House of Commons Hansard #186 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was research.

Topics

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Crowfoot Alberta

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson ConservativeMinister of State (Finance)

moved that Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be read the third time and passed.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my voice to the ongoing dialogue on Bill C-2, the respect for communities act.

Since Bill C-2 was introduced in the House of Commons, it has been the subject of much debate. Over the past few months, we have heard many different opinions about the proposed legislation. At the same time, there are aspects of the bill I believe we should now all agree on. They relate to the bill's contribution to maintaining public health and public safety in all of our communities.

As this is my first opportunity to speak about the bill, I will take some time to review the important points raised by the members of the House, the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, who led the consideration of this bill at committee stage, and the expert witnesses who were called before that committee to share their knowledge and views on the substance of this bill.

The health and safety of Canadians is something our government is committed to protecting and maintaining. It is an important issue, which we campaigned on. It is why Canadians elected this government and why we stand on this side of the House working to bring forward bills that allow us to do just that.

What is this bill about? In its decision regarding Insite in 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the Minister of Health's discretion to grant or deny exemption applications and to request information for that purpose. In exercising her discretion, the Minister of Health must take into account public health and public safety considerations in accordance with the charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision also stated that the Minister of Health must consider evidence, if any, of the five following factors when assessing an exemption application related to activities at a supervised injection site: one, the impact of such a facility on crime rates; two, the local conditions indicating a need for such a supervised injection site; three, the regulatory structure in place to support the facility; four, the resources available to support its maintenance; and five, the expression of community support or opposition.

Why are supervised consumption sites considered to impact both public health and public safety? Let us look at what is actually at play when it comes to providing an application for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or CDSA, for activities at a supervised consumption site.

As we have all heard, the CDSA controls activities involving controlled substances and precursors to minimize the risk of diversion to an illegal use. The CDSA and its regulations do, however, allow access to controlled substances for medical, scientific, and public interest purposes. One way the CDSA makes this possible is through exemptions under section 56 of the act. Section 56 provides the Minister of Health with the authority to grant an exemption from provisions of the CDSA for activities involving controlled substances.

Bill C-2 would amend section 56 to create a distinct regime for an exemption for activities involving illegal substances that are obtained on the streets and are then used in supervised injection sites. This is the reality of what is going on now, every day, at Insite. I hope we can all agree that a solid framework is needed when we are overseeing the use of street drugs in this way.

According to a 2008 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, supervised consumption sites are described as specialized facilities that provide injection drug users with sterile consumption equipment and “a clean, unhurried environment”. The clients frequenting these sites typically have a long history of drug use and drug abuse and often live on the margins of Canadian society, untouched by traditional health or social services.

It has been argued that these types of sites serve to meet the needs of those who use drugs by serving as a point of entry into health and social services. However, it is also important to remind listeners that the drugs used on the grounds of the facility are illegal and that these pre-obtained illegal drugs are acquired on the black market, usually from drug dealers and others who are exploiting the addictions of Canadians. This market presents obvious health and safety risks, so it is only right that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act should lay out a framework to address this.

That is why the bill is clearly needed. The current system does not provide the tools needed to adequately consider the complex risks associated with supervised drug injection sites.

The respect for communities act would provide the minister of health with information needed to properly assess section 56 exemption applications and to balance public health and public safety considerations, in accordance with the charter.

To be more specific, the bill sets out the criteria that build upon the five factors set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. These criteria would provide clarity to the applicants on the type of information the minister would consider in an exemption application related to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Given the serious risks to human health and public safety associated with illegal drugs, and given that substances obtained from illegal sources are known to contribute to organized crime, our government believes that exemptions to undertake activities with them should be granted only once rigorous criteria, identified in Bill C-2, have been addressed.

Under Bill C-2, the minister of health would continue to have responsibility for granting the exemptions. However, to provide clarity and transparency in the application process, the bill sets out the information requirements to inform these decisions.

I have looked at this very carefully through the lens of being both a former mayor of a small town and a health care practitioner. I believe that what the minister has created in the bill is a positive and appropriate framework for these decisions.

Bill C-2 specifically identifies the type of information the minister would need to support informed decision-making. It would ensure that the Minister of Health would have access to community perspectives from a broad range of relevant stakeholders so as to give consideration to the potential impact a site could have on a particular community. To take that local government perspective, they are often looking at zoning applications and uses for different pieces of property, and there are frequently very strong opinions on both sides. Again, it is the community that has the ability to express those opinions. The ability of people to express their opinions to help inform the decision-making is absolutely critical.

