Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, at third reading.
I have a couple of other suggestions for the name of this bill. It could be called “the refusal to honour the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada bill”. How about “the pursuing ideology versus evidence act”, or “the refusal to save the lives of people with addictions act"?
This bill was introduced in response to the Supreme Court of Canada 2011 ruling that Insite, in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, had been proven to save lives and reduce harm, and that the government's efforts to close Insite would violate section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to life, liberty, and the security of the person. It is clear that the government did not like this ruling, and therefore has tried to go about refusing to honour the ruling by another route.
It is also clear that this bill will not fulfill the spirit of the court's ruling. Rather, it would make it cumbersome for a group or municipality to apply for a section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act which allows a facility to operate. However, the likelihood of any future sites opening in Canada would become slim to none. Making matters worse, Vancouver's Insite would have to apply for a renewal based on the same 26 different criteria as new applications, as well as two additional provisions.
Section 56 of the CDSA gives the Minister of Health discretionary powers to grant exemptions from the act under one of three categories. They are medical purposes, scientific purposes, or in the public interest. Of the exemptions that have been granted for activities with illicit substances, two types are for law enforcement purposes. These are to train sniffer dogs using seized drugs in the public interest and to allow the Vancouver Coastal Health authority to operate Insite. It was initially for scientific purposes, but since the Supreme Court's decision, it is considered a medical exemption.
The government's intentions have been clear from the beginning. It has always opposed Insite and has been trying to close it down since it formed government. Thankfully, the work of the community of Vancouver and the courts have stopped these attempts.
I would also like the opportunity to thank the member for Vancouver Centre and the Liberal Party of Canada health critic for her tireless efforts on this file to ensure that public policy is based on evidence and not ideology.
This is an ideological bill based on crass political motivation from a government that has always opposed evidence-based harm reduction measures such as safe injection sites. Only an hour after the legislation was introduced, Conservative campaign director Jenni Byrne issued a crass and misleading fundraising letter to supporters, stating that the Liberals and the NDP wanted addicts to shoot up heroin in the backyards of communities all across the country.
Despite this bill being tabled by the Minister of Health, it was given to an enforcement department, the committee of public safety and security. This is further evidence of the government's view of addiction as a criminal act. The public safety and security committee heard witnesses from three meetings, with many expressing concern that this bill would effectively shut down the current safe consumption site in Vancouver and deny the creation of further sites.
There were amendments suggested by the Province of British Columbia, the chief public health officer of British Columbia, and the City of Vancouver, which were consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada criteria. Even witnesses in favour of the legislation expressed concern that in some parts the legislation is too restrictive. Over 60 amendments were moved by the opposition parties to bring this legislation in line with the Supreme Court ruling. However, the legislation, as usual, was not amended.
The Liberals proposed amendments to the legislation at committee to amend clause 5, which outlines the criteria that new and existing applicants for exemptions must meet by deleting measures that were not outlined in the Supreme Court ruling. Due to a motion passed by the Conservative majority at the public safety committee, a party can only have five minutes to speak for each clause of the bill while moving amendments. Clause 5, which is the majority of the legislation, required several amendments.
Due to the time constraints, the Liberal Party was unable to speak to the majority of the amendments, as time had elapsed. This is undemocratic and restricted our right to speak and to explain our amendments at committee.
Liberals recognize the need for some form of legislation based on the Supreme Court of Canada ruling. However, this legislation does not reflect the spirit nor the intent of the court's decision.
As stated in the 2011 Supreme Court ruling:
The factors considered in making the decision on an exemption must include evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates, the local conditions, indicating a need for such a supervised injection site, the regulatory structure in place to support this facility, the resources available to support its maintenance, and expressions of community support or opposition.
Instead, of the five criteria listed in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, Bill C-2 lists 26 different prescriptive criteria that must be met, including the areas that are intrusive into provincial and municipal jurisdiction. It also interferes with the jurisdiction of regulatory bodies on health care providers, as well as provincial and municipal police forces and provincial public health officers.
Liberals support the need for broad community consultation for the establishment of any safe consumption site, which is how the Liberal government established Canada's first safe consumption site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. When the Liberal government gave the exemption to Vancouver's safe consumption site, we consulted broadly and worked in conjunction with provincial and municipal governments, public health authorities, business associations, and the public.
Insite was the product of co-operative federalism. Local, provincial, and federal authorities combined their efforts to create it. The Vancouver police support Insite, as well as the City of Vancouver and the British Columbia government.
It was initially launched as a scientifically based research project based on experience with SCS in Europe and Australia on very high, at-risk and resistant groups, which had proven to be successful. It has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area.
lnsite has an average of 700 to 800 visits a day, and over 275,000 visits annually. As of March 2010, there have been over 1.5 million visits, over 12,000 unique individuals registered, and an average of 11 visits per month, per person
It has been proven to reduce harm. There has been a total of 2,395 overdoses since the facility opened, with zero fatalities. There were 20,000 referrals to health services in 2008-09, and over 50% of those were to detox.
lnsite users are 30% more likely to engage in addiction treatment than non-lnsite users. It has also dramatically reduced the rate of new HIV infections in the Downtown Eastside. There are three in ten injection drug users in the Downtown Eastside who are HIV positive; 18% of lnsite clients are HIV positive. There were 30 new HIV cases in the Downtown Eastside in 2011, compared to 2,100 new cases in 1996.
I would like to highlight the four pillars of any effective drug strategy: harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. The bill underlines the government's misguided decision to remove harm reduction from the equation and from an effective drug strategy.
As Liberals, we support evidence-based policies that reduce harm and protect public safety. Liberals established Vancouver's safe consumption site, which has proven to be effective in supporting those suffering with mental illness and addictions, reducing crime and protecting public safety.
Across Canada, medical officers of health, such as David McKeown, in my home community of Toronto, need this public health approach to get on with creating new life-saving facilities such as this.
Unfortunately, the bill raises the criteria to establish a safe injection site to such an extraordinary high level that it would be nearly impossible for any future site to be established in Canada.
Legislation proposed in this House must adhere to the rule of law. The ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada was clear. This legislation would put lives at risk and would likely be challenged in the courts again.
We cannot support the legislation. To put it bluntly, we cannot help people if they are dead.