Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour to stand in the House and follow my colleagues in speaking on such an important issue and one that relates to the piece of legislation that we have before us, Bill C-2, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
First of all, I would like to indicate, as my colleagues have done, that we in the NDP oppose the bill. Essentially Bill C-2 is a thinly veiled effort to stop supervised injection sites from operating, a direct defiance of a Supreme Court ruling on these sites. The legislation sets out a lengthy and arduous list of criteria that supervised injection sites would need to meet before the minister would grant them an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These criteria would make it much harder for organizations to open safe injection sites in Canada.
I am proud to be part of a party that has long advocated for safe injection sites and a party that has indicated that we need to find ways to be able to support people who have fallen through the cracks, who suffer with addiction, who are keen to get out of the trap that so many face and who need help to do so.
The NDP believes that decisions about programs that may benefit public health must be based on facts and not ideology. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that InSite provided life-saving services and should remain open with a section 56 exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The court ruled that it was within InSite users' charter rights to access the service and that similar services should also be allowed to operate with an exemption. Over 30 peer-reviewed studies published in journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, the British Medical Journal and others have described the beneficial impact of InSite.
Furthermore, studies on over 70 safe injection sites in Europe and Australia have shown similar benefits. InSite is one of the greatest public health achievements in our country. We in the NDP believe that it and similarly beneficial sites should be allowed to operate under proper supervision.
That is why we are so concerned to see Bill C-2 in front of us here today. This is a bill that is fundamentally based on ideology and is not based on evidence. It is certainly not based on what we are hearing from people in the medical profession who are saying that InSite and other operations like it are extremely important in being able to lead to harm reduction, to save lives, to get people on the right path to heal from their addictions, and to integrate back into their communities and into a life of dignity.
Bill C-2 is a deeply flawed bill based on an anti-drug ideology and false fears for public safety. This is another attempt to rally the Conservative base, as evidenced by the fundraising drive entitled “keep heroin out of our backyards” that started hours after Bill C-2 was introduced in Parliament. However, the bill, which would make it almost impossible to open safe injection sites, will actually put heroin back into our neighbourhoods.
Another reason we find the bill extremely problematic is that Bill C-2 directly defies the 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which called on the minister to consider exemptions for safe injection sites based on a balance between public health and safety. It called on the minister to consider all the evidence on the benefits of safe injection sites rather than setting out a lengthy list of principles by which to apply judgments.
We in the NDP believe that any further legislation on supervised injection sites should respect the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision, which is not the case with this bill. The NDP believes that harm reduction programs, including safe injection sites, should be granted exemptions based on evidence of their ability to improve a community's health and preserve human life, not ideology.
There is currently only one operational supervised injection site in Canada, InSite, which is located in Vancouver. Since it opened, Vancouver has seen a 35% decrease in overdose deaths. Furthermore, InSite has been shown to decrease crime, communicable disease infection rates, and relapse rates for drug users.
InSite, as many people will know, opened as part of a public health plan by the Vancouver Coastal Health authority and its community partners following a twelvefold increase in overdose deaths in Vancouver between 1987 and 1993. At the time, the Vancouver area was also seeing drastic increases in communicable diseases among injection drug users, including hepatitis A, B, and C and HIV/AIDS.
InSite was originally granted an exemption in 2003 to operate under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for medical and scientific purposes, to both provide services and to research the effectiveness of supervised injection facilities. Section 56 of the current Controlled Drugs and Substances Act grants the minister authority to approve operations utilizing drugs for medical, scientific, or law enforcement purposes. In 2007, the OnSite detox centre was added to the site.
The InSite organization and the work that happens on the Vancouver east side is something that leads to better lives, not only for people who suffer from addiction but also for the broader community. I want to read into the record what people who support InSite and harm reduction measures based on medical evidence have said.
Pivot Legal Society, the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition issued a statement on Bill C-2. It was a statement first made when Bill C-65 was introduced. They said:
The 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...
The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association have both criticized the government for bringing forward Bill C-2. The Canadian Medical Association said:
Supervised injection programs are an important harm reduction strategy. Harm reduction is a central pillar in a comprehensive public health approach to disease prevention and health promotion.
Let us move on to other practitioners in the health care field. The Canadian Nurses Association said:
Evidence demonstrates that supervised injection sites and other harm reduction programs bring critical health and social services to vulnerable populations—especially those experiencing poverty, mental illness and homelessness. A government truly committed to public health and safety would work to enhance access to prevention and treatment services—instead of building more barriers.
Based on the validation of these positions we have heard from people who are involved in the medical field, based on people who work and live in Vancouver's east side, and based on the figures that overdoses have decreased by 35%, the evidence is clear. There is a great deal indicating that the government is going down the wrong path.
What is especially disconcerting is that the government is willing to ignore and disrespect a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that has ruled on this very issue. I wish I could say that this was shocking, but the government has shown great disregard for the work of the Supreme Court, certainly when it comes to areas that, ideologically, the government does not see eye to eye on. It is deeply disconcerting and problematic for a lot of people who are tuning in, whether to this debate or to Parliament, frankly, every day to see a government that was elected to represent the best interests of Canadians make decisions that are not based on evidence, science, or respect for the Supreme Court, the highest court of our country. It bases them on ideology and fearmongering.
I think of the people in my constituency who suffer from addiction, who are in a cycle of poverty, unemployment, and living in third world conditions, in many cases. They are unable to access help, because the same federal government has cut funding for important healing programs, including the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and other initiatives that helped people in my part of the country. I think of the many people across Canada who are increasingly struggling as the cost of living goes up, as employment leaves their regions, as they struggle to make do with what little they have. Often they are vulnerable to some of these same cycles of addiction and violence. I think of the fact that the government has a chance to act by retracting Bill C-2 and standing with us on the opposition side for harm reduction and healthier, better lives for people and communities across this country.