House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was overdose.


National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I think the member hit it right on, in the sense that this is one of those diseases that draws a great deal of attention and support from all sides of the House as well as the Senate, and justifiably so, as we see with the bill before us today.

The member has given a fairly good descriptive of his thoughts and reflections on the legislation.

We have had a lot of talk over the last hours and days regarding the issue of palliative care. I wonder if the member might want to provide some thoughts on the important role health care professionals play in assisting with this particular disease, and hopefully someday will come up with a cure for.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, the health care professionals in this country do an outstanding job. They do everything they can to assist patients and families to get them through these difficult times. They see first-hand the ravages of a disease like Alzheimer's on a regular basis. I know that they join with all the rest of us who want to see progress made in this area.

One of the great things that I have seen in my lifetime are the changes that have been made and the progress that has been made. I think everyone will join with me in saying that, yes, we want to make progress, and we can do that.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, as my hon. colleague points out in his speech, it was the NDP that first introduced in the House a proposal to create a national strategy for dementia.

In 2012, former NDP MP Claude Gravelle, the great member for Nickel Belt at that time, introduced Bill C-356, prescribing a national dementia strategy in Parliament. That bill provided a comprehensive and cutting-edge plan for a national strategy to deal with Alzheimer's and other dementia.

Unfortunately, that bill was defeated at second reading in May 2015 by a single vote; 140 to 139. The bill was opposed by a majority of Conservative MPs, Bloc MPs, and critically, as it turned out, a single Liberal MP who failed to stand for the vote.

I must mention that, inexplicably, the member for Niagara Falls, the sponsor of the bill before the House today, voted against the the NDP bill to establish a national plan for dementia. I wonder if the member could stand in the House and explain to Canadians why he opposed a bill that would have brought such a great plan to Canadians a year earlier than his bill.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, I would be glad to do that. While I had every sympathy and, indeed, empathy with respect to the whole area of doing something with Alzheimer's, I had a number of issues with the bill. I felt it was too prescriptive, the timelines were unrealistic, and I believed that ultimately it would need a royal recommendation and that it might get tossed out.

That being said, I never forgot that this had been introduced in the House of Commons. When I had the opportunity, I had a look at it very carefully. As the member will see, we made changes to make it so it would not too prescriptive on the health minister. In fact, it will avoid needing a royal recommendation.

This bill is an improvement; it is a change. Nonetheless, I have been very clear on every occasion when I have spoken to this. I have raised the name of the NDP member, Claude Gravelle, and I have indicated his interest and the motion he brought before Parliament.

Indeed, I hope this will now have the support of everyone.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege today to rise in support of Bill C-233, an act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

I would like to commend the hon. member for Niagara Falls. We were speaking earlier today. He has not had opportunities to bring forward private members' bills as a member of government for many years. I am both pleased and proud to be part of this effort he has engaged in. Sometimes it is the right time to do the right bill, and I believe he has spotted that this is the right time to do the right bill.

As he did, I also want to acknowledge the tremendous work of the former member for Nickel Belt, Claude Gravelle. He had inspiration, tenacity and he did everything right in his bill for that time. However, it did not pass. We now have a chance to have a better bill to ensure that Canada has the appropriate strategy to deal with dementia and Alzheimer's.

I want to begin by talking very personally about my friend and my former administrator when I was a United Church minister at Eglinton St. George's United Church in Toronto. Her name is Marian Ritchie. While she was working with us in the Church, she recognized that there were many people either facing both dementia in their own lives or were caregivers for people who were suffering either early or even advanced signs of dementia.

Marian decided to chronicle the life she had with her husband Edwin and she wrote a book called The Long Way Home. Similar to the The Long Goodbye, The Long Way Home chronicles Edwin's decline from simple mistakes in grammar or vocabulary to eventually having a complete change in personality, not recognizing his family, his friends and not being able to engage in every day life.

This book was profoundly moving for me as it was non-medical and it was not from a professional. It was a book simply written to inspire, to comfort and to encourage people who had family members suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

I have not had the opportunity to do something legislatively about Alzheimer's. I am so pleased the member for Niagara Falls has given me and every member of the House the opportunity to come together to form a national strategy on dementia and Alzheimer's, to ensure that we have a unified approach to this disease and to begin to make important steps that make a difference in the lives of people like Edwin and Marian.

There is a real cost to dementia, an individual cost to families as well as a cost to society. Right now it is estimated that over 700,000 people in Canada have dementia, including Alzheimer's. That is expected to double in the next 20 as our population ages. Even though age, in and of itself, is not the cause of dementia, it is part of it. There are other root causes for dementia, but we still have research that is absolutely necessary so we can begin to understand how we can address this problem.

As everyone in this chamber knows, there is no cure for dementia. We continue to wait for new drugs, new treatment and new understanding of the brain itself.

I would also like to pay great tribute to the Alzheimer's Society of Canada. It is one of several patient organizations and health charities that is working on this important issue. I want to name two people, Mimi Lowi-Young, the CEO, and Debbie Benczkowski, the number two and the one who really runs the operation. These two women have been advocates for people with this disease for many years. I think tonight in the chamber we recognize that often people who work in health charities and work with patients are driving some of the things on which Parliament is often behind.

Last year, the World Health Organization declared that dementias were a public health priority requiring international action. This past October, health ministers at the Pan American Health Organization approved an action plan in response to the predicted rise in dementia cases across the hemisphere over the next 20 years. Among other actions, the Pan American plan encourages member countries, including Canada, to improve investment in treatment for dementias.

Most recently here at home, one of the recommendations of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying was to establish a national strategy on dementia.

It is important, given the vote we just had in the House, to recognize that end-of-life care is complex. That report, of which I was proud to be a part, looked at the need to have a continuum of care. We needed to be sure we had better palliative care. We had to have better mental health strategies. We had to have better dementia care. We had to always be sensitive to specific populations and how they would respond to end-of-life situations.

Therefore, tonight, we are continuing on in that process and ensuring that we have the opportunity to have the very best, state-of-the-art, national dementia strategy of any country in the world.

However, we are not starting from nothing in this position in Canada. I even want to commend the previous government for its work in dementia strategy. It is not as though we have been doing nothing on this. The reality is that over the last 10 years, the Government of Canada has invested almost $300 million on dementia-related research, through the CIHR, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. We have had many partnerships. We are attempting to do parts of the work all around the country.

This legislation attempts to bring them together in a national strategy so we can form a partnership with research, with caregivers, with people living with dementia, with patient groups, with experts, take international evidence and bring them together to ensure our Minister of Health, our Department of Health, have the best research available so we have the best possible care.

I am encouraged that members on this side of the House, as I believe members on the other side and in all parties, are supportive of the bill. I have been hearing positive stories from each one of them, often told with stories from their own lives. They have had a parent, or a partner or they themselves have had characteristics, so they are worried about dementia in their own lives.

We have a chance, with the bill, to do something historic and to come together to say that there is the possibility that provinces, territories and the federal government and researchers, clinicians and patients, together with civil society, can have the best strategy possible.

The bill is interesting in that it acknowledges the shared jurisdiction of the federal government and the provinces and territories. It is very clear that the delivery of health care will happen at the provincial and territorial level. We are not in any way stepping on anyone's jurisdictional toes with this legislation. Rather, the legislation calls upon the federal government to consult with provinces and territories to ensure we have the best care and know that the provinces and territories have an important part to play in this national conversation.

It also pushes us at research. If there is anything that we need to acknowledge, it is that the brain is the most complicated organ in the body. I am very proud that in Don Valley West we have Sunnybrook Health Sciences, Sunnybrook Hospital, which is attempting to draw together with partner organizations, and there is Baycrest in Toronto and others across the country, to bring research, clinical expertise, and patient experience together.