Applicants would have to provide a report on consultations with the licensing authorities for physicians and nurses as well as with local community groups. As well, letters of opinion would be required from, for example, provincial ministers of health and public safety, the head of the local police force, and the lead health professionals of the government of the province. These individuals would be consulted in their professional capacities so that the minister's decision could be informed by leading experts from the local area. These letters would contain their opinions on the proposed activities and any public health and public safety concerns they might have.

The applicant would need to provide a report outlining the views of these groups and describing how they would respond to any relevant concerns raised during the consultations. The applicant would also be required to describe proposed measures to address relevant concerns raised by the head of the local police force, the local government, and community groups.

Available information about crime and public nuisance, public use of illicit drugs, or inappropriately discarded drug-related litter, such as needles, would also have to be submitted, along with any law enforcement research or statistics on the subject.

In addition, to address the safety of individuals and communities, the applicants would need to provide a description of the potential impact of the proposed activities at the site on public safety. This would include available information on crime in the vicinity of the site and in the municipality and a description of measures to be taken to minimize the impacts.

Applicants would also be required to provide information on security measures, record keeping, and the establishment of procedures for the safe disposal of any controlled substances or the devices that facilitate their consumption. Criminal record checks for key employees would also need to be provided.

Members on the other side of the House have raised a variety of concerns regarding the proposed legislation and the information required to support an application for an exemption for activities conducted at a supervised consumption site.

I would like to point out that we need to balance the obligations being placed on applicants with the needs of the Canadian public, meaning the individuals, organizations, and businesses that would become the eventual neighbours of any supervised consumption site in their communities.

A typical and appropriate community process should happen at a local level. That is what this bill is about. It would set up clear parameters and would require a thorough consultation process to ensure that applications for these supervised drug-injection sites were thoroughly reviewed by local experts and community members as part of any decision.

Our government believes that it is important to give members of the public an opportunity to provide input into proposed activities that could impact their communities. That is why, under Bill C-2, the minister would also have the authority to post a notice of application for a 90-day public comment period to seek direct input from community members. It is not unlike a rezoning application, whereby a large sign is posted to inform everyone who is local that it will happen. It is part of the local community consultation process.

That is what I have found so surprising about the debate on this bill until now. The opposition members continue to delay and drag out the debate, when the single largest accomplishment of the bill is simply consultation with local communities. To be quite frank, to me it is incomprehensible. Members in this House need to pride themselves on local grassroots input, whether it is for an environmental assessment process or a rezoning, so I am surprised that there seems to be such resistance to providing what is normal due process in important decisions a community makes. I am pleased to see that we are making some progress on this today.

Consultations are not the only improvement contained in the bill. There are also important new clarifications that would be brought to the inspection regime to monitor these sites following their establishment. This would ensure that the government had the tools needed to monitor any injection site that may be established following the new consultation process.

One of Health Canada's responsibilities under the CDSA is to monitor the distribution of controlled substances and to inspect facilities, as needed, to verify compliance with the act, its regulations, and the terms and conditions of an exemption. This is done to minimize the risk of diversion and any negative impact on public safety. I do not think anyone should argue about the importance of having that measure in the bill. As someone who was responsible for a health centre, there were many different groups that had the ability to come in and monitor the work we were doing, whether it was on our work with controlled drugs and substances or the privacy commission. Again, these are appropriate and necessary safeguards.

The proposed legislation would amend the CDSA, which sets out the powers of inspectors. The amendments would provide authority for inspectors to enter supervised consumption sites for inspections to validate information on any exemption application received by Health Canada. These amendments would also authorize inspectors to enter a site for which an exemption was granted at any reasonable time to verify compliance with the terms and conditions of the exemption. Again, these are appropriate measures and safeguards that would be put in place. If the conditions of the exemption were not followed or the act or regulations were not complied with, there could be a danger to public health or safety, and an exemption could be revoked.

That brings us back to the real issue at play, which is the danger to public health and public safety. It is no secret that when illicit drug activities take root in neighbourhoods, the health and safety of individuals, families, and communities are put at risk. Illicit drugs that are bought and sold on the streets are inherently dangerous and present dangers in the communities in which they are found. For example, we know that the proceeds from the sale of illicit substances often contribute to organized crime, and the use of these substances can increase the risk of harm to health and safety, especially when these substances are unregulated and untested.

