Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Edmonton Centre.
I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts. My private member's bill, Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act, is currently in the other place. Just like Bill C-37, it is just one piece in the harm reduction tool kit that would help to save lives.
Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is a key priority for this government. That is why on December 12, 2016, the Minister of Health, with support from the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, introduced Bill C-37 in the House of Commons.
This bill makes several amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Customs Act in support of the government's efforts to respond to the current opioid crisis and problematic substance abuse in general.
This comprehensive bill aims to balance the important objectives of protecting public health and maintaining public safety. It is designed to better equip both health professionals and law enforcement with the tools they need to address the issue.
Over the last decade, the harms associated with problematic substances abuse in Canada have become more complex and have been changing at a rapid pace. The line between licit and illicit substances has blurred with the opioid crisis, prescription drug misuse, and the rise of new designer drugs.
The government has committed to helping Canadians affected by these problematic substances and their use. Legislative and regulatory controls are certainly an important part of this approach. However, as we know, drug use and dependency pose significant risks for individuals, families, and communities. Our approach to addressing problematic substances abuse must include preventing and treating addiction, supporting recovery, and reducing the negative health and social impacts of drug use on individuals and their communities through evidence-based harm reduction measures. This must also be a part of our approach to addressing problematic substances abuse.
Harm reduction is viewed by experts as a cost-effective element of a well-balanced approach to public health and safety. Harm reduction connects people to other services in the health and social systems related to treatment and recovery. It recognizes that individuals and whole communities benefit when people with substance misuse and addiction issues can obtain the support and services they need rather than being marginalized or stigmatized. The evidence regarding harm reduction is absolutely clear. Harm reduction measures are a critical piece of a comprehensive approach to drug control.
That is why the government is determined to take a balanced, evidence-based approach that supports rather than creates obstacles to harm reduction.
To that end, on December 12, 2016, in addition to introducing Bill C-37 in the House, the Minister of Health announced that a national anti-drug strategy would be replaced with a new, more balanced, and health-focused approach, called the Canadian drugs and substances strategy. The new strategy will strengthen Canada's approach to drug policy by providing a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to the protection of public health and safety and the reduction of harm from misuse of licit and illicit substances. To reflect the new health-focused approach, the strategy will be led and co-ordinated by the Minister of Health, in close collaboration with her colleagues.
Canada has had successive drug strategies in place since 1987 that have aimed to balance public health and public safety. In 1992, the government launched Canada's drug strategy, which was intended to reduce the harms associated with alcohol and other drugs to individuals, families, and communities. In 1998, harm reduction was added as a pillar alongside prevention, treatment, and enforcement.
However, the balance between public health and public safety in Canada's approach to drug policy shifted in 2007, with the release of the national anti-drug strategy. This strategy reflected the previous government's priorities of public safety, crime reduction, and safe communities.
The national anti-drug strategy focused primarily on youth and illicit substance use and did not retain harm reduction as a pillar. This shift brought Canada out of step with other like-minded countries, most of which include harm reduction in addressing problematic substance abuse.
The new strategy will retain and build upon the aspects of the national anti-drug strategy that worked well and, specifically, the new strategy will maintain the existing and well-established areas of prevention, treatment, and enforcement. These pillars, respectively, aim to prevent problematic drug and substance use, support innovative approaches to treatment and rehabilitation, and address illicit drug production, supply, and distribution.
However, perhaps the most important aspect of the new strategy is that it will improve upon the national anti-drug strategy by formally restoring harm reduction as a pillar. This shift to a more health-focused approach has been welcomed by stakeholders, including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and our provincial partners.
Our government is committed to ensuring that its policies under the new strategy will be informed by a strong foundation of evidence, including data related to harm reduction policies, programs, and interventions. This will enable the government to better identify trends, target interventions, monitor impacts, and support evidence-based decisions. It will help ensure that Canada has a comprehensive national picture of drug use and drug-related harms and can fully meet our international reporting requirements.
Even before the new strategy was announced, our government included harm reduction measures in our efforts to reduce the negative health and social impacts associated with problematic drug use, including the transmission of infectious diseases, overdose deaths, and stigma.
For example, under federal legislation, we have improved access to naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, by making it available without a prescription specifically for emergency use in cases of opioid overdose outside of hospital settings.
This important measure broadens access for emergency workers and will help address a growing number of opioid overdoses.
We have also demonstrated our support for the establishment of supervised consumption sites, a key harm reduction measure.
After a thorough and rigorous review, in January 2016, Health Canada granted an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for the Dr. Peter Centre to operate a supervised consumption site.
Not long after, on March 16, 2016, Health Canada granted Insite an unprecedented four-year exemption.
If passed, Bill C-37 would go further to support the implementation of evidence-based harm reduction measures. In particular, it would reduce the burden on communities that wish to apply for an exemption to operate a supervised consumption site.
The proposed amendments would streamline and simplify the application criteria, while ensuring that community consultation continues to be an integral part of the process. By streamlining the application and renewal process and adding a new transparency provision, applicants could be assured that the process would not cause unreasonable burden or delay.
In conclusion, our government's approach to drug policy strives to balance the important objectives of protecting public health and maintaining public safety.
The Canadian drugs and substances strategy will restore harm reduction as a pillar, alongside prevention, treatment, and enforcement, and will formalize our commitment to a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to Canada's drug policy.
It would mean that harm reduction-focused policies, such as support for properly established and maintained supervised consumption sites and increased access to naloxone, would now officially be part of Canada's drug strategy.
Implementing measures proposed in Bill C-37 would be a key step in realizing the objectives of the Canadian drugs and substances strategy.