moved that Bill C-224, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (assistance — drug overdose), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act, this evening. This bill amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with respect to assistance during a drug overdose.
Three subclauses in this bill have a big impact on Canadians, and Bill C-224 will save lives.
Let me tell members about Austin Padaric. Austin was a typical 17-year-old high school student. He lived in Heidelberg, in rural Ontario. An athlete, Austin was passionate about sports, skateboarding, hockey, and all things outdoors.
Those of us who are parents worry about our teenagers and what they get up to with their friends and acquaintances. However, when I spoke with Austin's mother recently, there was no worry about Austin. He was a good kid.
Austin was just a typical high school student, but we cannot ignore the fact that kids experiment at parties. One night, he attended a gathering in rural Ontario and made a decision that so many young people make. He took some drugs that night.
In the wee hours of that morning, Austin showed signs of distress. He was overdosing. Timely medical attention could have saved his life, but his acquaintances decided not to call 911. They figured they could handle it themselves. They placed him in a bathtub of cold water. When that did not work, he was put into bed on his side, where he stayed until the next morning. When they woke up and checked on him, they thought he looked dead. That is when they called 911.
Austin died seven days later, in hospital, with his parents, brother, and extended family at his side. A timely call to 911 could have prevented this tragedy.
That is the point of this bill.
Let me tell members about Kelly Best from Saskatoon. He, too, was a young man full of promise, full of hopes, and dreams. This was another young life tragically cut short.
He, too, took some drugs with a friend and began to overdose. The friend panicked, texted other friends about what to do and, eventually, phoned his dad, who immediately called 911. The delay was about an hour. It was fatal.
The friend had a small amount of drugs on him and did not want to go to jail.
Austin Padaric and Kelly Best, two names, one story, both had tragic outcomes. They paid the ultimate price. These kids did not have to die.
Their story is far too common. Yet, it is a story heard over and over again, like a broken record. There are many more names, many more needless, pointless deaths, but the same story. This needs to stop.
When I first heard these stories, I asked a very simple question. Why did anyone not bother to call 911 earlier?
The typical reason is that they were scared, scared that they, themselves, would get into trouble. They did not want to go jail. They did not want a fine or a criminal record.
Fear of prosecution is the largest barrier to people calling for help in an overdose situation. In fact, according to a 2012 Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council report, in the absence of a law such as this, 46% of respondents would either not call for help or would call and run. That is tragic and that is the point of the bill.
That is why a significant majority of U.S. states have passed legislation of this kind. In a study in Washington state, where this has been law since 2010, 88% of respondents said they would call for help because of the protection in law.
At last count, 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, have similar legislation on the books. Even states that are prone to a tough-on-crime approach, such as Alaska and Louisiana, have moved forward with such laws. Recently, Michigan's good Samaritan law passed unanimously. While the specifics vary slightly from state to state, the underlying intent is the same, for some things are crystal clear: delay means death and seconds matter.
They also recognize that it is hard to learn from being dead. These laws are a turning point in the way drug policy is understood. Harm reduction actually works. It reduces harm. Every life saved is an opportunity for people to get the help they need, an opportunity to make better choices and move forward with life.
In Canada, our laws are a bit behind.
In Canada, we have been a little slow in helping to stop the harm caused by drug overdose, where people like Austin or Kelly could otherwise have lived, but that is not to say that there have not been calls for good Samaritan drug laws. The Waterloo report I just noted illustrates the barriers to calling 911 in the event of a drug overdose. It clearly highlights the need. It identifies that criminal justice response is the most significant barrier to calling 911.
This report also shows that in the U.S.A. good Samaritan drug laws are the most widely recommended policy response to alleviating barriers to 911, laws such as the bill now before the House. The bill would provide limited legal immunity from drug possession prosecution for people who are involved in an overdose incident, who witness an overdose, and would encourage them to do the right thing, to call for help, to save a life.
The work done by Waterloo is echoed in other reports across Canada. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition also identified this as an issue and has made very similar recommendations. The compelling argument is that most overdoses occur in the presence of others. That noted Waterloo study also points to statistics from 2003 showing that 61% of drug overdose deaths occurred in the presence of others. That means that 61% of the time, there was someone else present who could have called for help, but witnesses, far too often, hesitate or waver on whether to call for help. In many cases, they just do not. What is even more frightening are cases where people are put in alleyways, abandoned on the street, or dropped off at a hospital emergency with no explanation.
In January of this year, a report to the British Columbia coroner stressed the importance of a bill such as this. It highlighted the critical importance of working to develop strategies to promote calling for help.
In more alarming recent news from B.C., Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer, declared a public health emergency because of the alarming rise of drug overdose deaths. In January alone, there were 76 deaths due to drug overdose. At the current rate, Dr. Kendall estimates that B.C. could have up to 800 drug deaths by the end of this year. That is an average of more than two deaths each day, every day, in B.C. alone.
This has to stop. These are people's children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, and family. That is what this bill is for. It will not stop the overdoses, but surely, we can stem the toll of death.
Dr. Kendall and B.C.'s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, both support this bill because it would reduce barriers and save lives. In my own riding, Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam's school district no. 43 trustees, Judy Shirra and Michael Thomas, support this bill. The city of Port Coquitlam unanimously passed a resolution supporting it. Coquitlam's mayor and many Coquitlam councillors support it as well.
I have spoken and met with Coquitlam firefighters; Port Moody mayor, Mike Clay; and Port Moody's police chief, Constable Chris Rattenbury, who in fact sent a video endorsement expressing his own support. Port Coquitlam's firefighters sent a letter of support. First responders agree that their first priority is to save lives, but they can only do that when they are called.
The Government of British Columbia's minister of health wrote to me expressing the importance of this legislation. These are among the growing number of Canadian jurisdictions that recognize that drug overdose deaths are becoming epidemic and need action now to start saving lives.
It is time we listen to Canadians and take our own advice. In a 2014 report on prescription drug abuse, the House Standing Committee on Health recommended considering good Samaritan drug overdose legislation. This bill is precisely that. It is simply about saving lives.
This bill is about giving people the tools they need to make life saving decisions in a time of crisis. It would make it okay to call for help. Many members of this House recognize this. That is why the NDP member for Vancouver East seconded the bill and many more members on both sides of the House have rallied behind it. I thank them all for their robust support. They are showing that they too want to stop the harm.
I ask all members for their support to demonstrate to all Canadians that we know that lives are worth saving, to show that we value life over death, life over punishment, and support over fear.
The purpose of this bill is to ensure that people are not afraid to call for help and, thus, to save lives.