Mr. Speaker, I have a lot to say on this issue.
We are talking about Bill C-2 today, safe injection sites, and I want to start with what the bill should be about.
I think the bill should be about saving lives. It should be about reducing disease. It should be about reducing harm. It should be about public health and also public safety.
When we talk about what a bill should be about, quite frankly, very often it is up to the government to decide, and we take our cues from it; however, in this case, the bill is actually a response to a Supreme Court of Canada decision. Therefore, we know ahead of time what the bill should be about because we can look at the Supreme Court decision and the language in it and know what the bill should be about. However, in looking at the bill, we see it is all wrong. It is not a proper response to the Supreme Court of Canada case.
As members probably know, this Supreme Court of Canada case is about a situation in Vancouver around InSite, which is a supervised safe injection site. This facility receives an exemption from section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
We had a challenge here, and the Supreme Court of Canada was unequivocal in what it said about InSite, which is a model for other safe injection sites. I will read some of the quotes on this case, because they will tell us what Bill C-2 should be about. It is fascinating what the court said.
The court did rule that the minister's decision to close InSite violated its patrons' charter rights and that the minister's decision was “...arbitrary, undermining the very purposes of the CDSA, which include public health and safety.”
It is arbitrary, and I will argue in a few minutes that the proposed legislation is an arbitrary response.
Further in the case, the court said that
The infringement at stake is serious; it threatens the health, indeed the lives, of the claimants and others like them. The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for InSite cannot be ignored. These claimants would be cast back into the application process they have tried and failed at, and made to await the Minister’s decision based on a reconsideration of the same facts.
The court talks about this threatening the health and lives of the claimants, so we are talking about health here. We are talking about section 7 rights, which are that everybody has the right to “life, liberty and security of person and the right not to be deprived thereof”.
The court actually sets out who has the onus of responsibility here in proving a case. The court said:
...the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety. In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The court continues a little further on,
Where, as here, a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption.
I stress “should”. This is not “may”; it is not permissive language. The court has been very forceful here in saying “should generally grant an exemption”.
However, with the bill before us, the onus is actually being reversed.
The courts have said that it will decrease the risk of death and that there is little or no evidence of a negative impact on public safety. However, what do we have before us? We have a bill that would actually force communities to prove the benefits. It would force communities into an extensive application to prove what the benefits would be, what the impacts would be on the community.
It is actually reversing that onus, when the courts have been very clear that there is no evidence to show that safe-injection sites would have a negative impact on public safety. This bill would force communities to come up with scientific evidence demonstrating that there is a medical benefit. Come on; we know there is a medical benefit. There would be a letter of opinion from the ministers responsible, information about infectious diseases and overdoses, a description of the available drug treatment services, a description of the potential impact of a site on public safety, and the list goes on.
This is not an appropriate response, because this bill should be about health. It should be about preventing death. It should be about preventing the spread of disease.
I believe that a bill like this would actually stymie the process. There is one safe injection site in Canada right now, InSite, but if community members believe that their community needs a safe injection site, they should be able to open one, because harm reduction works and the evidence shows that. Therefore, I want to talk about how this bill, in creating these barriers and these obstacles to harm reduction and the obstacles and barriers to saving lives, could potentially impact a community like Halifax.
Halifax does not have a safe injection site, but I would say that the people of Halifax robustly embrace the concept of harm reduction. We have many different harm reduction facilities of different forms in our community, including a needle exchange, housing first principles, a mobile street health outreach bus, and a travelling methadone clinic. Halifax understands harm reduction.
We do not have a safe injection site and there are no plans for one. However, on the heels of this case there was quite a bit of media discussion about whether Halifax would have a safe injection site and about how this court case would allow that to happen. There are no plans for a program in Nova Scotia, but after the Supreme Court of Canada decision, the chief medical officer came forward and said he was happy to hear the Supreme Court of Canada's decision. In The Chronicle Herald at the time, he said:
We're very pleased with this because it leaves the option open down the road. If it's warranted then it's certainly something we may consider in the future.
This is from Dr. Robert Strang. Our chief medical officer has said that the decision was a wise one, and it made him happy to think that we may be able to have a site like this, if needed, in Nova Scotia.
Then what is the problem? Why do we have this reaction in the form of Bill C-2? Why is it that the Conservatives have brought forward this bill that would actually circumscribe or limit communities' abilities to take action and enact this kind of harm reduction in their community?
Well, at the same time that Bill C-2 came out, we saw a really interesting little fundraising campaign by the Conservative Party of Canada called “keep heroin out of our backyards”. I have the website right here, and under “keep heroin out of our backyards”, it says, “Add your name if you demand a say before a supervised drug consumption site is opened close to your family”.
That, on its face, seems as though it might be reasonable, but then we read further into this campaign and we realize it is all about not just raising money for the Conservative Party but also about fearmongering:
Do you want a supervised drug consumption site in your community? These are facilities where drug addicts get to shoot up heroin and other illicit drugs.
I don't want one anywhere near my home.
Parenthetically, Mr. Speaker, we are not talking about putting them beside our homes.
Yet, as I write this, special interests are trying to open up these supervised drug consumption sites in cities and towns across Canada—over the objections of local residents and law enforcement.
In parenthesis, I ask, “Really? What objections? Where are they being opened? Where is it that communities are rising up against this? There are no proposals for any of them.
It says, “...as I write this, special interests are trying to open up these [facilities].” Is it a special interest to want to keep Canadians alive? I do not think that is a special interest.
I will keep going:
We've had enough—that's why I'm pleased that the [we know who he is] government is acting to put the safety of our communities first.
If members could see this website, they would see that it shows an empty syringe on the sidewalk, instilling fear in all of us.