This bill would foster that information, not only top-down but also bottom-up. We can learn from the people who are working with this every day to ensure we have the best resources provided, that we have the best research happening, and that we take the steps so Canada can be a leader in the world.

I want to close by telling members another story about my church. One of the projects that we did at Eglinton St. George's was to form a corporation that built a housing project in Toronto called “Ewart Angus Homes”. This is one of those creative housing projects that involves having market housing and housing for seniors, as well as two floors of care for people with Alzheimer's and dementia. It is just one example of people getting together to say they needed to be a caring society.

If we are going to walk with people to the end of their lives, we need to have the best supports for them, the best medical research, the best care for their caregivers, the best laws in place and programs in place to ensure that our country is that leader.

Again, I want to thank the member for Niagara Falls for the opportunity to second the bill. I want to encourage every member to read it, as we sometimes forget to do, and to be sure to engage in the conversation on this bill. We look forward to members' support of the bill.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today as health critic for the New Democratic Party, to speak to Bill C-233 and the urgent need to address the impact of dementia and Alzheimer's disease on patients, families, communities, and our public health care system.

Dementia disease is a progressive degenerative disorder that attacks nerve cells in the brain, resulting in loss of memory, thinking, language skills, and behavioural changes. The disease forms lesions in the brain cells of patients causing nerve connections to sever and nerve cells to die.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, which is a general term used to describe a group of systems, such as loss of memory, language, motor skills, and other brain functions. Alzheimer's is not part of the normal process of aging, and currently has no cure.

Bill C-233 calls for the development and implementation of a national and comprehensive strategy to improve health care delivered to persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

This legislation prescribes a number of elements that must be included in a national strategy, including greater investment in research, the establishment of national objectives for care, coordination with international bodies that fight dementias, assistance to provinces and territories to improve treatment, strengthening of prevention and early intervention, and disseminating best practices. As prescribed in the bill, the details and benchmarks for these elements would be determined at a conference convened by the minister with multi-stakeholder representation.

New Democrats have long believed that Canada needs an ambitious and comprehensive national dementia strategy to improve care for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians suffering from forms of dementia, and to better support their families and caregivers.

As Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, has said:

By implementing a strategy, we will be able to enhance research efforts, raise awareness about the disease, provide support for people with dementia and their care givers, identify best practices for care and improve surveillance of the disease.

Particularly as Canada's population ages, we must prepare our health care systems and our communities for the inevitable rise in the number of Canadians suffering from dementia. To paraphrase Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare and a New Democrat, “Only through the practice of preventative medicine will we keep health care costs from becoming..excessive..”, and the need is pressing.

Recently, the former head of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Chris Simpson said:

our acute care hospitals are overflowing with patients [often dementia patients] awaiting long term care placement and our long-term care facilities are understaffed, underspaced and underequipped to care for our most vulnerable seniors. This leaves patients and their families in limbo, struggling to fill these gaps in our system....

The need for national leadership is urgent. Few Canadians are untouched by these diseases that often have shattering impacts on families. The struggle to cope with the deterioration of mental faculties and the loss of memory can be overwhelming and heartbreaking.

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, that disease and other dementias now directly affect 750,000 Canadian patients. This number is expected to double to 1.4 million by 2031. Current dementia-related costs, both direct medical costs and indirect lost earnings, have reached $33 billion per year in Canada, and they are projected to soar to $293 billion by 2040.

Currently the burden of care for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease falls primarily on family members. In Canada, family caregivers spend an estimated 444-million unpaid hours per year caring for dementia patients, representing $11 billion in lost income and 227,000 lost full-time equivalent employees to our workforce. If nothing changes by 2040, it is estimated that family caregivers in Canada will spend over one billion unpaid hours every year providing care. These numbers are staggering. Taken alone, they make the case for our desperate need for national leadership. Canadians overwhelmingly agree. A recent Nanos survey revealed that 83% of Canadians say that they want Canada to develop a national plan to address these diseases.

We must not forget that dementia also has a disproportionate impact on Canadian women. According to the Women's Brain Health Initiative of Canada, women represent 62% of dementia cases and 70% of new Alzheimer's cases, putting them at the epicentre of a growing health issue. In addition to this, women are nearly twice as likely as men to succumb to dementia, and two and a half times more likely to be providing care to someone with the disease.

Unfortunately, Canada is now one of the last developed countries in the world without a national strategy to address dementia. We have fallen behind countries such as the U.S., U.K., Norway, France, Netherlands, and Australia, all of which have coordinated national plans in place.

In Vancouver Kingsway, I have heard countless heartbreaking stories about the impacts of Alzheimer's disease and dementia on my constituents. Many cannot afford quality home care for their parents or face long delays in accessing long-term care facilities. Many do not even have access to the resources or information they need to make important decisions, as they witness the cognitive degeneration of a loved one. I have heard stories from personal care workers, nurses and physicians, who report emergency wards that are overwhelmed with patients, long-term care facilities that are understaffed, and long, gruelling hours for caregivers, often working for low pay in the homes of dementia patients. These stories underscore the need for leadership in this chamber.

As New Democrats, we are proud of our long history of leadership on health care, and specifically dementia care. In fact, it was the NDP that first introduced a proposal to this House to create a national strategy for dementia. In 2012, former NDP MP Claude Gravelle introduced Bill C-356 in Parliament, prescribing a national dementia strategy. That bill provided a comprehensive and cutting edge plan for a national strategy to deal with Alzheimer's and dementia. Unfortunately, that bill was defeated at second reading in May 2015 by a single vote. It was 140 to 139. The bill was opposed by a majority of Conservative MPs, Bloc MPs, and, critically as it turned out, a single Liberal MP who failed to stand for the vote. Conversely, our New Democrat caucus voted unanimously in favour of Mr. Gravelle's bill.

I must again mention that the member for Niagara Falls, the sponsor of the bill before this House today, inexplicably voted against that national dementia strategy just one short year ago. Most charitably, I might say that wisdom comes so seldom that it ought not to be rejected because it comes late. Less diplomatically, I might say that the hon. member owes Canadians an explanation and an apology for defeating the very concept that he proposes be adopted here today. What is indisputable is that if the House had followed New Democrat official opposition leadership in the last Parliament, Canadians would have a national dementia strategy in place right now. Canadians would not have lost precious time, something that is especially important to those suffering from a progressive illness.

New Democrats do not take lightly the opportunity to move forward with a national strategy for dementia. We believe this bill must be crafted correctly to ensure the best possible outcome for patients, their families, and caregivers. While we support Bill C-233, it is less ambitious in its scope and implementation provisions than the former bill, Bill C-356, the New Democrat bill. Important differences between those bills include the following: an absence of any provision to augment volunteerism for dementia and Alzheimer's-related causes, no remuneration of advisory board members, and only one public report required from the minister versus the yearly progress reports prescribed in the former NDP bill.

New Democrats will work at committee stage to bring about meaningful and substantive amendments to this bill to strengthen the final product. Canadians deserve no less than the best national Alzheimer's and dementia strategy possible. New Democrats have a long and proud history of advocating for federal leadership on health care issues. In fact, we invented it. It is critical that in a country like ours, the federal government works to ensure that all Canadians have access to the health care they need, no matter where they live, no matter what their income, and no matter their background.

New Democrats stood alone in this House unanimously for a national dementia strategy in 2015. We will stand unanimously in this House in 2016 and work so that every Canadian, every Canadian family, and every caregiver can have a world-class dementia strategy, as the NDP has fought for in the last five years.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise as the former minister of state for seniors to speak to Bill C-233, An Act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.This bill is specifically close to my heart because 25% of constituents in my riding of Richmond Centre are seniors.

