situations where they just simply do not have the resources in their cultural and community supports.

One of the things we know is true is that accessibility, particularly in rural and remote communities and certainly in inner cities, is difficult. A project called the Cedar Project looked at HIV-AIDS infections in aboriginal populations in both Prince George and Vancouver.

One of the elders, who was interviewed in that project, talked about the fact that what happened in many of the rural and remote communities, because of lack of economic opportunities, was the youth gravitated to major centres like Vancouver and ended up in the Vancouver East side or in Prince George. Because there are no cultural supports or services there for them, the youth end up in a lifestyle that sometimes has them contracting HIV-AIDS.

The sad comment is these young people go home in many cases to die. In the report from the Cedar Project, the elder said that it reminded her of how the salmon returned to their spawning beds to die. That is the harsh reality of what is happening in British Columbia and throughout Canada. Many of these young people return to their rural and remote communities. They are sick, sometimes they infect other people in their communities and sometimes they die. What a tragedy that is for the communities and family members.

I hope the House will move beyond partisan rhetoric to talk about what a loss it is for those communities, what a tragedy it is for the young men and women who simply do not get to live the life that most of us would expect.

Unfortunately, when we talk about HIV-AIDS it does not just stop there. The Lung Association of Canada has some statistics on this. It talks about the fact that worldwide the majority of AIDS patients die of tuberculosis.

Unfortunately, when we talk about HIV-AIDS it does not just stop there. The Lung Association of Canada has some statistics on this. It talks about the fact that worldwide the majority of AIDS patients die of tuberculosis. What happens is the immune system is depressed and then people contract these other opportunistic infections. One of its statistics says that first nations, Inuit and Métis people have a tuberculosis rate 30 times higher than the rate of other people born in Canada.

In a story in the Calgary Herald, in November 2007, the headline is:

TB on reserves a national scandal, same old studies produce the same old answers

Another study, another invitation to inertia. The plague of tuberculosis in Canada's First Nations communities has been studied to death. Every study repeats the truth of the preceding one—that crowded, unsanitary housing conditions on reserves are a breeding ground for tuberculosis, which afflicts the aboriginal population at much greater rates than non-aboriginal Canadians.

There is much more in this report, but I want to give a couple of numbers. In its latest report the CTC noted that the TB rate in aboriginal communities was rising. In 2003 it was 22 per 100,000 and in 2005 it was 27 per 100,000. In 1999 these rates were four times the national average and about as much as 20 times the rates of non-aboriginals.

Further on in the report, it talked about the fact that a lot of the contributing factors to tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS infection was poverty. It is a stark reality that many first nations, Inuit and Métis people do not have access to adequate housing, to adequate drinking water, to education and they certainly do not have access, with that kind of background, to sufficient economic opportunities.

In the study that came out about Vancouver East, I will quote from a news release from the Friday, February 1 Globe and Mail by André Picard. He says:

However, Ms. Barney, a member of the Lillooet Titqet Nation, said the real explanation for the higher rates of HIV-AIDS infection goes beyond these daily interactions. It has its roots in poverty, unemployment, lack of housing and dislocation that plague many aboriginal communities and send young people to the streets of Vancouver seeking solace.

The article goes on to talk about the culturally appropriate services are required to aboriginal IV drug users including housing, rehabilitation facilities and health services.

This is not simply a Vancouver East problem. What we have seen again in report after report is that the rate of poverty in first nations, Métis and Inuit communities puts many of these communities in third world conditions. We also know there is something called the social determinants of health. The Lung Association of Canada, and I want to thank it for the good work on this, lists a number of social determinants of health which include the kinds of things we are talking about, housing, income, access to good jobs. All these factors affect the health of people.

The Assembly of First Nations has a campaign on eradicating first nations poverty. It talks about the utter poverty in many first nations communities. It talks about the fact that in applying the United Nations human development index, it would rank first nations communities 68th among 174 nations. Canada has dropped from first to eighth place due in part to the housing and health conditions in first nations communities.

There are solutions and certainly part of it is money. The Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network has put together recommendations toward a good practices approach. It talks about community based approach. It talks about holistic care treatment and support. It talks about community awareness. It talks about high risk group counselling. It talks about adequate screening for people who have HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. It talks about a very important harm reduction strategy. It talks about healthy sexuality. It talks about sustainable funding resources and advocacy.

