Mr. Speaker, I am happy today to talk about Bill C-2, formerly known as Bill C-65.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to denounce this bill, which is intended to terminate the operation of supervised injection sites: nothing more, nothing less. It is in direct opposition to a decision the Supreme Court handed down in 2011.
This is a bill that betrays the irrational ideology of the Conservatives, who believe that repression is the only way to deal with this scourge.
We are not the only people in the world to have considered this issue. There are more than 70 cities worldwide that have supervised injection sites. They are found mainly in Europe and Australia. In Canada, there is but one supervised injection site: InSite, which opened in 2003.
In order to use the services of InSite in Vancouver, users must be at least 16, sign a user agreement, comply with a code of conduct and not be accompanied by children. Users bring their own substances, and the staff provide clean injection equipment. Emergency medical aid is available if required, and expert staff are on site to provide health and social service support.
In addition to providing services to drug users in order to minimize the impact on their health and on public health, InSite conducts research on the effectiveness of supervised injection facilities.
This injection site has already demonstrated its effectiveness by significantly reducing deaths by overdose. It is estimated that overdose deaths in Vancouver have decreased by 35% since the site opened. In addition to reducing overdoses, the facility helps to reduce the rates of communicable diseases among injection drug users. I am referring to hepatitis A, B and C and HIV/AIDS, for example.
Ever since it was established by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and its community partners, this public health project has generated controversy. Those who believe only in repression saw it as an encouragement to use drugs.
At first, the site was able to open because it was given an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to operate for medical and scientific purposes. In 2008, the exemption for InSite expired and the health minister denied InSite's application to renew it. This decision triggered a series of court cases, which led to the B.C. Supreme Court decision that InSite should be granted a new exemption. The federal government then appealed this decision. One after the other, the B.C. Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the closure of InSite violated the rights of its patrons under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
I would like to quote from the 2011 Supreme Court decision effectively demonstrating the Conservatives' bad faith in this case, as follows:
[The minister's decision to close InSite] is arbitrary...because it undermines the very purposes of the CDSA—the protection of health and public safety.
I would also like to quote another excerpt from that decision:
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.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court decision does not just concern InSite. It opens the door to new similar sites, and I quote:
On future applications, 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. 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.
This ruling by Canada’s highest court has led public health agencies throughout the country, including the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal, to consider opening supervised injection facilities.
After being turned down twice by the courts, the Conservatives are now trying to get around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the Supreme Court judges, by using Bill C-2 to amend the act.
The Conservatives are acting in a way that is just as reprehensible as the bill itself. Some people go so far as to say that this is hypocritical.
As we saw in this House during the previous session of Parliament, the Conservatives’ strategy is plain: to increase the number of requirements that supervised injection sites will have to meet before the department will grant an exemption. These many requirements will make it much more difficult for agencies to open supervised injection facilities in Canada. The Conservatives are so ideologically pigheaded that it is pathetic.
In this House, my colleagues have often heard me say how important it is to base political decisions on fact. Unlike the Conservatives, I have looked at the facts. I have found that 80% of the people questioned, who live or work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, support InSite, primarily because there has been a significant drop in the number of needles discarded and the number of people injecting drugs on the street.
I can cite other figures and percentages. The rate of overdose deaths in East Vancouver has fallen by 35% since InSite opened. It has also been noted that injection drug users who go to lnSite are 70% less likely to share needles. In one year, 2,171 Insite users were referred to addiction counselling or other support services. Unlike repression, lnSite does not marginalize drug users and does not force them into isolation. These are figures that I think are pretty convincing.
There are more than 30 peer-reviewed studies, published in major scientific journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, that describe the benefits of InSite. Furthermore, there are other studies that show the positive impacts of more than 70 supervised injection sites that are similar to Insite.
In summary, I think that the science and the evidence are quite clear: supervised injection sites promote public health because they reach vulnerable groups and are accepted by the community. They make it possible to improve the health of their users and reduce high-risk behaviour, in addition to lowering the number of overdose deaths and reducing drug use in public places.
Above all, I believe that safe injection sites make it possible to strike the appropriate balance between public health and public safety. Furthermore, the sites give people who need help access to the necessary health services, such as primary health care and drug treatment services.
Front line workers have been clear: supervised injection sites are necessary. Pivot Legal Society, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition issued a joint statement about the bill, which reads:
This bill is an irresponsible initiative that ignores both the extensive evidence that such health services are needed and effective, and the human rights of Canadians with addictions.
It is unethical, unconstitutional and damaging to both public health and the public purse to block access to supervised consumption services...