I would like to thank the member for Niagara Falls for bringing forward this very important bill, and the Liberal MP who sponsored it. Bill C-233 would provide for the development and implementation of a national strategy for the health care of persons afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

This bill is what Canadians are asking for. The Alzheimer Society and other seniors organizations are very supportive of this bill. Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, had this to say about Bill C-233:

We all need to get behind this bill.... We strongly believe that a national dementia strategy that focuses on research, prevention and improved care is the only solution to tackling the devastating impact of this disease. We're ready to collaborate with our federal, provincial and territorial partners to make this a reality.

According to Alzheimer Society research, 83% of Canadians have said that they want a national dementia strategy. Here is a summary of the issue.

Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are progressive, degenerative, and eventually fatal. They impair memory, judgment, and the ability to reason, think, and process information. Changes in personality and behaviour also result from dementia.

Currently, 747,000 Canadians have some form of dementia. This number is expected to nearly double, to 1.4 million in less than 20 years. Three out of four Canadians, being 74%, know someone living with dementia. As Canada's population ages, the number of Canadians who are diagnosed with these diseases is expected to double within a generation.

Research, collaboration, and partnership remain the key to finding a cure. An early diagnosis and support for treatment can lead to positive health outcomes for people with any form of dementia. Early diagnosis also has a positive impact on the family and friends who provide care for them. The Government of Canada, in consultation with the ministers responsible for the delivery of health services in each province and territory, should encourage the development of a national strategy for the care of people living with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia, as well as for their families and caregivers.

What is dementia? Dementia is a difficult disease, but it does not define the person who has it. People with dementia are people first. They can lead happy and vital lives for a long time, especially when the right care, support, and understanding are in place. Timely diagnosis is important. It opens the door to treatments, connects people with the disease, and connects their families with helpful resources like the Alzheimer Society. While there is no guarantee, Canadians can reduce their risk of dementia by eating a heart-healthy diet, doing more physical activity, trying and learning new things, staying social, quitting smoking, and watching their vitals.

Who is at risk? The answer is largely seniors. While dementia is not a part of growing old, age is still the biggest risk factor. After 65 years of age, the risk doubles every 5 years. Seniors represent the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population. Today, one in six Canadians is a senior. In 14 years, one in four Canadians will be a senior. That has already happened in my own riding.

Dementia also occurs in people in their forties and fifties, in their most productive years. As of 2008, there were 71,000 Canadians age 65 and younger and 50,000 Canadians age 50 and under living with dementia.

What is the impact on families and the economy? For every person with dementia, two or more family members provide direct care. The progression of dementia varies from person to person. In some cases, it can last up to 20 years. Because of its progression, caregivers will eventually provide 24/7 care. In 2011, family caregivers spent 444 million hours, representing $11 billion in lost income and about 230,000 full-time jobs. By 2040, caregivers will be providing 1.2 billion hours of care per year.

Dementia is a costly disease, draining $33 billion per year from our economy. By 2040, it will be $293 billion per year. When I was minister of state for seniors, we created a portal on the website specifically for family caregivers to outline the kind of awareness and help that is available. I am glad it is still there. I encourage everyone to visit the website. However, more needs to be done.

There is a great need for a strategy that includes awareness and research. Here are the reasons. It is commonly believed that dementia is a normal part of aging. It is not. This kind of attitude means too many Canadians are diagnosed too late and caregivers seek help when they are in crisis mode. We still do not fully understand the causes, nor do we have a cure. Effective treatments are lacking and there is no proven prevention. Dementia can lie dormant in the brain for up to 25 years before symptoms appear. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. It accounts for over two-thirds of dementia cases in Canada today.

I would like to thank the sponsor of the bill for acknowledging that the former government got the ball rolling. We did a lot of work in research, like the longitudinal study which for a period of time follows people from the age of 45 to age 65 at every step. Some day that useful data will help us find out the where and why of dementia inclination in detecting this kind of brain disease, and hopefully we will be able to generate good ideas for a cure.

We have been asked why we did not support the former bill. My colleague has already mentioned that. It is not important just to get the bill passed. We wanted the right bill passed, which is also very good in a sense that it can be carried. I do not wish to list all the things which we cannot do under that bill. However, I am so glad that we are able to do it now, because now we have time to consult the general public.

A national strategy would ask the minister or delegated officials to work with representatives of the provinces and territories to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address all aspects of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

I strongly encourage every member of Parliament to support Bill C-233.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Brampton West Ontario


Kamal Khera LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, I appreciate the opportunity to speak about Bill C-233, an act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. I would like to thank the hon. member for Niagara Falls for introducing the bill, and the member for Don Valley West for his continued advocacy on this very important public policy.

Dementia is an issue that is close to the hearts of many Canadians, including my own. Indeed, many of my hon. colleagues know someone who is living with dementia or who is providing care and support to a friend or family member with dementia.

This is a piece of legislation that I am pleased to inform the House the government will support. I would like to take this opportunity to speak about our government's efforts on this very noble cause.

As the population ages, Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are expected to increase. Canadians are concerned about how they will care for and support their loved ones should this happen to them.

Fundamentally, we ask ourselves how we as a country can do more to address the challenges presented by dementia and are we doing enough.

Living with dementia means progressively losing the things that we hold most dear: memories, independence, communicating with others, and doing the activities that we enjoy most. Over time, independent living and daily routines become more challenging.

As the title of Bill C-233 suggests, there are many types of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for approximately 60% of all dementia cases. Other types, such as vascular dementia, which can result from strokes and other cardiovascular problems, also need our attention.

Recent estimates indicate that about 395,000 Canadians 40 years of age and older have dementia. Due to the aging population, this number is expected to double by 2031. Similarly, direct health sector costs are projected to double to $16.6 billion by 2031.

Unfortunately, currently there is no cure for dementia and no treatment that will stop its progression. It is important to understand that, as stated by my colleagues, dementia is not a normal consequence of aging. It can result from a variety of diseases and conditions.

The frequency with which the issue of dementia comes to our attention speaks to its importance to Canadians.

In calling for the development and implementation of a national dementia strategy, Bill C-233 entails a number of complex activities that require close co-operation with the provinces and territories. Clearly, addressing the significant public health challenges posed by dementia requires co-operation between all levels of government as well as with other sectors of society.

While a national strategy in and of itself does not guarantee success or progress, we are committed to advancing this work in a manner that will be meaningful for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians affected by dementia. This is consistent with the concrete steps we have already taken to address this pressing issue. We are treating dementia as a priority.

Bill C-233 aligns closely with much of the work currently under way.

At the federal level, we are developing an in-depth action plan that sets out federal goals, guiding principles, and priority areas for action, as well as current initiatives and future directions to guide our efforts and investments on dementia. Our action plan will be released shortly and it will help us mobilize even more partnerships and action on dementia. I know the minister looks forward to discussing this further in the weeks and months ahead.

I would like to share some of the federal investments and initiatives well under way to advance collective efforts on dementia. Many of these initiatives involve the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors, including different levels of government within Canada and other countries.

Budget 2016 extended funding for the Canada brain research fund with up to an additional $20 million over the next three years. Established by the Brain Canada Foundation with government support, this fund leverages matching funding from private donors and charitable contributions to support collaborative, multidisciplinary brain health and brain disorder research projects, including on Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

In addition, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Government of Canada has invested over $297 million in dementia-related research.

The Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging is supported by government and partner funding of $32.1 million over five years. Partners include the health research organizations of several provinces. By combining scientific talent and funding, we can accelerate discoveries and their use to benefit Canadians.

The international component, the International Collaborative Research Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease, facilitates Canada's participation in key international partnerships, and has over $14 million in commitment investments between 2010 and 2019.

Surveillance activities are also being strengthened. As an outcome of the Public Health Agency of Canada's collaboration with a consortium of neurological health charities and researchers, the first comprehensive analysis of the rates of neurological conditions and their impacts on families and communities was developed. We are providing also $42 million over the next five years to Baycrest Health Sciences to help establish the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation. Funding for the centre will support the development, testing, and scale-up of products and services that will have a positive impact on aging Canadians, with a focus on those living with dementia.

Similarly, through the networks of centres of excellence program, the government is supporting the AGE-WELL network with a total investment of $36.6 million from 2014 to 2019.

In collaboration with the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Dementia Friends Canada is receiving an investment of more than $2 million over two years. This digital engagement campaign targets individuals where they live and work to increase understanding of what it is like to live with dementia and how those affected can be better supported in day-to-day activities.

We are cognizant that while a national dementia strategy can help guide Canadian efforts, it cannot replace the need for integrating dementia into a comprehensive approach to health and health care.

Our government appreciates that Bill C-233 continues to bring attention to the challenges presented by dementia and the need for collaboration. While legislation is not required to support pan-Canadian action or strategies, it can serve to highlight a matter of significant importance to Canadians.

Bringing Alzheimer's disease and dementia more fully into our collective consciousness and mobilizing action on a topic of such profound importance to Canadians is a goal we all share. While Bill C-233 as drafted presents some challenges for implementation, the importance of the issue at hand cannot be overstated.

Dementia is a significant public health challenge and it will continue to be a priority for our government. Considering the significant federal investments in dementia and current discussions with the provinces and territories towards a new health accord, it can be stated with assurance that a comprehensive approach to addressing dementia, as well as other intersecting chronic diseases and healthy aging overall, is well under way.

I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction, and I am inspired by what we can continue to accomplish together. In closing, I would like to note that I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak about this very important issue. I encourage my hon. colleagues to support Bill C-233 as it aligns with the current federal direction on Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the strategy for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, especially because I had the opportunity to speak to the bill introduced by my colleague Claude Gravelle, who was the member for Nickel Belt. He was a very dear friend of mine. I want to say hello to him, if he is watching the debate. This is an important issue.

In my riding, Abitibi—Témiscamingue, memory disorders and cognitive impairment generally affect roughly 15% of the population. In 2012, the number of people 65 and older was 22,517. Roughly 3,355 people in Abitibi—Témiscamingue had Alzheimer's and other related diseases. In 2031, it is estimated that over 40,000 people will be 65 and older. It is possible that roughly 6,064 people in my riding will have Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

Numbers like that make us realize how important it is to have a national strategy for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

A national strategy is important because we are talking about a disease that develops over a long period of time. People are often sick for 10, 15, or 20 years. Treatment is administered over a number of years. There could be lengthy hospitalizations, and we know that the cost to society of a lengthy hospital stay is quite high.

Having a national strategy for Alzheimer's disease would allow people to stay at home longer. Families might be able to live much more harmoniously and together. Children could grow up with their parents and have bi-generational homes, for example. The national Alzheimer's strategy offers a lot of possibilities for us to live much more harmoniously with this phenomenon that is only going to amplify.

It is not easy to have a loved one who has Alzheimer's. Often, in the early stages of the disease, the person suffers some memory loss, and at other times, the person is more aware of what is happening. There is a great deal of anger and denial when people realize they have deficits.

The onset of the disease is really hard for family members to cope with. In many cases, individuals with the disease will get angry at people around them, and the situation becomes very unstable. After diagnosis, the situation gradually becomes more complicated. Family members want to keep their loved one at home, but they realize that means constant supervision. It is not always easy. Sometimes, it is a little like having a child in the house, but a child with the strength of a man and all that that implies.

This situation can be so hard for family members. They get worn out because the individual can go on living with the disease for many years and services are hard to get. It is not unusual for people to be on a waiting list for a placement. It can take months, years even, to get a bed in a specialized facility. Health care services are another challenge in those facilities. It is not like at home. Many such facilities are working toward creating a home-like environment for patients, but it is far from perfect. Many things, such as mealtimes, are not like at home.

What is very difficult for the loved ones of Alzheimer's patients is that these patients gradually forget their families. They slowly forget their children. The children come to visit their parents, but their parents do not recognize them and no longer have any idea who their visitors are.

Then, it is the turn of the spouse and relatives. It is an extremely difficult and painful situation. When they try to communicate with the Alzheimer's patient, the person does not recognize them any more. Pooling all of our resources to develop a national strategy for Alzheimer's disease can only be a winning strategy.

As I explained, this is about more than just care. We also need to consider support for informal caregivers and the way they live. For example, the loved ones of a person with Alzheimer's need a two-generation home and a proper security system to take care of that person, particularly to avoid the risk of accidental fire. Such a strategy therefore goes beyond professional medical care and hospital services. It is worth taking the time to talk about this.

There is also the whole issue of culture. We need to ensure that indigenous communities get care that takes their culture into account so that they are not separated from it. When people are hospitalized because they have a mental illness and they are losing their memory, they often regress. As the disease progresses, they remember more about their childhood than about more recent events. At a certain point, many people from first nations forget how to speak English and French because their mother tongue is their indigenous language. They then find themselves in an environment where the health care providers are unable to communicate with them. Because of their memory loss, they sometimes only remember how to speak Cree or Algonquin, for example.

In developing this strategy, we need to understand the challenges, talk to provincial stakeholders, and look at the situation from an overall perspective, not just the medical angle, which is a mistake that is often made in the context of debilitating diseases that affect a large part of the population.

Last time, we were just one vote away from adopting such a strategy. With this strategy, people suffering from dementia, and in particular their loved ones, would be understood and would get the support they deserve from their government. We could integrate an approach that takes cultures into account when caring for people with Alzheimer's or other mental illnesses.

I sincerely hope that this time, members will vote decisively in favour of this motion. Even though it was moved by a Conservative member, it is largely inspired by the work of the NDP and my former colleague, Claude Gravelle, whom I salute once again.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias ActPrivate Members' Business

7:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

If the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue wishes, she will have another minute and a half when the House resumes debate on this motion.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2016 / 7:40 p.m.


Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

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.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for bringing this bill to this House. I thank him also for his heartfelt comments. For all of us who are parents, we can only imagine the pain that a person goes through for a senseless loss, for something done by a youngster who is going through life. So often what youngsters do is experiment and in that process lose a life. I can imagine the pain and suffering a person can go through. Having to endure that is for something that my heart goes out to every single parent.

There is something monumental about the bill brought forward by the hon. member. It would change the course of things in that there would be an opportunity to save a life. That is the whole purpose behind this bill.

Substance misuse, as we know in Vancouver East, is the major issue in my community. There was a point in time in the early 1990s when there were 1,000 crosses planted in Oppenheimer Park. Each one of those crosses commemorated the loss of life, a brother, son, or daughter. We called for harm reduction initiatives and we fought for it. It took so long and we finally got the first North American supervised injection facility.

To that end, in terms of harm reduction, this is a continuum of that effort. I want to thank the member for bringing this forward. I want to ask him, what else we can do? How else can we work together, collaboratively, to extend the measures of harm reduction to ensure that we put evidence first to save lives?

Will the member also work with us to call on the government to repeal Bill C-2?

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.


Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and I am certainly 100% in favour of continuing the work on harm reduction. Just last week I did a tour of InSite in the member's riding, and it was very informative. In passing, I should note that the staff and workers at InSite are also in support of the bill.

I am aware of Bill C-2. I think it does need a little work and I certainly would appreciate working with the member and other members to correct the problems.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, first let me express how wonderful it was to hear such a passionate speech on something that obviously means a great deal to the member. I applaud the efforts he has put in personally to date in order to get this legislation before us today. He should truly be commended for his efforts.

I always enjoy hearing about real life examples. The member made reference to Austin. I am sure family and friends that might be following this debate very much appreciate the member's efforts.

I would ask him a very basic question. Is there anything else he would like to comment on in regard to just how important this issue is for him, his constituents, and all Canadians?

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8 p.m.


Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, certainly this is an issue of great importance in my community and in my province, as well as the country as a whole. I think we all have to bend our backs to the wheel and keep moving on this kind of issue. Harm reduction is an important direction to pursue and it shows real results. We are seeing more opportunities for harm reduction to be employed in our society, more supervised injection sites, for example.

As far as the bill is concerned, we are actually putting video messages and other messages of support on my parliamentary website, so if any member wishes to express such support in a 30-second video of some kind, and quality is not an issue, we would be happy to put that up.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, obviously this is an issue that our hon. colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam feels strongly about and I stand with him.

I rise in the House today to speak on behalf of private member's Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act.

The hard truth is this. If a friend or a loved one suffered a heart attack, none of us in the House would think twice about calling an ambulance. Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to drug overdoses, many of which result in death because people are simply too afraid to make that call.

In 2015 alone, there were as many as 465 overdoses in British Columbia. As our colleague mentioned, the statistics for January 2016 show 77 deaths alone. That is simply unacceptable.

Witnesses fear that when they pick up the phone, they may be criminally charged for possession. They fear judgment from others. These fears ultimately force the witness to choose between saving a person's life or being arrested and charged. It is time that we recognize that it may not be always in the public's interest to prosecute an individual who picks up the phone and asks for help when someone has overdosed.

There are some who will say that this may encourage drug use or in some way minimize the severity of drug use. Let me be very clear right from the onset. I am not for drug use, nor would I ever promote or advocate for the use of drugs. However, if this bill would give people the courage to pick up the phone and take greater action because they are not afraid, then there is no question that this would benefit the nation. It would save lives.

All members of the House can agree that in our country every life is valued. In fact, the courageous debate and discussion that we have had over the last few days is evidence to that.

If this holds true, considering the number of overdoses occurring in Canada, we also must believe that it is necessary to take every measure possible to protect these vulnerable lives.

In the U.S., accidental overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death. In fact, overdoses now count for more deaths each year than HIV and AIDS, murder, or car accidents. Many of these are preventable if and when emergency assistance is summoned.

With the increasing strength of prescription drugs and the popularity and availability of synthetic party drugs, these statistics will only grow if we do not take action. In fact, we are seeing an emergency in our province of British Columbia.

Action, we have talked a lot about that this week. To be clear, good Samaritan laws do not protect people from arrest for other offences such as selling or trafficking drugs, or driving under the influence of drugs. These policies protect only the caller and overdose victim from arrest, prosecution for simple drug possession, possession of paraphernalia, or being under the influence.

Most deaths and complications occurring from overdoses can be prevented with the appropriate medication and emergency response time. Too often, however, these calls are not made and people are left without the necessary medical assistance. The British Columbia Review Panel found that when a person overdoses, immediate medical intervention is critical to reducing the risk of death or serious injury. Statistics point to the fact that in the case of 15% of youth overdoses, someone expressed concern about the well-being of the individual, yet 911 was never called.

Police routinely attend emergency 911 calls involving suspected overdose. Research indicates that in some cases fear of police involvement may heavily influence a witness's decision to not contact emergency services. The facts are indisputable. Research also suggests that medical attention was attempted in less than half of the young adults who suffered from an overdose.

Fear of criminal charges should not be a barrier to calling 911. Police departments are already aware of this stigma and have attempted to mitigate the perception of fear. The Vancouver Police Department is known to have policies about police attendance when it comes to an overdose. They do not normally attend the calls involving a non-fatal drug overdose unless B.C. Emergency Health Services advises that its assistance is required. The rationale for this is to reduce a potential reluctance that people will have to seek emergency medical intervention when someone is overdosing. When police do not attend an emergency 911 call for a suspected overdose, the health and well-being of that person who requires medical attention remains the paramount focus.

The review also concluded that it would be beneficial for all police agencies to reinforce the message of calling 911 to report people in medical distress in an effort to reduce any perceived barriers to seeking help. Simply put, police recognize the stigma around picking up the phone and they want to fix this. They want us to fix this.

In doing my research for this debate, I spoke to many of my friends in police agencies across Canada. There is overwhelming support for this bill. As a matter of fact, one of my very good friends who has been a police officer for decades said that in his line of work, they develop relationships with people from all walks of life and because of how often they work with them or interact with them, they develop feelings of friendship. They care about their well-being. These relationships truly are the only reason the police can be successful. He said, “Over the years, I have had several of them overdose. Some of them unfortunately are no longer with us.” In almost all of the instances, death could have been avoided by calling for help.”

Police experience human tragedy every day. They do not want to see another case where an individual makes the wrong decision and does not seek emergency care for his or her friend or loved one. I believe everyone is on the same page when it comes to Bill C-224. I hope they are on the same page. It is necessary. It means the difference between life and death.

I recall reading an article in the Toronto Star of a teenager who overdosed and died at the age of 17. The victim was showing signs of distress and overdosed seven hours before being attended to by emergency medical services. There were numerous people there who could have called for help in those seven hours, but no one called 911. Instead, they put him in cold water, then laid him on his side on a bed, assuming that he would wake up and everything would be okay. It was not okay. By the time the paramedics were called in the morning, it was too late. The victim's mother said that had there been a law, she thinks it would be reasonable to think that her son would still be around, would still be alive.

We have stated our support for a bill pertaining to this issue before, suggesting that Health Canada, the government, consider the introduction of federal legislation that would exempt individuals seeking help for themselves or others during overdose situations from criminal prosecution for trafficking and possession of controlled substances. Bill C-224 would accomplish this. This is one way that barriers may be broken down by providing limited immunity for criminal charges.

As I have already stated, every year, far too many lives are being lost to drugs and alcohol, and many more Canadians are injured or disabled as a result of an overdose.

I am a husband. I am a father of four beautiful young adults. I have brothers and I have a sister. Accidental death by overdose has negatively impacted our family also. In 2008, as I was preparing to head overseas to speak at an aviation conference, we received a call that my brother-in-law had been found deceased just a few minutes before the call. My brother-in-law was not a drug user. He was not a criminal, and he did not live a high-risk lifestyle. While all of the facts of his death are still unknown to this day, so many years later, the facts are that he died of an accidental overdose. Whoever was with him at the time chose not to call the police or an ambulance to provide assistance. Rather, they erased all the call history and contacts on his phone, and any evidence of their involvement.

I cannot help but think that if this bill was in place in 2008, my brother-in-law would still be with us today. My mother-in-law and father-in-law would still have their only son. My wife and her sister would still have their little brother. My children would still have their uncle. Our family would still be whole.

I have stood in the House before to say that collectively we can leave a positive legacy. Like countless others, the growing numbers, my brother-in-law did not have to and should not have died. That is why I choose to rise in the House today to speak on behalf of Bill C-224. Through this bill, we have a chance to end the stigma of fear, and choose life instead. If the bill will allow people to pick up the phone and take greater action because they will not be afraid of being charged, there is no question it needs to be adopted.