In this day and age it is a very sad comment that the member for Vancouver East had to request an emergency debate on this matter. It is a very sad comment that we have literally turned our backs, over generations, to the poverty in first nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

I am on the aboriginal affairs committee. We have had reports on education and housing. Currently we have a crisis in education for first nations, Métis and Inuit. We know education is one of the tools that can lift people out of poverty.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Health

Mr. Speaker, it seems the debate is moving from the specific motion, which deals with Vancouver, to the larger issue of aboriginal peoples across Canada. Would the member at least agree that the 13 years of inaction by the previous government has laid the foundation to a lot of the challenges that aboriginals face?

We should also be intellectually honest. The Conservative government has done some undisputed positive things, such as the $1 billion settlement of the residential schools. Aboriginal peoples have applauded that from sea to sea to sea.

Would the member comment on the 13 years of Liberal neglect on this very important issue throughout the country?

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will echo the comments of the member for Vancouver East on the need to move this beyond a partisan debate. It would be unfair to only target the previous Liberal government for the conditions of despair in many communities. Unfortunately, both Conservatives and Liberals over decades have neglected to do what anybody else would call doing the right thing in dealing with poverty and residential schools.

The member talked about residential schools. I point out the fact that the Conservatives were vicarious signatories to the agreement simply because that work started long before they were elected. Therefore, they can hardly take credit for that agreement coming into effect.

The other matter is that under the current Conservative government, we see educational institutions, for example, the First Nations Technical Institute, the school at Attawapiskat, which has been struggling for a number of years, either have their funding cut or to be completely disregarded. We can find instances of both Conservative and Liberal neglect. I would hope today we could actually talk about the fact that people are dying as we speak in the House.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. She has done a lot of work as our aboriginal affairs critic, as well as bring these issues to the forefront in her community. I am glad that she is participating in the debate.

I just found a report called “Renewing our Response” to HIV-AIDS in aboriginal Communities in B.C. It discusses the issue of under-reporting. In fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that approximately one-third of aboriginal people infected are unaware of their HIV status. This means that many more aboriginal people may be infected with HIV, but either have never been tested or have not been tested recently and do not even know they have the infection.

One of the really serious aspects we are facing is we are not even reaching the people who are most at risk because of the way our health care system is set up. There are places in my community, like Vancouver Native Health, that are on the street and very grassroots, but overall our health care system has not been able to reach out.

Has the member had similar experiences in her community that create these kinds of issues?

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is a huge challenge with appropriate data. Part of it is a lack of culturally appropriate services. Part of it is the fact that there are jurisdictional disputes between the federal and provincial governments about who gathers data, who has access to it and who should pay for it.

There are some enormous challenges of knowing how big the problem is and significant concerns that this is under-reported.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Tony Clement ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver East for this unscheduled opportunity to rise tonight in this House to discuss this very important issue.

First, I wish to express my prayers and sympathies to all those who suffer from HIV-AIDS throughout Canada and indeed around the world. As we know, this is a terrible disease that takes a heavy toll on those who live with it as well as those families who must watch a relative suffer its debilitating effects.

I share the concern of the hon. member for Vancouver East over this sad situation of the people at risk in the Downtown Eastside. One of the risk factors for HIV-AIDS, hepatitis and countless other communicable diseases, is injection drug use. That is why the government has adopted the new national drug strategy.

When young people are offered drugs before they are mature enough to grasp the magnitude of the consequences of their actions, it can lead to utter disaster. It saddens me deeply to see people living, and indeed dying, with the results of these actions.

This is the reason why I believe it is so important that we speak honestly and urgently to our young people about the true costs of drug use and how drug use can put at risk their opportunity for a happy, healthy life with rewarding personal relationships.

Canada has not run a serious or significant anti-drug campaign for almost 20 years. The debate over whether to decriminalize marijuana has left an entire generation confused over whether or not pot is legal in Canada. It is not.

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime reports that Canada now has the highest proportion of marijuana users in the industrialized world, reaching 16.8% for those between 15 and 64 years of age.