While a supervised consumption site aims to reduce the risk of illegal drug use, it is also important to keep in mind that no level of oversight can ever make illegal, untested street drugs completely safe.

That is why I also want to note that the bill will require applicants to provide information regarding the drug treatment facilities that may be associated with the injection site. I think all members of this House can agree that the true goal of the program designed to help those of us struggling with addictions is to end drug use in a safe way. That is what any of us would hope for family or friends fighting an addiction. It is only right to analyze the drug treatment facilities that are proposed and associated.

We often hear about safe injection sites being a pathway to treatment, to care. As someone involved in the health care business, I too frequently saw people who were desperate to have detox, to have rehabilitation, to have support with nothing being available to them. If this is to be a pathway to supporting people in their recovery, then it has to be associated with those pieces of the treatment puzzle.

Everyone in this House probably has family and friends who are aware of enormous dollars that have been spent to send their loved ones to treatment centres because there are no public options available as they were desperately struggling with recovery.

These changes are in line with our government's balanced approach to tackling illegal drug use in Canada. In 2007 we introduced a national anti-drug strategy. The strategy focuses on drug prevention and access to treatment for individuals who suffer from drug dependencies. It also focuses on combatting the production and distribution of illicit drugs by targeting drug dealers and producers who threaten the health and public safety of our communities, and more particularly important, of our youth.

One of the key components of the strategy is the enforcement action plan, which has increased the capacity of law enforcement to proactively target organized criminal activities. For example, under this plan, funding was provided to the RCMP to expand its dedicated anti-drug team to help locate, investigate and shut down organizations involved in the production and distribution of illicit drugs. Funding was also provided to enhance the capacity of the criminal justice system to investigate and prosecute offenders.

Through these and many other activities under the national anti-drug strategy, we have made great progress in helping to protect public health and safety.

To emphasize just how much the issues related to public health and public safety are intertwined, both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Public Safety appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to address questions raised by members in their consideration of this bill.

During her testimony, the Minister of Health clearly stated that, “This legislation was not prepared overnight or on a whim”. It was “...drafted to specifically codify a detailed ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in September 2011 on a supervised injection site”. As I have said, that ruling identified the specific factors the Minister of Health must consider when reviewing applications that grant exemptions from Canada's drug laws to allow such sites to be established.

There are many things I could say about the process. I know 20 minutes is a long time, but it can also be a short time. Most people in the House, I expect, have had families and friends who have struggled with addiction. We heard a very powerful statement yesterday from one of our colleagues. We are trying to create a balanced piece of legislation that will really, as I say, take care of the public safety issues, to look at the public health issues and respond to the Supreme Court of Canada decision.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

March 13th, 2015 / 10:20 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member across talks about the opposition dragging out the debate, and she also underlined the importance of consulting with community groups.

In terms of the consultative process regarding Bill C-2, has she gone to the grassroots community partners around her, places such as ASK Wellness, Henry Leland House, Crossroads Inn, the Phoenix Centre? Has she talked to the president of ASK Wellness, Elizabeth Harris, about the bill? Has she talked to the president of the Phoenix Centre, Fawn Holland?

I am just wondering what their input was in her own community and whether she has consulted closely with them in Kamloops.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have ongoing dialogue with many members in Kamloops, including ASK Wellness, on many pieces of legislation, whether it is our prostitution legislation or others.

The member is missing the point. The point is that there are criteria giving consistency to how applications will be received. Most importantly, what it would do is say that if there is ever a proposed site in Kamloops, all of the groups that the member mentioned would have the ability to speak very directly to it, as would the local government and police force.

Again, what we are talking about is the ability of communities to have consultation and be able to determine what is appropriate and what is going to be helpful to deal with what is a very difficult challenge.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is clear with this particular bill that the Prime Minister's Office is trying to give the impression that we are going to have all of these injection sites scattered across the country unless we pass this legislation.

If we take a look at the one injection site that we have here in Canada, there was immense consultation. We had federal, provincial and municipal cooperation that had all sorts of other stakeholder and community involvement. The stakeholders included first responders, health care professionals and police agencies. The whole nine yards was brought in together to put this one site into being.

It is ludicrous to believe that communities and others would not be consulted. The real reason is that this is nothing more than Conservative spin to try to create an issue that is just not there.

Why does the member believe that this legislation is even necessary?

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is making my own point. This legislation would take the Supreme Court of Canada decision, which lays out five things that need to be looked out. The Minister of Health needs to give the exemption.