Once again, we can give individuals a second chance at living. We can restore hope in humanity that might otherwise have been missed. It is our duty as members of Parliament to facilitate change, and this bill is a perfect place to start. Maybe, just maybe, lives will be saved in the process.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8:10 p.m.


Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-224, and I want to thank my colleagues for their very impassioned plea for the bill, particularly the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam. I lived in Port Coquitlam for 10 years, and I am sure the constituents there very much appreciate this bill coming forward.

I want to begin by sharing with the House some of the headlines from my riding of Kootenay—Columbia in the recent weeks. These come from Cranbrook Daily Townsman and the Columbia Valley Pioneer, two of the many fine community newspapers we are fortunate to still have in Kootenay—Columbia.

On April 7, the Townsman headline was “[East Kootenay] getting eight ‘substance use’ beds from [Interior Health]”. The text reads:

These new beds for Interior Health are part of a large provincial initiative to improve care outcomes for individuals living with substance use challenges, said [the province's health minister].

The beds will provide a safe and supportive environment for clients [who have complex substance issues].

A few days later, there was another headline, this time from the Columbia Valley Pioneer: “Overdose reversal drug now available in BC without a prescription”. The text from this one is:

The goal of reducing the fatal effects of an opioid overdose among the B.C. drug-using community has recently gained momentum.

Health Canada revised the Federal Prescription Drug List on March 22nd to make a non-prescription version of naloxone, which is the life-saving antidote commonly being used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, more accessible to Canadians....

...making the medication more accessible to the people without a prescription [will help to save lives].

[This new measure] is separate from [B.C.'s] Take Home Naloxone program...[which] has trained over 6,500 people to recognize and respond to overdoses.... 488 overdoses have been reversed since the program's inception.

On April 15, going back to the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, the headline read: “B.C. declares drug overdose emergency”.

The B.C. government has declared its first-ever public health emergency to deal with the sharply rising cases of opioid drug overdoses across the province. ...the [emergency] measure will allow for rapid collection of data from health authorities and the B.C. Coroner's Service, so overdose treatment kits can be deployed to regions where there are new clusters of outbreaks.

There has been a steady increase in overdoses of drugs containing fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid made in Chinese drug labs and smuggled to Canada.

We have to do what's needed to prevent overdoses and deaths, and what is needed is real-time information, [said B.C.'s health minister]. Medical Officers need immediate access to information about what's happening and where so that they can implement effective strategies to prevent these tragedies.

We are in a crisis situation when it comes to drug overdoses. We must do everything we can to save those lives.

That is where Bill C-224 comes in. Bill C-224 would provide a good Samaritan exemption, ensuring that no evidence obtained as a result of responding to a drug overdose can be used to support possession of substance charges. This exemption would apply to any person at the scene when police or paramedics arrive.

The exemption would apply to all schedule I, II and Ill drugs, the common street drugs, but would only cover charges for possession. Production and trafficking charges would not fall under the good Samaritan clause. Let me say that again. The good Samaritan exemption in Bill C-224 would only apply to possession charges. Drug producers and drug traffickers will not be let off the hook.

The bill will also not in any way diminish our efforts to fight organized crime or to support communities affected by gang-related violence. Bill C-224 simply removes a barrier to medical help reaching a person who is overdosing in time to save them.

Some of the validators for the bill are the Pivot Legal Society and Canadian Drug Policy Coalition executive directors. They say:

Fear of prosecution has proven to be a barrier for people to call for help when they are with someone who's having an overdose. Only 46 per cent of respondents to a Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council survey said they would call 911 during an overdose situation. Seconds matter in these cases and saving a life shouldn't be weighed against facing a potential drug possession charge. Granting amnesty to Good Samaritans is a simple answer. The Liberals should move to pass this bill as quickly as possible.

A Facebook user, posting on Overdose Canada in support of this bill, said, “My son Austin would be alive today had those who witnessed his overdose called 911.”

An article in The Globe and Mail reported:

Amid mounting signs that the illegal form of the painkilling drug is expanding east from Western Canada, where it is linked to a surge in overdose deaths, health-care advocates say federal and provincial government leaders are not doing enough to address the problem.

Pivot Legal Society, in an article entitled “A three-point plan for ending overdose deaths”, wrote:

Research suggests that between 10 and 56 percent of people witnessing an overdose actually call for assistance.... We need to remove the barriers...

The NDP has a proud, progressive record of standing up for sensible drug policies that promote harm reduction and create safer, healthier communities. Supporting this bill is very much in keeping with this tradition.

Bill C-224 is about saving lives. More lives could be saved if users and witnesses did not hesitate to seek emergency assistance for overdoses.

New Democrats will always stand for smart, progressive, evidence-based policies that promote stronger, healthier, and safer communities. This bill does that, and it deserves the unanimous support of this House.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8:20 p.m.

Brampton West Ontario


Kamal Khera LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health to support my colleague, the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, as we debate his very important bill, Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act.

Canada is experiencing an unprecedented rise in accidental drug overdose deaths, particularly related to opioids such as fentanyl. As a legal pharmaceutical, fentanyl is usually prescribed for patients already tolerant to high doses of other less powerful opioid drugs, such as morphine or oxycodone. However, it can also be diverted from a legitimate source, stolen from a pharmacy or patient, or manufactured illegally in a lab. This is extremely troubling because illicit fentanyl can be mixed with or disguised as other drugs, such as oxycodone or heroin. This means people who use these drugs are not always aware of their high potency. The unknown potency of street drugs, including fentanyl is being linked to the recent increase in accidental overdose deaths occurring across Canada, particularly in the western provinces, where it is being characterized by some health officials as a public health crisis.

The majority of overdose deaths are preventable if early intervention is made. Many overdoses occur in the presence of others, and instant death is rare. The chance of surviving an overdose often depends on how quickly an individual receives medical attention. Provinces, territories, municipalities, and other public health organizations know this and are making efforts to raise awareness about how to detect the symptoms of an overdose and the importance of calling 911 as the first course of action. However, far too often people are afraid to call 911 if they or a friend experience an overdose.

A 2014 Ontario survey shows that only half of individuals said they would call 911 and wait at the scene for emergency personnel in the event of an overdose. The remainder would hold back for fear of negative consequences, such as an arrest or criminal charges. No one would think twice about calling 911 for any other medical emergency. This is a clear sign that there are systemic barriers at play here, as well as issues of stigma and fear that need to be addressed. No one should be afraid to reach out for medical help in the case of an overdose.

I think all members can agree that the most important thing for emergency personnel and law enforcement to do at the scene of an overdose is to save a life. I recognize that problematic drug use is a complex issue for which there are no easy answers, but we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Government must take a comprehensive approach that is based on evidence and that balances regulation and law enforcement with support for the health and well-being of Canadians affected by drug use and addiction.

Neither the medical community nor the law enforcement community can address this issue on their own. That is why our government is committed to a balanced approach to drug policy. Health Canada has demonstrated this commitment through several recent decisions.

First, through support for the Dr. Peter Centre and lnSite, both of which are supervised consumption sites that have proven to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of individuals who use drugs. These centres have trained medical professionals who monitor drug users and can help save their lives in the event of an overdose. They also provide clean needles so that drug users do not contract life-threatening blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, while also connecting them with treatment and other health care services. In some cases, this is their first contact with a medical professional.

Second, in March 2016, Health Canada removed naloxone from the federal prescription drug list, clearing the way for this life-saving drug to be purchased without a prescription. Naloxone is a drug that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid-induced overdose. This change will make the drug more accessible to those most likely to need it, including friends and families of drug users, as well as first responders, such as paramedics or law enforcement personnel.