Drugs are often presented in this society as recreational and they are not. They are illegal and they are illegal for a reason. Indeed, they can take a terrible toll on human health.

This is why in budget 2007 we invested $63.8 million above the existing funding for the next two years toward a national anti-drug strategy in order to: prevent illicit drug use, with $10 million for that; treat illicit drug dependency, with $32 million for that; and combat illicit drug production and distribution, with $22 million for that.

Two-thirds of the budget 2007 money will be directed toward prevention and treatment. Together, these three action plans will form a focused and balanced approach to reducing the supply of and demand for illicit drugs, as well as addressing the crime associated with them.

I can tell members that our government is very concerned about the damage and pain drugs cause families. We take this issue very seriously. That is why our national anti-drug strategy will place particular emphasis on educating, especially youth and their parents, about the negative effects of illicit drugs.

We will provide them with the plain truth on the harms of illicit drug use. There are no safe amounts. There are no safe drugs.

We will highlight the fact that for young people having impaired judgment is indeed a safety issue. We will encourage them to stay alert, stay engaged and take full advantage of every opportunity Canada has to offer them.

I can assure the House that in our fight against problems associated with illicit drug use, where the greatest risk is contracting HIV-AIDS, we are paying particular attention to vulnerable populations, and especially to treatment for injection drug users in the Downtown Eastside.

I have spoken to the mayor of Vancouver on many occasions and my officials are actively engaged with both the province of British Columbia and the city of Vancouver to ensure that the national anti-drug strategy will improve the treatment services available and coordinate efforts for other services, such as counselling, housing and other public health initiatives.

I have asked my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, to address the specific issues relating to HIV-AIDS and Canada's aboriginal population. However, before I yield the floor to my esteemed colleague, it is necessary to emphasize that this government has also been front and centre in the fight against HIV-AIDS, both here at home and internationally.

Indeed, from the time we took office, our government has been committed to a comprehensive long term approach to HIV-AIDS in Canada and indeed throughout the world.

The government believes that it is important to strike the right balance among the initiatives and approaches we support in the fight against HIV and AIDS. To this end, significant financial support is being provided to community programs, laboratory research to improve diagnosis and treatment, and public awareness campaigns.

We also strongly believe in the fundamental importance of vaccine research that will one day lead to preventing HIV infection for future generations.

Specifically, the Government of Canada will invest more than $84 million toward HIV-AIDS in 2008-09, more than has ever been spent in our nation's history. These investments will support both the federal initiative to address HIV-AIDS in Canada and the Canadian HIV vaccine initiative, investments that will continue to grow over time.

Let me speak about the federal initiative to address HIV-AIDS in Canada. This initiative represents a comprehensive and integrated Government of Canada response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic here in Canada.

The goals of this federal initiative are to prevent the acquisition and transmission of new infections, to slow the progression of this disease and improve quality of life, to reduce the social and economic impact of HIV-AIDS, and to contribute to the global effort to reduce the spread of HIV and mitigate the impact of this disease.

Worldwide, an estimated 4.3 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2006. This provides further evidence, if further evidence is necessary, that HIV-AIDS is a disease that knows no boundaries: geographic, socio-economic, gender, age or otherwise. Although the epidemic is most entrenched among vulnerable populations, it also reaches into the most privileged groups in society.

Worldwide in 2006, those between 15 and 24 accounted for 40% of new infections. An unprecedented number of adult women are currently living with HIV. According to the World Health Organization, AIDS is one of the main causes of death in children under five.

HIV-AIDS related stigma and discrimination still persist in Canada and continue to fuel the domestic epidemic. As is the case in other parts of the world, populations at risk of HIV infection in Canada include the most vulnerable groups in society.

Men who have sex with men are the group most affected by the epidemic, accounting for 51% of the estimated 58,000 individuals living with HIV infections in Canada at the end of 2005. People who use injecting drugs comprised a further 17% of the total, and women represented 20% of individuals living with HIV. Aboriginal persons account for a disproportionately high percentage of the individuals living with HIV infections in Canada. Similarly, people from countries where HIV is endemic also represent a disproportionate number of these infections.