I biked up to my community office on Monday last week when we were home for our riding week. What did I find in front of my office on the sidewalk? I found an empty syringe. I got some gloves and picked it up. A few doors down is the North End Community Health Centre. It has a sharps disposal container. I dropped it off there.
It is real. The idea that people are using intravenous drugs on our streets is real.
What I actually think is the threat to public safety here is not safe injection sites but the fact that people who have addictions, who may be homeless, who may be struggling with a myriad of other issues, have nowhere to go that is safe and supervised.
I talked to the people at Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, which is down the street from my office. They talk about finding needles in their bathrooms. Why is that? It is because that is where people can go. It is safe and warm, or the safest they can get, and it is warm and private. They can close the door and do their drugs there. Is that appropriate? I think that is more of a threat to safety than safe injection sites.
Behind my office there is a needle drop, a sharps container, that a local community group put in place for people who are doing drugs. It is kind of a dark alley. Stuff goes on there, and we need to acknowledge what is happening in our communities. What happened is that people actually broke into the box to get the needles. That is not harm reduction. Actually creating a supply of dirty needles for people to break into and share is not harm reduction. However, that is the reality of what is happening in our communities.
There was a local cafe maybe four doors down from my office that closed a couple of years ago. It had to put a sharps container in the bathroom. I think having needles in my local cafe is more of a threat to my safety than a safe injection site where the activity is supervised and the needles are clean and disposed of properly. I would much rather have a safe injection site beside my office than know that there are dirty needles behind my office that people are reusing.
This is about safety. This is about public health, and I want to get back to public health for a second, because nowhere in the bill is there even a mention of public health. I find that shocking.
When we are talking about health and what this bill should be about, which is saving lives and stopping the spread of disease, we have stats; we have real, hard evidence from InSite. The rate of overdose deaths in East Vancouver has dropped by 35% since InSite opened. That is pretty good evidence. Something is working.
Harm reduction works. A study over a one-year period showed there had been no fatalities from those injections. In one year, over 2,100 referrals were made to InSite users to addiction counselling or other support services. There is no referral service behind my office.
People who used InSite services at least once a week were 1.7 times more likely to enrol in a detox program than those who visited infrequently and probably a heck of a lot more likely to enrol than the folks behind my office.
There was a significant drop in the number of discarded syringes, injection-related litter, and people injecting in the streets one year after InSite opened.
Injection drug users who use InSite are 70% less likely to share needles. That is a staggering number. Reducing needle sharing has been listed as an international best practice to reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS.
InSite users are more likely to seek medical care through the site. This means fewer trips to the emergency room and an improvement of health outcomes.
There was a pretty big sigh there as I was reading the evidence. The evidence should speak for itself, but it is not, because we have Bill C-2 in front of us to actually make it harder for people and communities to have this kind of success story in their community.
It is all about evidence. Evidence shows that harm reduction, like safe injection, works, and I am really proud of the harm reduction initiatives in my community.
We have Mainline Needle Exchange, where folks can actually get clean needles and maybe get referred to some services.
We have Direction 180, which is a methadone clinic. It has recently had huge success buying a mobile bus to get to some of the communities that are not in the north end of Halifax and to ensure people get their methadone. These folks are trying to deal with their addictions. They are trying to better themselves. We need to have these harm reduction programs in place for them so they can succeed. What is the alternative? Death?
We have MOSH, or Mobile Outreach Street Health, which is a van that goes around to where people are, such as under bridges, in fields and at the homeless shelters, to give them the medical treatment they need.
This is what we need, but unfortunately the government is not interested in harm reduction. I have a good quote from Cindy MacIsaac who runs Direction 180, our methadone clinic. She said:
Ottawa’s new approach is to criminalize what should still be seen as a health issue...You can’t even use the term harm reduction anymore when applying for federal funding. The taps have been turned off.
This bill is all about creating fear. It is not about health or about helping people get better. Bill C-2 is a bill about power, power to the minister and disempowerment to the most vulnerable members of our society.
There is a more powerful argument against the bill. That is the voices of members of my community and communities across the country that recognize the value of safe injection sites as a harm reduction program. They want the ability to set up similar sites where needed.
Safe injection sites are one way we can help save lives, treat people who suffer from a disease, help people reorient their lives, improve the quality of life for community members and make our cities safer for everyone. We need less barriers to programs like the ones this bill would create. The government is getting in the way of caring for those people who need the most help.
I want to emphasize that addiction is not a choice. It is a disease, and those who suffer from it should be treated with the dignity and the respect we give to other people suffering from chronic illness. When we speak about safe injection sites or harm reduction programs, there is very often a human element that gets left behind in these debates. I want to ensure that we talk about that human element in the House. People who suffer from addiction are also suffering from the stigma and discrimination that follow the disease. This bill lacks the understanding of this human element. It makes it more difficult for safe injection sites to be established in our communities and for individuals battling addiction to receive compassionate care.
When I was getting ready to speak to the bill, I spoke to people at the Brunswick Street Mission and the Mainline Needle Exchange. They said that the people who needed help in my community were increasingly younger people living in shelters, that they were inadequately housed and suffered from severe health issues, including mental health issues and mental illness. The problems face people who suffer from addictions cannot be isolated from housing, health, poverty, education, or addiction. They are all inseparable problems that can overwhelm anyone.
Safe injection sites are an important part of dealing with these issues holistically. At InSite in Vancouver, it is not just a program about drugs. Safe injection sites are about helping people through providing a safe space, peer support services, and health services. Unfortunately, this bill does not look at the whole picture. It makes safe injection sites harder to establish across the country and makes it harder for our community to want to tackle these and other connected issues.
With no safe injection sites and no safe spaces for people fighting addiction, we are pushing those people to the very margins of society, which exacerbates poverty, homelessness, and health and safety issues for our communities.