However, improving access to naloxone is only one piece of a comprehensive approach to reducing overdose deaths.

The effects of naloxone eventually wear off and overdose symptoms can reoccur. In fact, repeat doses of naloxone may be needed to save the life of someone who has overdosed on a stronger opioid, like heroin or fentanyl.

This underscores the importance of calling 911 for an overdose, even when naloxone is administered. To encourage individuals to call 911 in overdose situations, Bill C-224 would provide immunity from minor possession charges for anyone who experiences or witnesses an overdose and seeks emergency help. This is a harm reduction measure that is typically known as good Samaritan legislation and has been implemented in more than 30 U.S. States.

The good Samaritan drug overdose act is consistent with our government's approach to drug policy. It would support efforts by law enforcement to help curb overdose deaths and would recognize the importance of saving lives. Law enforcement personnel are often the first to arrive at the scene of an overdose and in some communities, law enforcement is the only first responder available. This bill sends a clear message to all Canadians that every life matters.

Bill C-224 also complements our government's efforts to curb overdose deaths, including through improved access to naloxone. This bill would help to ensure that people who experience or witness an overdose would not be afraid to call 911 for fear of charges for minor drug possession. At the same time, let me assure the House that our government recognizes the extremely important role that law enforcement plays in drug control and we commend the ongoing efforts of our police to protect the safety of Canadians by getting dangerous drugs off the street.

We know there are illicitly produced opioids like fentanyl that are being sold in Canada and we know drug trafficking brings gang activity and crime with it. That is why law enforcement efforts are focused on drug trafficking and associated violence.

Our government recognizes that problematic substance use is both a health and safety issue and that reducing demand is an important piece of this puzzle. We believe government has an important role to play in helping to protect Canadians from the problems substance use can create. That means preventing and treating addiction, supporting recovery, and reducing the negative health and social impacts of drug use on individuals and their communities.

We know that a major predictor of having an overdose is having experienced an overdose in the past. Therefore, rather than arresting those who are suffering from a disease of addiction, an overdose is an important opportunity for first responders to intervene and help direct individuals toward community and social services to obtain treatment for their illness.

I fully support Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. It is an example of a balanced approach to drug control. It aims to address a systemic barrier that is preventing individuals from seeking help for an overdose, while not impeding law enforcement from focusing public safety efforts on the issues that are truly at the crux of Canada's drug problem, which are drug production and trafficking.

Once again, I congratulate my colleague for introducing this very important bill.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8:25 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, speaking to this bill was very important to me. As we have heard, it will save lives.

I also want to thank my colleagues who have already talked about the bill, since many of them shared some very emotional personal experiences.

When a loved one dies of cancer, it might be easier to talk about than when a family member dies of a drug overdose. Often we are more embarrassed to talk about that.

However, it is important to do so and to point out that this problem affects a lot of people, even people from good families who seem to be fine. This problem really affects everyone.

When I was 15, I lost a cousin. He died of a PCP overdose. PCP is commonly used in veterinary medicine, but unfortunately, it caused a lot of devastation around me when I was a teenager. It was a very difficult period in my life. Losing my cousin was very painful.

Since I do not know all the details, I cannot say whether such a bill would have saved his life, but I think that in situations like his, it is important that other people are not afraid to call an ambulance.

Unfortunately, young people, especially, are afraid they will get arrested or that their parents will find out what happened. They are very scared. Telling those young people that they have nothing to worry about in this type of situation could truly save lives. That is why it is important to pass this bill.

Another reason why it is important to pass the bill is that it would help health care professionals in identifying the substances involved. There are far more synthetic drugs on the market than ever and it is extremely complicated. The treatment is not necessarily the same every time. It depends on the drug the person used.

Someone on site needs to be able to quickly tell the ambulance attendants and the police what the person in distress consumed. That someone cannot be afraid to reveal that information, first hesitating and then finally after 15 minutes of interrogation saying that the person took something else.

The first responders have to be able to tell people that they have nothing to fear, that they will not be charged with anything, that they will be protected, and that they have to quickly say what the person consumed so that treatment can be administered as soon as possible.

There are various antidotes on the market for different substances, but those antidotes have to be administered very quickly in order to prevent unfortunate consequences.

This bill would also help health care professionals identify the substance, which is another important factor to consider in overdose cases. People must be able to respond quickly and need to know what medical treatment is required.

Another factor, which may be more specific to rural areas, is access to ambulance services. We all know that more and more parties are organized in isolated areas or places that are not necessarily accessible.

If an ambulance or the police cannot arrive on the scene promptly and there is an additional delay because people do not dare make that call, and then once responders arrive, people are reluctant to say what substances were consumed or what exactly happened, the response time increases tremendously.

Ensuring that someone will promptly call to report that an individual has overdosed and needs help and that the substance can be quickly identified will somewhat reduce the challenge faced by ambulance services in rural areas.

We cannot control or change the fact that some towns are further away from hospitals and ambulances than others. However, if we can at least reduce the response time, we can save lives.

As members know, I am a nurse. I decided to practise primarily in intensive care and emergency. That is really what I enjoy the most. I have seen cases of overdose, which, unfortunately, are often due to a mixture of substances.

It got so that I dreaded Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. For nurses, the night of Saint-Jean-Baptiste is really one of the worst nights to work. Every year, we have to intubate teenagers to save their lives at the last minute. Unfortunately, on big party days like that, teenagers are nervous and scared of getting caught, and they might leave someone who is a bit too drunk alone somewhere.

Often, it is someone else at the party who realizes there is a problem and ends up calling the ambulance. The person making the call has no idea what happened. They find an unconscious teenager somewhere, but they have no idea what caused the problem. They do not know if the teen just drank alcohol or consumed a mix of other substances. That makes treatment much more complicated. Having to intubate a 15-year-old without knowing whether it will save his or her life is not an easy thing to do.

As parents, we realize that our children could find themselves in this situation one day. We can try to control everything to ensure that our children have a good life and do not have problems. However, we know that one day or another, when they are not in our sights, something like this will happen. The situation is not really obvious.

Sometimes, our children have good friends who think about stepping in, but sometimes they are really too scared. Recently, my husband got a call and went to pick up one of his teenage cousins who had abused substances. In that case, it was just alcohol, but the young people were scared. They at least thought to call the young man's mother, but they did not call an ambulance. My husband's aunt did not really know what to do, and so she called my husband and asked him if he could go and help his cousin. That is what he did.

In this situation, the young people could have responded in a different way. They could have been scared, chosen to leave him in a room, and waited for him to sleep it off. Unfortunately, that might not have ended well.

It is absolutely crucial that we pass this kind of legislation in order to protect young people. Not only must we pass it, but we also need to make sure the public is aware. We need to make sure that the message gets out there to Canadians, so that people know that they no longer need to worry about being charged in the event of an overdose. That is very important. Even if we pass this bill, if people still think they can be arrested and get into trouble, we will be no further ahead.

What will need to happen, and it is up to us to do it, is to send a very clear message to all Canadians to make sure they know that they no longer need to be afraid to call an ambulance. It may seem pretty obvious, but not all young people follow what is happening on the federal political scene very closely, and they are unfortunately often disconnected from politics. Our greatest challenge will be to ensure that all young people have this information.

This is how we will save lives. We will save them not only by passing legislation, but also by ensuring that people are aware of our laws. I hope that what I am doing today will have a positive impact on the lives of young people, as well as on the nursing profession, and that we will be able to save lives, especially at parties, where the circumstances can be more difficult.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, I will let him know there are only about four minutes remaining in the time for debate, at this hour at least, for this particular motion, but we will get started. I will give him the usual signal. He will have, of course, the remaining time when the House next returns to debate on this question.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8:35 p.m.


Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act.

As we have heard, the bill would encourage people to call 911 to report drug overdoses by protecting them from prosecution for drug possession. It would also exempt anyone at the scene from possession charges, but it would not apply to more serious offences like trafficking or impaired driving.

Drawing on my 20 years' experience as an emergency physician, I can say with confidence that, if passed, Bill C-224 will save lives.

We have all seen the headlines about rising numbers of overdose deaths in Canada, especially from the powerful opioid, fentanyl. On Friday, April 15, British Columbia declared a public health emergency with over 200 overdose deaths in the last three months. In the emergency room and too often in the morgue, we see the human toll behind these numbers.

Victims of drug overdoses are not statistics. They are our fellow Canadians. They are our neighbours, our friends' kids, maybe our own family. I stand today to say with conviction that in a medical emergency brought on by an overdose, fear of the law should not prevent people from picking up the phone and saving a life.

I hope all members will join me in thanking the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for bringing forward this timely and important piece of legislation. Common sense tells us and evidence confirms that Bill C-224 will help eliminate the delays in treatment that lead to debilitating injuries and death. I only wish Parliament had passed such a law years ago. It is heartbreaking to think of the lives that could have been saved.

In my own clinical experience in the emergency room, I have encountered patients who, because of their signs and symptoms, have caused me to suspect that they are under the influence of one or more potentially dangerous substances. The findings of physical examination alone are too variable to provide sufficient information, and laboratory tests often take too long to be of benefit.

I have to ask these patients, or those who accompany them, what substances they have taken. Typically, they are reluctant to provide this information. However, once I explain that there is no risk of prosecution due to patient-physician confidentiality, they give me honest answers and I am able to provide better care.

On more than one occasion this ability to gather information has prevented tragedy. However, this degree of confidentiality is not guaranteed in the community when people have to communicate with first responders. This freedom to communicate frankly with emergency services must be extended to anyone in our communities who witnesses or experiences an overdose. How can we compare the value of convicting someone on a minor charge with the value of saving a life?

In 2016 we see addiction as a health issue. I speak as an emergency physician with much of my 20 years of clinical experience in the poverty-stricken core of Winnipeg. I am aware that some people perceive persons who overdose as having made a bad decision and are therefore responsible for their fates. Perhaps they believe that saving overdose victims is not a moral obligation. However, it is almost unanimously accepted by the medical profession that addiction is an illness.

Furthermore, it is not widely understood by the public that drug abuse is highly correlated with underlying mental illness, as many individuals with undiagnosed or poorly controlled mental illness ingest substances in an attempt to self-medicate.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose ActPrivate Members' Business

8:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I appreciate it is always a little awkward when you have to go partway through your speech and then leave the rest for another time, but the member did quite well.

The hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley will have about six and a half minutes remaining for his remarks when the House next resumes debate on the question.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

8:40 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are ups and downs in politics, and between the time that I put my question down as an adjournment debate and the time this debate started, there have been numerous reports. If the situation had been resolved in the meantime, I would have happily withdrawn the question, but unfortunately that is not the case.

I want to give a little background before I get to my question. This obviously has to do with employment insurance measures, which is the subject of the debate.

I want to remind members of some of the promises made by the Liberals during the election campaign. First, there was the promise to reduce the wait time by one week. They are telling us that this will happen in January 2017. I do not deny that this proposal is important to those who will be receiving EI, but I remind members that currently, fewer than four out of ten workers who pay into the EI system manage to qualify when they need the benefits, in other words, when the worst happens and they lose their jobs.

The Liberals also promised that they would reduce EI premiums for employees and employers. That change took effect on January 1, 2016. However, just between us, that does not solve the problem. It just means that there is even less money in the employment insurance fund to give benefits to those who need them.

The Liberals should be protecting the employment insurance fund. They are not doing that. Instead, as we saw in the most recent budget, they are once again planning to greedily pilfer billions of dollars from the EI fund, as has been the habit of both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

The Liberals also promised to do away with the Conservatives' EI reform. However, from what I have seen, there are still three categories of unemployed workers. This measure therefore demonstrates that the government is still stigmatizing workers who have lost their jobs rather than doing something to address the problem of systemic unemployment.

The Liberals should make access to parental leave and compassionate care benefits more flexible. They still have not done either of those things.

In short, the Liberals have not done much when it comes to employment insurance, even though this service, or rather this insurance that is paid for by workers and employers, is becoming increasingly important and harder to access as a result of the economic situation. That is a serious problem.

On the plus side, if there is one, since the government has done so little about employment insurance since coming to power despite making tonnes of promises, does my colleague agree that the first thing to do is introduce a single 360-hour threshold for everyone? That would enable the majority of workers who contribute to the plan to access benefits if bad luck strikes. The first thing we need to do is make the insurance plan that people are paying for available to them.

Imagine any kind of private insurance, such as home or car insurance. Imagine disaster striking and being unable to claim payment from the insurer. The private system being what it is, insurance companies operating that way would lose their clients. In this case, however, the unemployed are a captive clientele.

Here, then, is my question again: will the Liberal government introduce, as quickly as possible, a single 360-hour eligibility threshold for everyone?

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

8:45 p.m.

Cape Breton—Canso Nova Scotia


Rodger Cuzner LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be here this evening to address the question from the member.

It was interesting that he brought this up in the late show. If this member were to pay attention at all or if he were to read the budget, he would know that most of the references he made during his speech have been addressed.

The machinery of government grinds slow, but it is in motion now to address those types of issues that the member raised. He talked about the platform we promised. We will deliver on the promises that we made in that platform. We will go from a two-week waiting period to a one-week waiting period. That is being worked on now.

The NDP would not know about the machinery of government because there has never been a federal NDP government. The reduced waiting period is going to help so many Canadians. Four out of five Canadians who receive EI benefits are going to benefit from that. The member should know that. He would know that if he were to pay attention to this file.

The member knows that we did increase access. He talked about not increasing access. We cut the NERE provisions, the new entrants and re-entrants, from 920 hours to regional qualifications. For a whole bunch of Canadians who would have been precluded from benefits, that allowed them to access benefits in this program. The member knows that.

The member knows we are investing $92 million more to hire EI call centre agents and to shorten the times for EI processing. The member will remember, if he is serious about this, that under the last government, there were 600 EI employees who were cut. It reduced the service wait times.

Rather than being able to respond to a phone call in three minutes, there was a target of 90% return in three minutes, the government cut 600 jobs and went to 80% in three minutes. It was not hitting those targets, so it went to 80% in 10 minutes. The government was only hitting that 45% of the time.

Our Prime Minister and Minister of Employment made the promise, and are delivering on the promise to have more people on the ground. We are working with Service Canada staff on those service standards. We know that the employees at Service Canada wanted to serve Canadians. They were not able to serve Canadians because the resources they needed were not available.

We put those resources back. They were in the budget. The member for Trois-Rivières, if he is honest, knows that those provisions were put into the last budget.

On the work sharing agreements, there is an extension of the duration of the work sharing agreements from a maximum of 38 weeks to 76 weeks. That is a positive thing. We have heard from Canadians across this country that it provides them flexibility. It helps create jobs in some sectors. We have complied with that and we have provided that.

We have gone into the 12 economic regions of this country and increased the regular benefits by five weeks, up to a maximum of 50 weeks.

The government takes its responsibilities seriously. We understand that for Canadians who find themselves out of a job, the program has to be there for them. We are committed as a government to provide them with those services.