This is why the Government of Canada has committed, through our federal initiative to address HIV-AIDS in Canada, to develop discrete approaches to addressing the HIV-AIDS epidemic for these target populations.

I dare say these population specific approaches result in evidence based, culturally appropriate responses that are better able to address the realities that contribute to infection and poor health outcomes for the target groups. Population specific approaches also allow people at risk of infection and those living with HIV and AIDS to directly shape policies and programs that affect them.

The government is confident that focusing on the most at-risk populations will be the best way to fight HIV-AIDS.

Another important initiative I mentioned at the outset is the Canadian HIV vaccine initiative. This is an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It represents an historic step forward--and I stress that word historic--in offering hope that one day we will have a safe, effective, affordable and accessible HIV vaccine for everyone who needs it.

The Canadian HIV vaccine initiative builds on the Government of Canada's long term commitment to a comprehensive approach to fight HIV-AIDS globally and domestically, including the development of new HIV prevention technologies.

This vaccine initiative represents a whole-of-government approach involving the Canadian International Development Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Industry Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and of course Health Canada. As this initiative unfolds, partnerships with researchers, non-profits, the private sector and other stakeholders will be sought both here in Canada and internationally.

I dare say this initiative is an inclusive, global collaboration involving developed and developing countries and public and private sectors, such as researchers, NGOs, private companies and governments, to accelerate the development of a safe, effective, affordable and globally accessible HIV vaccine.

The vaccine initiative is also strategically aligned to complement the existing international efforts to develop an HIV vaccine, such as the global HIV vaccine enterprise's strategic plan and the international AIDS vaccine initiative, to name just a couple.

Developing countries are of course most impacted by the burden of the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Therefore, ensuring that these countries' needs are met is at the core of this initiative.

The Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative will receive $111 million over five years from the Government of Canada and $28 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The funding is made up of new resources totalling $85 million and a redirection of existing HIV-AIDS resources that amounts to $26 million. The Gates foundation is contributing one dollar for every three new dollars the government puts toward the initiative. Specifically, this initiative will focus on six key areas.

The first area is discovery and social research. Through this component, support will be provided to HIV vaccine discovery and social research, while strengthening the capacity and promoting greater involvement and collaboration among researchers in Canada and low- and middle-income countries.

The second area is clinical trial capacity building and networks. Support will be given to researchers and research institutions, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, which will strengthen their capacity to conduct high quality clinical trials of HIV vaccines and other related prevention technologies.

The third area is pilot scale manufacturing capacity for clinical trial lots. The proposed manufacturing facility will increase the global capacity to produce HIV vaccine candidates for use in clinical trials. These trials will be conducted mostly in and for the benefit of low- and middle-income countries.

The fourth area is policy and regulatory issues. This component will improve the regulatory capacity in low- and middle-income countries, particularly those where clinical trials are planned or ongoing, and will address policy issues that will ultimately promote global access to HIV vaccines.

The fifth area is community and social dimensions. The vaccine initiative will support the development and strengthening of community, legal, ethical and human rights frameworks for HIV vaccines in Canada and in low- and middle-income countries.

Finally, the sixth area is planning, coordination and evaluation. The vaccine initiative will coordinate its activities with Canadian and international HIV vaccine research and development partners to ensure that the Canadian contribution to the global HIV vaccine enterprise is the most effective.

The Government of Canada is proud of its partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, and is proud to further international work on developing an HIV vaccine and reducing the devastating effects of HIV-AIDS worldwide.

This initiative represents a collaborative Canadian contribution to the fight against HIV-AIDS. Our government believes that an HIV vaccine will ultimately be the vital prevention technology to reduce the impact of the HIV-AIDS pandemic. This is why we have invested so heavily in the Canadian HIV vaccine initiative.

I want to emphasize that the government values the relationships it has with all of its stakeholders. We must continue to work together in the fight against HIV-AIDS. The Government of Canada recognizes and acknowledges the critical role that front line organizations play in addressing HIV-AIDS. Without their tireless efforts the Canadian epidemic would be inflicting far greater damage than it currently is.

That is why I am proud the government is putting over $20 million toward community-based projects that make a difference in the lives of people living with and affected by HIV-AIDS.

