Mr. Speaker, I will say from the start that there is no argument. We are unequivocally opposed to Bill C-2 as there is no reason for the bill. What the bill seeks to do is deny a high-risk group of patients access to proven life-saving health care services. That is what it will do. That alone is unconscionable.
We are looking at a bill that is trying to refute all of the evidence that has been gathered with regard to safe consumption sites, which is what InSite in Vancouver is. It is the only one in Canada.
However, I would like the House to know that there are 90 safe consumption sites around the world, in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and Australia. Switzerland introduced safe injection sites in 1986 as a public health harm reduction model. Since 1986, the evidence has been mounting and clearly shows that safe injection sites achieve exactly what they are meant to achieve. They reduce patient harm and decrease the number of patient deaths. They decrease the number of new cases of diseases such as HIV-AIDS, hepatitis C, as well as many other diseases transmitted through needles. Therefore, health and the reduction of morbidity were two things.
Switzerland, since 1986, and the other countries in Europe that have done this also show a reduction in public harm. There is order as well as less criminal activity. For example, the number of break-ins to get money to buy drugs was reduced. This has been proven since 1986. It is not something that someone just dragged up last year and decided this was what they wanted to do because they thought it was a good idea. This has been proven. It is because of that kind of evidence, in 90 sites around the world, that we in British Columbia decided to have a clinical trial. We did not just look at it and say we would do it. It was done by way of a clinical trial.
I want members to know that I was there when this began. I want to give credit to Philip Owen, the mayor of Vancouver, who was sick and tired of what was happening in his city with the number of deaths and the increase in break-ins, petty crimes and muggings that went on just to feed a habit. He decided to go to Europe to see what was going on there. We used to have something called a city caucus at the time wherein government and non-government members of Parliament, the provincial legislature and city councils came together to discuss problems that were common to the city of Vancouver. When this topic came up he said, “We have to work together”.
I was designated the minister responsible for the Downtown Eastside at the time by Mr. Chrétien. We had the NDP minister for communities who was designated to be in charge of that file, and we had the mayor. Together, the three levels of government did extensive public consultation with community groups, the police, the RCMP and businesses in that area in order to form the Vancouver agreement in 2000. One part of the Vancouver agreement dealt with this particular public nuisance at the time, in terms of crime and public health problems.
We are not talking about criminal activity alone. Rather, we are talking about addiction. An addiction is a chronic and relapsing health condition best served and treated by evidence-based public health care. That is what this is all about. Since 1986, 90 safe injection sites in many countries around the world had given us the evidence that prompted us to suggest in the 2000 Vancouver agreement that this is what would happen.
I came back to the federal government and brought this forward. There was a great deal of agreement around the table. The evidence was compelling. Then there was an election. When we came back in 2003, the federal government, through section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, agreed to a pilot project run by the University of British Columbia and clinicians in the area, who were experts from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
As I said, evidence was at the heart of what we were doing. We did not want to translate things from Australia and Europe into Canada. We did not know if that was going to work, so we said “let us do our own pilot project”. It was funded and put together, and the pilot project proved without a doubt that InSite not only saved lives, but reduced mortality and reduced the spread of HIV-AIDS and hepatitis C. InSite also increased people's desire and ability to get help. They were a very high-risk group of users, people who never went to doctors and did not want to go to nurses or any kind of institution. It was found that these people sought detox. It was found that they wanted to be helped.
We replicated everything that was shown in Europe and Australia. In other words, we found that it worked in British Columbia, without a doubt. It is not only that. It is not just the British Columbia study that we are talking about. What happened was that peer scientific groups around the world checked the evidence from InSite. They looked at it, they analyzed it and they all agreed that it was authentic.
I just want to give the House a little background about the reality of this problem. In 1988, there were 39 deaths due to overdose from intravenous drug use in Canada. In 1993, there were 357. I know that some people may decide that those 357 deaths were okay because they happened to be drug users, people who were the most vulnerable because they lived on the streets, or because they committed petty crime. That must have been okay in some people's minds. It was not okay in the minds of the federal government of the day, the provincial government of the day in British Columbia, the municipal government of the day in British Columbia or the Vancouver Police.
It is interesting to note that of those overdose deaths, 50% of them occurred in Vancouver. British Columbia actually only carried about 14% of the population, yet 50% of those deaths were in British Columbia, most notably in Vancouver. In 1997, as a result of the escalating death rate and escalating disease, the chief public health officer of Vancouver, John Blatherwick, decided to call a public health emergency in the city of Vancouver.