It is our responsibility to ensure that with those criteria, there are processes and systems around it. Again, to be quite frank, the member is making my point that this legislation would create the system that is needed to address the important issues.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, we talked a little bit about barriers in getting programs like this off the ground and having community confidence. Some of that is a lack of legislative direction. What we would provide here is that legislative direction, which has that criteria.

One of the pieces of criteria that I was most interested in hearing about, and I wonder if the hon. member could expand on it a little, is the criteria around ensuring that plans includes treatment plans to go along with the safe injection sites. Communities can understand and invest in that. Could my hon. colleague expand a little bit on that piece in plainer English terms?

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have worked in small northern communities and I have seen the decimation that addictions can create in those communities. I also saw the huge lack of appropriate detoxification and rehabilitation services. I can remember time after time when people came to me and said, “Listen, we are ready to quit”. I had to say, “I am sorry, but there no are beds or services available”. I told them that in six months, we may be able to give them the support that they need. That was a shame, because six months later, those people might not have been ready anymore.

Treatment and prevention services that are directly associated with the site is an enormous and absolutely critical piece of this complex and comprehensive puzzle.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member's comments on a speech given by Dr. Julio Montaner, the director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. He said that the government “just doesn't get it”. He said:

...instead of complying with the Supreme Court of Canada, they are making it even more difficult for people to access a service that has been shown to be lifesaving.

Dr. Montaner is one of our leading world experts on AIDS and believes that this bill is wrong-headed. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member to comment on that, and ask her how many safe injection sites the department of health is projecting to be exempted in the first year after this law is proclaimed.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the greatest of respect for Dr. Montaner in terms of some of the work he has done around HIV/AIDS. I have listened to him speak here on Parliament Hill.

The point of this legislation is that we would put in place some appropriate parameters around the minister determining whether to give an exemption. There is even a process around rezoning applications. When a mining company is looking at establishing a mine, there is a process around it. We have created straightforward criteria that look at a balance, include prevention and safety, and include community consultation. To be quite frank, I think all opposition members should be on board with us on this particular piece of legislation.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the problem with this bill is that it is now harder to set up a supervised injection site than it is to build a pipeline. Want to build a pipeline? Do not bother asking permission from the mayor, fishers or farmers. Just do it.

Want to set up a centre to help people who really need help, because life as a drug addict is not easy? You will have to come up with the sun, the moon and the starlit sky.

Will someone please explain to me why it is so easy for oil companies to do what they want and why insurmountable obstacles are put in the way of people who want to help folks who are suffering? I would really like to know why that is.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely have to disagree with the hon. member. He needs to look at what is in this bill. Consulting with communities is perfectly appropriate. Making sure there are criminal record checks of the people who are going to be running these operations is absolutely perfectly appropriate. Having plans in terms of what will be done with the needles so that they are disposed of properly is absolutely appropriate. Having inspectors make sure that people are complying is absolutely appropriate.

I look at every single element in this bill. They are not overly onerous and they are appropriate protections for the health and safety of communities.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to participate in such an important debate.

I wish we had longer to discuss such a critical issue, but the government, of course, has issued another one of its time allocation motions. I cannot remember if it is 91 or 92 times thus far. We will have a grand total of two and a quarter hours to debate this pressing public health issue, but that is the way it is.

In my remarks today, I want to first examine how we got here on safe injection sites. Second, I want to talk about the bill itself. Third, I want to talk about the ideological underpinnings that are self-evident in this legislation.

I cannot do better, frankly, than to start with an almost poetic description of the crisis that led to this. This is from the Supreme Court of Canada in its famous 2011 judgment relating to the Insite centre in Downtown Eastside Vancouver:

In the early 1990s, injection drug use reached crisis levels in Vancouver’s downtown eastside.... Epidemics of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C soon followed, and a public health emergency was declared in...September 1997. Health authorities recognized that creative solutions would be required to address the needs of the population of the [downtown eastside], a marginalized population with complex mental, physical, and emotional health issues. After years of research, planning, and intergovernmental cooperation, the authorities proposed a scheme of care for drug users that would assist them at all points in the treatment of their disease....

Operating a supervised injection site required an exemption from the prohibitions of possession and trafficking of controlled substances under s. 56 of the CDSA, which provides for exemption at the discretion of the Minister of Health, for medical and scientific purposes. Insite received a conditional exemption in September 2003, and opened its doors days later. North America’s first government-sanctioned safe injection facility, it has operated constantly since then. [...] It does not provide drugs to its clients, who must check in, sign a waiver, and are closely monitored during and after injection. Its clients are provided with health care information, counselling, and referrals to various service providers or an on-site, on demand detox centre. The experiment has proven successful. Insite has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area. It is supported by the Vancouver police, the city and provincial governments.