In conclusion, the government continues to play an important role in the international fight against HIV-AIDS. The government is proud of its achievements and of the leadership it has shown in Canada and throughout the world.

The Government of Canada cares deeply about those who suffer from HIV-AIDS and I believe has taken a balanced, forward-looking approach to this issue. We believe strongly that vaccine research is imperative if we are able to reduce the damage caused by this terrible disease.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:15 p.m.


Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, that was a wonderful speech the minister made, if I may say so myself. It was beautiful in its rhetoric, intent, warmth and caring. But I want to focus on one thing the minister said because he brought this into the discussion in his speech and that is with regard to the Gates foundation and to the work being done on the vaccine.

I recollect that the Gates foundation had suggested that countries that participated should not remove funds from their national and local communities in order to participate. There have been many communities in Canada which have been shortchanged until now to the tune of $60 million taken out and not spent from the national AIDS strategy that has been put into the Gates foundation.

While we talk about extensive funding, I would like to ask the minister, looking at the debate tonight with a huge cohort of people in this country who in increasing numbers of HIV infection and who are dying in large numbers, how does the minister feel in his conscience that he could take away from the Canadian effort to give to the Bill Gates effort and not just put new money, which is what he should have done in the first place?

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:20 p.m.


Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's question allows me to elaborate a little bit on our balanced approach when it comes to HIV-AIDS. Indeed, I can assure the House and the hon. member that this government has increased funding for services for HIV programs over the two years plus of our mandate thus far.

It would be safe to say that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation initiative is one where we have various pots of funding, some of it from our current funding, but also some that is new dollars that were not allocated by previous governments on this file. So it is a combination effort.

I believe in my heart of hearts perhaps that we need a balanced approach. We need to ensure that services are increased for those who are suffering from HIV-AIDS in our country, but we also need to invest in the best way to deal with this tragedy long term, which is to develop, test and implement a vaccine. So this puts Canada at the forefront.

We have been touted around the world as a leader in the vaccine initiative. We are used as an example. When Bill and Melinda Gates go to Australia, when they go to Denmark, when they go to France and Japan, they say please follow Canada's lead because it is investing in the right way to deal with this terrible pandemic ultimately, which is to protect Canadians and citizens worldwide from the disease.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:20 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the Minister of Health for being in the House tonight for this emergency debate. It is very important that we hear from the Government of Canada as to what it is doing and what his perspective is.

I certainly agree that we need to have new discoveries and an AIDS vaccine. It is very important. There are certainly issues about where the funds are coming from and whether or not we are actually taking money away from existing programs and services, as the member for Vancouver Centre just outlined.

I want to take this opportunity to talk to the minister about the so-called anti-drug strategy which he began his debate with. I can tell him that in my community most people think that the Conservative government's anti-drug strategy is a joke.

They do not see it as something that is going to work. In fact, the government dropped one of the pillars, which was harm reduction, and people are very skeptical about the supposed focus on education and treatment. It is only $64 million over two years.

I want to ask the Minister of Health about Insite. This is a program that has saved lives. It has support from the mayor of Vancouver, who I know the minister has met. It has support from the business community. It has support from 73% of residents in Vancouver. It has very broad support and yet the minister keeps saying that he will only give a temporary renewal.

I know he is going to say it needs more study, but the fact is there have been 25 independent studies on Insite. When is he going to accept the scientific evidence that Insite is a successful program and is part of a comprehensive strategy, and when is he going to tell the community that it will continue?

I would like him to honestly respond to this question and not just give the usual sort of Conservative line on it. It has had enough study. Will he allow Insite to continue after June 30, past its temporary extension?

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:25 p.m.


Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are three issues that the hon. member raised.

First, it is very important that I state this for the record and I do not want this opportunity to slide by. In terms of the so-called cuts to AIDS services, there were no cuts to AIDS services that were initiated by this government's policy.

There were some cuts that we have been trying to manage with the AIDS communities that were a result of the final Liberal budget of 2005 that were mandated by Parliament and, therefore, my ability to deal with them is somewhat constrained. However, in terms of our government, we have not done so.

Let me deal with the harm reduction issue because it is important, too. I want to say to the hon. member that harm reduction is part and parcel of our policy. Treatment is harm reduction. Prevention is harm reduction.