I just wanted to talk about HIV for a second. I wanted to paint a picture of what was then and why people felt it was essential to move forward on this issue. In 1989, there were 120 new cases out of 100,000 in Canada. After InSite, in Vancouver alone, this had dropped to 31. In the rest of Canada, the number of new cases remained the same.
That is evidence, folks. We do not have to be a scientist to figure out that this is evidence, when we look at the number of deaths that were brought down and when we look at the number of diseases such as HIV-AIDS that were actually prevented in this area.
I am talking about what we saw and what happened as a result of InSite. InSite was so successful that within a year a half, the people who were running InSite formed a facility above it, called OnSite, where 25 beds were there for immediate detox. If anyone here knows about addictions, they know that when someone wants to quit or they feel moved to quit, if they do not get in somewhere then and there, they go right back to drugs in two days' time. This is the truth about people who are addicted. OnSite was there so we could say “right on, up you go”. That is what has been shown with this.
If anyone in the House can stand up and say that this is not an important piece of evidence in terms of deaths, morbidity and the spread of HIV-AIDS, and if anyone thinks it is funny and hilarious that people should die and that no one should care, and that this was not an absolutely essential thing to do, given that the chief public health officer felt that it was an emergency, then that person is callous. I am hearing laughter on the opposite side of the House. I do not think that this is funny at all. I had many patients who were addicts. Their lives were ruined. I have seen those people begin to have hope and begin to live new lives again.
This is evidence. This is what a government is supposed to do: care about all of its citizens, not just the ones it likes.
This is not something I stand to say because I happen to have been the minister for the Downtown Eastside and the minister for the Vancouver agreement. What I am saying is that across the country we know that many municipalities want to have safe injection sites because they have the problem. They have seen the evidence. The evidence was agreed upon by international peers. Scientific communities around the world agreed upon this. This is going on. There are 90 safe injection sites around the world.
I am repeating this because this is not some little pitch that the government is trying to stop. It is denying people the right to life. All of those 395 people who died of a drug overdose in that year. I think most of us believe that their lives were worth saving and the lives of subsequent people are worth saving. When the number of drug overdose deaths went down so dramatically after InSite, this is something that the government should be considering.
The government fought InSite on moral grounds, on ideological grounds, but certainly not on evidence because it did not have a leg to stand on if it looked at the evidence. The evidence was compelling, but the government did not look at it. It had an idea that this was morally wrong, all these people were shooting up heroin and we were letting them shoot up, and all this kind of judgmental attitude toward citizens of Canada who are vulnerable. They are vulnerable. They are in need of help by the government. They are in need of a good, solid public health response to addiction.
I want to say this is our public health, yet the bill brought in by the Minister of Health is going to be sent to the public safety committee, not the health committee. We see that the whole issue of public safety was served, not only here but in the 90 safe injection sites in countries of the world. This showed the most important thing, which was that law order and order prevailed. The number of petty crimes went down. The number of people shooting up in the streets went down. The number of people who were begging and being a public nuisance went down. Law and order was served. This is an important piece, as well, if all the government thinks about is law and order and not about people and not about compassion and not about public health.
The government spent millions of dollars taking this case through the courts. When the British Columbia courts agreed that this should happen, that this is evidence-based and the evidence is compelling, and when the Supreme Court of British Columbia agreed that the evidence was compelling, the government took it straight to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada said the evidence that it listened to was compelling and said that while the federal government had it in its power to deny access, in fact, it was something that it should not do because ethically this would deny section 7 of the charter, which is the right to life, liberty and security of the person. If a person going to die and something would help him or her, that is security of the person. That is life. This is a government that likes to talk about caring about life, but it does not care about certain lives. Some lives are not worth it, as far as the government is concerned.
Now, the government is building a case beyond what the Supreme Court asked. The Supreme Court said, yes, we should consult. This is not consultation; this is legislation. Consultation is to go around and talk. When we started InSite in Vancouver, the city, the province, the federal government, the police and the communities all agreed to do so. Sixty-five per cent of people, at the time, supported InSite in Vancouver because they saw the harm that was being done.
Finally, before I finish, my colleague in the NDP brought forward a motion that the bill be not brought to second reading. I want to say that I support that motion because the bill is not in the best interests of public health and it is not in the best interests of the most vulnerable Canadians.