Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to today's debate on Bill C-2, which I would have entitled the “not in my backyard” bill.
The Conservatives’ ideology is to always be sure to try and hide what they regard as neither fine nor good. It makes me think of those countries that are named hosts of the Olympic games and, at some point, decide that when the foreigners are about to arrive, it will be time to clear the area around the games site of the homeless and all those who, in the authorities’ opinion, would not reflect a good image of the country.
However we must not bury our heads in the sand, as a member of the Quebec National Assembly has said. It is a fact, however, that people do play the ostrich. In vain we put on rose-coloured glasses, in vain we try to build a wall of silence around problems of health, homelessness, substance abuse and so on: the fact remains that these things exist.
The InSite centre was created to help people who are dealing with substance abuse problems, not to be a place of debauchery. To listen to the Conservative members’ speeches since the start of this debate, one would think that the latter was true.
However, as my colleague just said, the courts that have considered this issue have been very clear.
First of all, the British Columbia Court of Appeal declared in 2010 that this was a medical centre falling under provincial jurisdiction. The matter should have been settled there: it had been put to rest. The province, the local authorities and the people familiar with the issue who work in the health field know what to do and what is good for their population. The City of Vancouver and the Government of British Columbia had decided that the supervised injection site had its place and its usefulness, as has since been demonstrated.
The Conservative government just cannot accept this. It is now bringing forward a bill that sets a whole pile of conditions. I think there are 26 in total. The purpose behind this, and it is certainly no secret, is to effectively shut down InSite and prevent other sites from opening.
I will talk a bit later about Montreal, for example, in Quebec. Indeed, the new mayor, Mr. Coderre, said during his campaign that this was a pressing public health and safety issue, and that he was considering at least creating an agency to discuss the issue more thoroughly and move forward with plans for a supervised injection site. I never thought I would be quoting him in a good way; no, I am just joking.
A Supreme Court decision followed in 2011, as the federal government had appealed the ruling of the B.C. Court of Appeal.
This was clear to the Supreme Court:
It is a strictly regulated health facility, and its personnel are guided by strict policies and procedures. It does not provide drugs to its clients, who must check in, sign a waiver, and are closely monitored during and after injection...The experiment has proven successful.
The Supreme Court also stated the following:
The Minister’s decision, but for the trial judge’s interim order, would have prevented injection drug users from accessing the health services offered by InSite, threatening their health and indeed their lives.
I think that this is very clear and very far from the horror stories we heard earlier from the Conservative minister. He would have us believe that supervised injection sites are located in residential neighbourhoods right next to daycares. According to him, these sites hold open houses every Sunday afternoon after church, so that small children can visit, play with needles and mingle with people who are, as they say, unsavoury. Obviously, this is not at all how these sites operate.
Bill C-2, with its 26 conditions, requires obtaining the approval of a city’s police service, first responders and mayor. There is nothing wrong about this on the surface, because we tend to think that nobody can be against social acceptance.
However, the InSite centre in British Columbia is socially acceptable because the provincial government, the municipal government, the police, first responders and doctors have decided that it is. Clearly, all these people are not imbeciles who suddenly decided that it would be fun to open such a site, and, why not, to open more sites just about everywhere else in the province; and to arrange, as I was saying, for sites like this to be located in residential areas, more or less haphazardly, with no framework.
On the contrary, when a decision is made to set up services like these, it is done with a sense of social acceptability. We do not need an ambulance attendant to suddenly exercise a veto right and to say that it cannot work, and that the site will not be opened. That is not how it works.
In any event, it is clear to the Bloc Québécois that medical treatment and the organization of health services are not Ottawa’s areas of jurisdiction. It is up to Quebec to evaluate and authorize treatment, together with Quebec's health institutions. Quebec has the power and the jurisdiction needed to open supervised injection sites as part of a solution to mental health and addiction issues. That, moreover, is a subject that was studied by Montreal's health and social services agency in 2011.
There is a very eloquent and interesting report entitled “Vers un service d'injection supervisée” that sets out succinctly what would justify the opening of a supervised injection site in Montreal. It is a matter of a higher mortality rate among injection drug users and infection epidemics caused by HIV and hepatitis C.
Cocaine use, the drug most often injected in Montréal, is a major determinant of HIV transmission, as is sharing used needles.
That is why, in one of the main recommendations in the conclusion of the report, the director of public health recommends fixed sites and a mobile unit staffed by nurses:
It is proposed that the fixed sites be located in RSSS [health and social services networks] institutions and community organizations that based on an agreement with the RSSS, would integrate medical supervision of injection and nursing care into the services they already offer.... The mobile unit would be more appropriate for priority sectors where a fixed service could not be offered....
According to this report, supervised injection sites are essential because even though they are geared toward only a small segment of Montreal's population, that segment of the population is affected by more than its share of health and social inequalities. Dr. Richard Lessard, Montreal's director of public health in 2011, stated that he felt it was a matter of social justice and equality.
I would like to give everyone a chance to have a look at this important report. As I was saying, this issue came up during the Montreal election campaign. It definitely has a lot of momentum. Neither Quebec, nor Montreal, nor public health and safety stakeholders will let the federal government create all kinds of obstacles and barriers to prevent this kind of service. That is what the Conservatives really want. They would rather not see and not know.
I am sure my government colleagues will be interested in the fact that the Montreal police has studied this issue. The Montreal police has said it will collaborate under certain conditions. That makes sense because the police force cares about public safety. It is in favour of a collaborative effort among partners to combine several approaches: prevention, treatment and care, law enforcement and harm reduction. To keep users from shooting up on the street, the Montreal police would encourage them to go to supervised injections sites.
Earlier, I was listening to the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who is clearly from Montreal. In response to the Conservatives' rhetoric, he said that by not allowing drug addicts to use supervised sites, they will not just suddenly give up drugs. Unfortunately, these people will not stop using. That is what we would like to see, but they will not necessarily stop using drugs. They will keep using, in public washrooms, parks or places where a child's hand, foot or finger could come into contact with a used needle and he could get sick or hurt himself. That has already happened; it has been documented.
It is a myth to think that banning these types of sites will improve the safety of our children and families. It is quite the opposite.