Enforcing and toughening our laws to get the pushers and the gangs off our streets is part of harm reduction. I would dispute the hon. member's characterization of our national anti-drug strategy. In fact, I can say that the commentary on our anti-drug strategy from police chiefs, community leaders and, most importantly, parents I have spoken to who have children taken away from them by the scourge of illicit drugs support our anti-drug strategy has been positive.

The issue of Insite is perhaps for another time.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:25 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Health

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the Minister of Health for attending this evening. I know his schedule is extraordinarily busy. It is always great to have the minister make time for us.

I would like to raise an issue with the minister. I am taken aback a bit when the member for Vancouver Centre seemed to criticize the government for partnering up with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. I actually thought that partnership was an extraordinary one, very unique, and something this government had pioneered.

I wonder if the Minister of Health could expand on the benefits of the program, but also maybe frame some of the challenges this government has inherited on this very important issue.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:25 p.m.


Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I wish to confirm, as I mentioned earlier, that this partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is the first of its kind in the world. Really, we have become an exemplary model for other countries as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation goes and does its work worldwide on so many issues. The foundation is now saying to look to Canada.

We have, as part of this initiative, an understanding that there will be in this country a manufacturing facility that will in fact manufacture vaccine components that in turn, after appropriate testing and safety considerations, will be able to be tested in the wider marketplace. I believe that this is the ultimate way that we can get in front of this scourge and protect people, particularly in low and middle income countries, where this disease is so endemic.

So, I can certainly back up the words that I have already spoken on this issue. I think that when I look back at my time as health minister, as we occasionally do as our lives take other twists and turns, I will see that initiative and the Prime Minister's announcement with Bill and Melinda Gates as, certainly, a highlight.

In terms of what we inherited--

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:25 p.m.


Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I pay tribute to the member for Vancouver East for bringing this issue to the fore. I know that of all the communities and ridings in this country, her riding has been the most devastated by this particular issue. She has some of the poorest in her riding. She has the highest rate of substance abusers and she has a large number of urban aboriginal communities, as do we in the four western provinces, but hers by far is the largest.

I am pleased to stand and support her statement and to say that we know this is a national disgrace. We know that the studies have shown that 2:1 aboriginal people have new infections of HIV-AIDS. Much of it we know is directly attributed and related to illicit drug use but a whole lot of it is attributed to poverty or lack of housing and all of the other social indicators that have led to the use of substances over the years.

I want to quote from a very well known and respected physician in Vancouver who said, “addicts are made, not born”. The most common precursors are early childhood deprivation, neglect and abuse. For several generations Canada's native children have been far more likely to suffer grinding poverty, abuse and childhood substance addictions than non-natives.

This is not something that we can talk about in the abstract. This is not something that we can stand here and speak in glowing and fine words about how we have strategies and we intend to do this and that. As a physician, I can say that the effectiveness of anything that we do must be shown in the outcomes. I for one have seen many outcomes that have led to very important new ways of dealing with this issue and they have been rejected by the government.

I have to say that when the minister says that HIV-AIDS knows no boundaries and it affects vulnerable people as well as privileged people, while I recognize this, I must say that tonight we are speaking about the most vulnerable people in this country. Therefore, the minister must deal, if he is going to have an effective strategy, with these issues that affect this group of people.

For instance, we know that addiction is primarily a health issue with social correlated factors. I will put this in plain language and I will quote from the result of the report that the hon. member for Vancouver East took her question from today. The report states:

Our findings demand a culturally appropriate and evidence-based response to the HIV epidemic among Aboriginal injection drug users. Canada's drug strategy has recently been the subject of significant criticism. This criticism stems from the fact that resources are overwhelmingly devoted to law enforcement-based interventions, which have been shown to have negative health consequences related to health service interruption and limited evidence of effectiveness as evidenced by increased illicit drug supply and decreasing drug prices.

The minister spoke very beautifully about evidence based but here is evidence that says that the way that his government is going toward a national drug strategy is actually not based on evidence at all, but is based mostly on ideology.