The court ordered the minister of health to grant a “constitutional exemption”, as it called it, to the Insite facility, so it could continue to operate free from federal drug laws. The minister was then ordered by the court to grant an exemption under section 56. That is what happened.

The government responded with Bill C-2, which is before us today. It is my strong belief that the bill before us will be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. Many lawyers and experts have said the same thing. Why? Because it is a thinly veiled attempt to not do what the Supreme Court of Canada required.

This is a public health emergency, and the response is to provide a list of criteria that is so vast that no one believes there will ever be a safe injection site as a function of this legislation. It is absolutely opposed to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision.

The parliamentary secretary just spoke about the criteria being perfectly normal. Of course, it was all very much in place when the city of Vancouver got its Insite facility.

No one is suggesting that there should not be public consultation and the like. I have had a raging debate with my colleagues as to just how many hoops will have to be jumped through to ever get one of these safe injection facilities under Bill C-2. I cannot decide. There are 26 criteria listed in the bill, but, as they say on television, there is more. After the 26, the long, many-paged list of criteria that has be jumped through before the exemption can be granted, there are two at the end that raise a number of eyebrows.

I will just read them, so members can see why it is so difficult to know. One of them at the end is “any other information that the Minister considers relevant to the consideration of the application”. I have no idea what that means. It is entirely subjective. She could consider the price of tea in China and that might be considered relevant.

However, there is more. It says, “any prescribed information that is submitted in the prescribed manner”. I guess they can make a regulation and prescribe a bunch more. It is 26-plus open criteria, plus a whole list of others that might be prescribed later. This is not a normal series of criteria for granting an exemption.

It then goes on and provides a series of principles that seem to swallow the entire thing. It states, in part, “The Minister may only grant an exemption for a medical purpose” to allow these safe injection sites in exceptional circumstances and after considering a whole bunch of other principles, including criminal activity, organized crime, risks of overdose, and unadulterated controlled substances.

We cannot read this legislation without basically saying that the government is trying to make it as hard as possible to do what the Supreme Court ordered in one of Canada's leading public health emergencies ever.

There is no need to take my word for that. The British Columbia Medical Journal had an article, before this legislation, by a number of leading AIDS researchers. It starts with this, “Our current approach to the epidemic has been an utter failure”.

The article then lists the costs for people having to go to the hospital, There is a cost of $500,000 per patient to deal with AIDS, and the cost of emergency care in hospitals, not to mention the homeless. That is why the police have been so strong in Vancouver in support of Insite. The article goes on to talk about how it has been a failure because of the traditional law enforcement paradigm of the current government: more crime, more legislation to deal with crime, more police. It has been an utter failure, according to the police themselves.

I had a chance to meet with Dr. Simpson of the Canadian Medical Association yesterday, and the CMA is strongly in favour of this kind of harm reduction approach. It is reflected in the strategy that Vancouver, the Vancouver Board of Trade, and small business have embraced. It seems that everyone has embraced it but the Conservative government, which seems to think it will help its base in passing a law that is so obviously contrary to the spirit of the Supreme Court.

The four-pillars approach has been what Vancouver has embraced. Those four pillars to dealing with the crisis are the following: one is enforcement, that is granted; second is treatment; third is prevention; and fourth is harm reduction. It is harm reduction of the kind that is reflected in the Downtown Eastside Insite facility, and a very comprehensive plan was put in place by the city to address this.

At this point, I must pay tribute to the retiring member for Vancouver East, in whose riding this occurred. She has been utterly amazing in her advocacy on behalf of the poorest people in our community: aboriginal people, frequently; people from cultural communities; people who have come from all over the country to live in the Downtown Eastside and deal with addiction. They are dying at overdose rates that are absolutely staggering.

I want to pay tribute, as well, to Senator Larry Campbell, who was then the mayor of the City of Vancouver. He embraced a harm reduction strategy from the start and deserves a lot of credit for helping implement the four-pillars strategy in Vancouver.

All that the health advocates have been saying is that we need this in other communities. We need it in my community, and I will come to that. The public health officer of Toronto has been pleading for meaningful legislation. What they are getting from the current government is a farce. They know it, and the courts will soon know it. We will have wasted a lot of time doing something that is so obviously not a public health measure but simply a sop to the Conservative Party base. I will demonstrate the truth of that in a moment.