When we speak to this issue, I want to quote from this report because I think this report has been the diving board from which the member launched her plea today. The report also states that we need “to acknowledge the harms of seeking to address addiction through a strategy that” is not culturally appropriate.

An evidence based response to HIV epidemic amongst aboriginal drug users has told us that there must be other cohorts that we must look at.

I want to talk about that today and put it in plain language. There is no place here if we are to resolve this problem. I think we can stand in this House for the next 25 years and each one of us can bleed and speak glowingly and speak with great emotion about the plight that the member brought forward today: the plight of the aboriginal people, of HIV-AIDS, hepatitis C, grinding poverty, lack of housing, an enormous amount of social dislocation because of aboriginal residential school issues, abuse, and urban aboriginal issues that have not even been dealt with by the government and do not even figure in the language about which it speaks.

I want to talk about what we can do. Therefore, there is no place here for ideology or moralistic biases. The way to deal with the complex issues of substance abuse and related diseases, such as HIV-AIDS, hepatitis C and an increasing incidence of tuberculosis in this country among aboriginal people, is to employ a multifaceted strategy that has been proven to be effective.

That is what we mean when we talk about certain strategies which have yet to be proven to be effective. We know this is why clinical research, community and social research is absolutely important if we are to deal with the first part of any public health strategy.

We know there are some basic, public health 101 principles to a public health strategy, and the first one is research and epidemiology. This is what we were talking about today, research and epidemiology that is telling us who the susceptible populations are, where they live and what things make them susceptible.

Many people believe that we can prevent addiction by telling people nice stories and telling them preventive things when they are young, which means that they think addiction is something we learn to do, something we can stop doing at any time we want and that it is purely a behavioural thing. However, medicine has told us that addiction is certainly not a behavioural issue alone, but that is one small part of addiction.

Research and epidemiology are telling us that among urban aboriginal communities and other aboriginal communities the issues are very clear. There are issues of poverty. We heard people speak of the poverty of aboriginal peoples, especially aboriginal women who are among the poorest in our society. We have heard of the lack of housing and the lack of access to health care, especially for urban aboriginal populations.

If we are to address prevention in this instance, we must deal with those things that cause people to become substance abusers. We need to deal with the residential school issues because we know that those have left aboriginal people with exactly what Dr. Maté talked about when he talked about the fact that there had been abuse, early childhood deprivation and neglect. Being deprived of parents for a long time have led to generations of aboriginal people being denied the right to grow up as most of us have.

We must deal with these issues if we are to talk about the first thing that the minister mentioned in his national drug strategy, which was prevention. Prevention is not about making nice speeches and going into a school and telling people they must not take drugs. It is about dealing with these very basic issues that epidemiology has told us contribute to this particular problem in aboriginal peoples and, indeed, in all people.

We also know that there is a link, not only between housing, but between discrimination and social dislocation. The hon. member for Vancouver East spoke very movingly about that.

Nowhere in the government's national drug strategy has it talked about housing. The minister spoke about it but I have not seen a housing strategy by the government. I have not heard it discussed in its Speech from the Throne. It was never in any of its budgets. It has never been discussed. In fact, I understand there was a housing meeting in Vancouver today and the minister responsible for housing did not bother to turn up.

We talk the talk and there are lots of wonderful words coming from the minister but there is no substance to them. There is no action on it and so nothing has been done.

What is even worse is that the Kelowna accord, which was brought forward by our government to deal, in a culturally sensitive manner, with issues, such as housing, education and health, was cancelled by the government. It was one of its first acts. The Kelowna accord would have worked in a totally new way. It would have worked with aboriginal people who would have been part of the solution, part of that public policy development and public policy implementation. That is what is meant by those nice words that the minister used, “culturally sensitive”. The phrase “culturally sensitive” is actually a strategy and an implementation based on that kind of thing.

When I hear about a national drug strategy that talks about prevention and that talks about enforcement, I do not hear other words. Public health strategies deal with good research in, first, epidemiology; second, prevention; third, something called harm reduction; fourth, treatment; and fifth, rehabilitation and being able to get oneself back into some sort of mode of life again after one has been ill or has had a disease.

In the case of substance abuse, enforcement must be a sixth factor in a very clear public health strategy, public health 101. This is not ideological. This was drawn up in my head. This is public health strategies.

If the government is going to talk about a reasonable or a believable national health strategy, it must talk about it. I have just talked about prevention, epidemiology and the things that link them that has not been talked about and is not being done by the government.

Let me talk about harm reduction. I listened to the minister saying that he had no evidence that the Insite program actually achieved any results. That was extremely interesting because Insite is one of the most progressive forms of harm reduction on the North American continent. He was quoted as saying that during the time that he had decided that he would not support fully the Insite for a short period of time and temporarily he would let it go on. So this wonderful program is in limbo.

The second thing is that I heard his leader, the Prime Minister, say that he did not believe in harm reduction, as if harm reduction were the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus or something that one had to believe as an article of faith. Harm reduction is a clinically proven set of strategies that came about from people having done the work done in those strategies, implemented them and looked at how the results occurred.

Harm reduction is a fundamental piece not only of public health but of medical care. Harm reduction is saying that if we people or children are dying of gastroenteritis that we will look at giving them different water to drink while we fix the water system. Harm reduction is about helping people to survive and have as little illness as they can while we are trying to find a solution for them in the long run. Harm reduction is reducing the harm to the person or the community until such solutions can be found to solve the problem.

When the minister speaks about a vaccine as if it were the silver bullet, I must say that this is the end objective, but what about now? What about the people who are currently suffering or have died? What about harm reduction?

Harm reduction in the government's eyes is a moral issue. As I said before, if we look upon this as a clear public health issue, then we should not talk about morals. We realize that needle exchange does not help people to use more drugs. Needle exchange helps to prevent people who are using intravenous drugs from getting HIV-AIDS, hepatitis C and other diseases. If they have hope of living they may to want to go into detoxification or into treatment. They may make good choices for themselves and eventually find a new rehabilitative way of life. That is what harm reduction does for them.

I am very proud of the Insite program because I was the federal minister responsible for the Vancouver agreement at the time when we brought in Insite. With the City of Vancouver, the province and the community all agreeing to do this, we got the money to set up this particular facility. Within six months, the facility was directed at doing two things. One was that it was directed at saving lives because overdose deaths were happening in that community in large amounts. Within six months of Insite being set up, overdose deaths had gone to zero.

This was a clinical study done by St. Paul's Hospital and UBC HIV-AIDS clinical trials network. This was not done by a bunch of people sitting around a corner thinking they wanted to prove something. This was done by real researchers applying absolutely appropriate methodology to do this. That was the first thing. It had actually achieved its objective in six months.

The most surprising thing that came out of this was an indirect effect that they did not expect. The people who came to Insite were the people who actually did not go to doctors or nurses, did not go to institutions, and were not interested in getting care. These were the really marginalized people in society. Thirty per cent of them within a year were seeking detoxification. That was a remarkable side effect. No one could believe the percentage. One-third of the people who were going to Insite were seeking detoxification. Once they had been detoxified, many of them moved on to counselling. They also moved on to getting treatment, whether it was methadone or opioid use or other ways of getting themselves back into living ordinary lives and not getting HIV-AIDs, hepatitis C and other diseases.

As I said before and as I will say again, ideology should have no place in public policy, especially not in public health policy, and especially not from a government that has the ability to save lives by doing the right thing, and the proven right thing in this case.

I want to talk about treatment. I am very proud of this because I was responsible for assisting the UBC researchers in a program called NAOMI. It is a three year project. They are looking at new methods of treatment that would work on narcotic or opium addicts or heroin addicts who were resistant to methadone treatment. The project involved giving them either a synthetic opioid or heroin and seeing how it worked. Those results are not out, but from what I hear from some of the researchers, there are going to be remarkable results in the use of opioids.

This is going on in Europe. These projects have been shown to be successful in Switzerland. Belgium is starting a new opioid study. We have people who are ready to do these studies on treatment, and yet the government is not even speaking to them. I am meeting with them tomorrow with our leader, Mr. Dion. We are going to speak with these people who have been begging for a meeting with the minister--

HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal PeopleEmergency Debate

7:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. I hate to interrupt the hon. member, but I do have to remind her that we do not refer to our colleagues, even when they are in our own party, by their proper names.