That is where we have landed with Bill C-2. This is a government that is more concerned with punishment than compassion; a government that is putting ideology over evidence.

Let me speak about the Canadian Medical Association and its members response to this legislation. They were asked, like so many, to be consulted on this, and they were. What they said was quite staggering. They said the following:

The CMA fully endorses harm reduction strategies and tools, including supervised injection sites....

Bill C-2...proposes new, far reaching, and stringent conditions that must be met by a proponent who is applying to establish a supervised injection site. The CMA maintains that safe injection sites are a legitimate form of treatment for the disease of addiction, that their benefit is supported by a body of research, and that the conditions proposed under Bill C-2 are overly restrictive.

That is what the doctors are telling us. It is obvious to them, and it is obvious to most Canadians who have had an opportunity to read this thinly veiled effort to stop supervised injection sites.

When the government looked at the evidence and consulted on this, it was self-evident that it needed a harm reduction strategy, that it needed to make exemptions possible under section 56 more readily available. What it ended up with is what has brought us here today.

The number of people who are opposed to this legislation is staggering, such as the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association. However, we also need to address those people who are trying to get safe injection sites in their communities. There is only one in Canada, and it is in danger now I suppose, but certainly Toronto wants one. Dr. David McKeown, the Medical Health Officer of that great city said:

I come at it from a public health point of view. Toronto was one of several cities in Canada looking to implement supervised injection sites as part of an evidence-based, comprehensive approach to health services for people who address drugs. The board feels the proposed Bill C-2 is not consistent with the decision of the Supreme Court on supervised injection. If Bill C-2 is passed as written, we believe it will be a significant barrier for any community or health system in any province that has come to the decision that those services would serve both the public health and public safety interests of local residents.

Good luck trying to get one, Toronto. Good luck, Victoria.

I happen to represent the city of Victoria, and I am proud to do so. Let me tell everyone what is going on in my city. Many local agencies have expressed an interest in opening a safe injection site, but there is no application because it is considered that there is no way they would get it. Why bother? There are so many conditions that are required, that they do not think there is any chance.

Nevertheless, people are dying in the streets. Katrina Jensen, AIDS Vancouver Island executive director, in 2013, said:

We have had eight overdose deaths in the last six months and those are deaths that could have been prevented if we had a supervised consumption site....

Good luck getting one, Victoria. I am here to say that the chances of doing so are remote at best.

That is where we are. That is why I asked the parliamentary secretary whether or not Conservatives had any projection as to how many of these facilities would be up and running a year later. I did not get any answer at all.

I will refer to something that I know many people have been concerned, which is why it is taking this long to get here, and why it is that the Conservative government has done everything it can to thwart this legislation coming forward.

Stephen Maher, a journalist, wrote the following in 2013:

On the afternoon of Friday, September 20, [2013, the health minister] sent out a news release announcing she was taking action against Health Canada officials who had approved an application from doctors who wanted to give heroin to addicts.

“Our policy is to take heroin out of the hands of addicts, not to put it into their arms,” she said.

It was odd. Why would [the health minister] issue a news release attacking her own officials? The next morning a clue landed in the inboxes of Conservatives across Canada.

Fred DeLorey, director of political operations for the party sent an e-mail to supporters: “Drug treatment programs should be focused on ending drug use--not giving illicit drugs to drug addicts. That's why I was shocked to learn today that Health Canada approved funding to give heroin to addicts--against the wishes of the elected government.”

There was a link to surprise, surprise a Sun News story:

“What the heck is Health Canada on?”, the anchor asked, throwing to a reporter who said that “government bureaucrats, many are saying, have used a loophole to allow individuals to legally receive prescription heroin”.

DeLorey's email ended with a link to a Conservative Party website with a big picture of a hypodermic needle and a place for people to enter their name and email address.

Here is the punchline. If one enters one's data, half an hour later DeLorey will send an email with a warning “If the NDP or Liberals are elected in 2015, you can bet they would make this heroin-for-addicts program permanent”, and then hits readers with a pitch for $5 to help the Conservatives fight back.

I guess it is clear why we have taken this long. We know about the fundraising efforts on the backs of people who are dying. This is a public health emergency, yet the Conservatives are trying to use it as a fundraiser. I do not know what to say except that people deserve better than such a mean-spirited government addressing the legislation in this kind of way.

I need to go back to the criteria. The parliamentary secretary was making it sound, and I will use her word in her debate, “typical”. However, as a lawyer, I have never seen anything like the criteria the Conservatives have put forward in an apparent attempt to implement the Supreme Court of Canada's response to this public health emergency. Here are the criteria in the new and improved bill, Bill C-2, to get one of these exemptions to allow a safe injection site.

Let me be clear. Talking to the police and the neighbourhood, and doing full consultation is a no-brainer. Everybody understands that. How could any municipality get away with doing otherwise? It is what Vancouver did so effectively. However, there is more criteria set out in the bill, such as:

The Minister may consider an application for an exemption...that would allow certain activities to take place at a supervised consumption site only after the following have been submitted:

Here I will paraphrase.

First, there is the requirement for scientific evidence demonstrating that there is a medical benefit. Duh, there have been 30 studies already on Insite. Europe and Australia have learned about this, but I guess we need more science on this.

The second is the requirement of a letter from the provincial minister, a letter from the local government, a description of the measures that have been taken to address any relevant concerns in the letter, a letter from the police force saying it is okay, a description of this and that. I am only at five, but there are 26 criterion, including this open-ended thing.

I do not want any Canadian to think this is somehow an ordinary list of relevant criteria, because that would be to misstate and distort the evidence before us.

Speaking of evidence, I need to talk about what happened after the safe injection site was opened in Vancouver.

First, there had been a twelvefold increase in overdose deaths in Vancouver between 1987 and 1993. There had been an astounding increase in communicable diseases among injection-drug users, such as hepatitis A, B and C, as well as AIDS. However, when the safe injection site was opened, there was a 35% decrease in overdose deaths, a decrease in crime as well as communicable disease rates and infections and relapse rates for drug users. That was because a science-based, evidence-based approach was taken.

People were now saying, and the Supreme Court of Canada was persuaded, that this health service would save lives. It would save a lot of money as people were no longer presenting at emergency centres and hospitals. It would reduce the amount of crime. That was evidence before the Supreme Court of Canada, and it was why it decided that a constitutional exemption was required by the minister.

The bill before us is public health legislation, although one would never know it. It was sent to the public safety committee, not the health committee, by the government. Public health does not get a lot of mention in the legislation nor in the parliamentary secretary's speech.

If we are to face a public health crisis as adult Canadians, then we need to face up to the fact that the four pillars work, that a comprehensive approach is required, that safe injection sites must be licensed and welcomed into communities when reasonable consultation has occurred, rather than the legislation before us, which thwarts this, sadly, for nothing but political purposes.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest. As the critic and my colleague was going through the list of what he called onerous things that would have to be done to get a safe injection site going, not one of them seemed unreasonable: scientific data, the ability to have criminal record checks, community consultation, a letter from the police. The opposition is fearmongering around what is an appropriate and reasonable framework.

I have to pick up on one of the member's comments. Does he also believe we should provide the heroin and the illicit drugs in these sites? Is that something he believes should also be part of this proposal?

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think I just heard the parliamentary secretary ask whether we should provide heroin at these sites. Did I understand that? The evidence before the Supreme Court was that people would bring their own drugs in for safe injection. They would be provided services, counselling, detox and so forth to try to get them off these drugs. I cannot believe anyone involved in this debate would ever make such a suggestion.

As to the reasonableness of the criteria, it is the astounding amount of information that must be provided. Critics are concerned about that. There is a stacked deck, to use the words of my colleague from Vancouver East, designed to frustrate. That is the reason I went after the number of criteria, coupled with principles that later seem to fly in the face of even granting such an exemption in the first place.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for becoming the new health critic for the New Democratic Party.

As the health critic, could he explain to me why the bill was sent to the public safety committee instead of to the health committee?

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for all her efforts on health reform in Canada. I much appreciate her comments.

Why this bill was sent to the public safety committee rather than the health committee is simple. It is because the government does not see this as a health issue. It sees it as a law enforcement issue. It wants to spend more money to maybe put more addicts in jail, and maybe that will make the world a better place. That is contrary to the evidence of Dr. Julio Montaner, a world expert on AIDS, who says that the government “just doesn't get it” and has put up roadblocks with this stacked deck of criteria.

That is why the government sent it to the public safety committee rather than the health committee, because it does not even accept that we have a public health crisis in our cities.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his great analysis.

When he was speaking, I was harking back to 2011 when I was invited to Oakland for an international conference on HIV-AIDS prevention and how to deal with it. Guess who was the keynote speaker? It was the model of prevention, our friends from Vancouver. We were on the international stage, but, meanwhile, back home the government was challenging them. I was asked as a Canadian politician to explain that and I could not. However, at the same time, Oakland had declared a state of emergency because of HIV-AIDS. The people were saying that we had to stop locking up people for drug use and start helping them. They were really looking to Canada as a world leader in this area because we were seen as a model.

How is this health approach important versus the public safety approach? It is despicable that people would try to make money off victims. Maybe you could talk about the different approaches of health versus public safety.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before I go to the member for Victoria, I would ask all hon. members to direct their comments to the Chair rather than directly to their colleagues.

The hon. member for Victoria.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to come from British Columbia, which has the first safe injection site in North America, welcomed by the police, the province and business. It makes me proud.

However, it makes me sad and angry at the same time, because a few kilometres away from where I live people are dying on the streets. When people come to my community, they ask me about this public health measure. They ask me if I think they can get one of those facilities in Victoria. I look at the legislation, shake my head and tell them I do not see how they can. We have to wait for the lawyers to once more take this to the Supreme Court of Canada, and once more get it struck down. In the meantime, this is no joke. People are dying.

I am proud my colleague went to Oakland and saw Vancouver featured on the international stage. I am hopeful that in the Senate, Senator Campbell, who has been such a champion of this, will do what he can do to see if we can get back on track with such an important initiative.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with every word in the speech by my friend from Victoria. Bill C-2 is not so much a disguised attempt but a blatant attempt to do indirectly that which the Conservative administration could not do directly, which is prevent the building of any new Insite clinics.

As for use of this issue politically, I harken back to when the former minister of foreign affairs—now we must refer to him only as the member for Ottawa West—Nepean—was in the Mike Harris cabinet. He said that they wanted mandatory tests of drugs for welfare recipients because “We don't want to see them shooting their cheques up their arms”. It is a long-standing use for propaganda and for fundraising.

I want to draw his attention to one of the many criteria that are there for purposes of defeating the building of an Insite clinic. They are listed as A through Z and Z1. There is one that says before a clinic is built an applicant must provide the CV and work history of senior employees.

Could the hon. member for Victoria recall any instance in his experience where a facility that does not yet have a permit to be built knows the names and has the CVs of every senior employee?

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague and friend from Saanich and the Islands for all her work on this important initiative. We tried to have amendments she brought forward, supported by the NDP, to have this entire travesty repealed, but we were unsuccessful.

I have never heard of a criteria requiring CVs for every employee in any such statute. When the member talked about A through Z and Z1, I am still debating with myself just how many criteria there are. A through Z is 26, but then there is one that seems to say anything can be prescribed, anything the minister considers relevant.

We do not even know how many criteria there will be. We do not think there will ever be any safe injection sites as a result of such a wrong-headed and mean-spirited statute.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments carefully. I was involved in this debate when I was parliamentary secretary and before that, as health critic. The terminology is important. It is not a safe injection site in Vancouver. It is called a supervised injection site. Would the member agree that there is no such thing as a safe injection site or safe injections?

If I understand the member correctly, he wants facilities to be BYOH, “bring your own heroin”. Is that what he is suggesting?

Is he offering up his riding for a supervised injection site that he is promoting so valiantly today?

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, those are three questions, but I will try to be short in response to my hon. colleague.

“Supervised injection site” is the right terminology. They are safe, however, because no one has died at Insite as a consequence of injecting there.

BYOH is insulting. This is not what I want. The Supreme Court of Canada addressed the fact that people were allowed to bring their drugs there for safe injection under supervision.

My riding will not have any sites because this law will not allow, in the real world, any such facilities to be licensed.

St. Patrick's DayStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, on March 17, many countries, including Canada, the United States and France, will honour Irish immigrants by joining them in simple, friendly celebrations of their national holiday and the joy of being an immigrant of Irish origin.

St. Patrick's Day is about people celebrating in the streets of Ireland. It is also celebrated all over in Irish pubs in big cities. Young and old alike love to see leprechauns, those little red-headed folk sporting top hats and clovers, and all the people dressed in green with Irish flags painted on their cheeks.

On March 17, I will be in my riding learning about Irish history through the cultural references and folklore of our good Irish friends, and I encourage everyone to do the same. Do not miss this wonderful opportunity.