Mr. Speaker, I am very touched to be able to rise in the House today to speak to this important bill. I am very touched, but at the same time, I think it is a real shame that we have to talk about this again. This is an extremely important debate. There is likely no other parliamentary debate that is more vital or that will have a greater impact on the lives of Canadians than the debate that we are having right now.
Simply put, it would have been nice if this issue had been resolved years ago because we are now dealing with an urgent situation in our municipalities, in our big cities, and on our streets.
People are dying from overdoses of illegal drugs, particularly opioids, and this is a crisis. Hundreds of people are dying in our communities and on our streets because our facilities are not equipped to adequately respond to this serious substance abuse problem, particularly when it comes to increasingly dangerous and hard drugs. For example, fentanyl is 100 times more potent than heroin, and it is wreaking havoc on our cities and communities.
There is even a fentanyl derivative that is so potent that first responders are now being advised to wear masks and gloves when helping people because, if the drug is inhaled or comes into contact with the skin, it can be deadly for the paramedics and nurses who are in contact with those who need help.
Hundreds of people are dying every day in our streets and alleyways because we have failed to adequately respond to this situation. In all seriousness, this is one case where I am sad to say that our federal government dropped the ball and we have collectively failed. We could have taken measures that would have saved lives. There is a national crisis, and people are dying from lethal opioid injections because of the laws that we pass or fail to pass. This is serious.
Indeed, we in the NDP are calling on the Liberal government to declare this a national emergency and give greater powers and funding to the chief public health officer of Canada, so that he can coordinate efforts to help these individuals. I find it extremely unfortunate that the Conservatives did not respond appropriately to the Supreme Court decision and instead chose to stand in the way of public health stakeholders who wanted to set up safe injection sites to help addicts in crisis.
As I reminded the parliamentary secretary a few minutes ago, I also find it unfortunate that the Liberal government dragged its feet for 16 months before introducing a bill to fix the mistakes of Bill C-2 passed by the Conservatives. I will come back to this point a little later.
I would like to share some statistics. I am talking about people who are dying because of the lack of health facilities, that is, safe injection sites, particularly in our big cities. This is no joke. In 2016, there were 914 overdose fatalities in British Columbia. That represents an 80% increase over the previous year. Across Canada in 2016, there were about 2,000 fatalities. In December alone in British Columbia, 142 people died of drug overdose. In Vancouver, more specifically, there were between 9 and 15 deaths every week.
In Ontario, there are two deaths per day. Our young people are dying in our streets because we do not have what we need to help them. Supervised consumption sites are proven to save lives. When Insite was finally given the go-ahead several years ago in Vancouver, community officials realized that the number of deaths dropped by 35% in the area surrounding the site.
It works. It works in Vancouver, it works in British Columbia, and it works around the world. It has been proven.
Why have we been unable to respond appropriately? The previous government spread all kinds of prejudices, which is a terrible shame. In 2011, a unanimous Supreme Court ruling authorized Insite and encouraged the government to change the law to define the process. The previous government was very right-wing and focused on repression, and it wanted to turn this into a partisan issue. When that government introduced Bill C-2, it was not to help people involved in public health; it was to create more barriers to setting up these very important sites. That is a terrible shame.
What did the Conservatives do in their day? They added 26 eligibility criteria that had to be met before Health Canada could authorize a supervised consumption site. What was the outcome of that? How many sites were given the green light? Zero. Not one. We are years behind because of that.
Health Canada was unable to authorize the opening of such sites despite the fact that the experts, the scientific community, municipal officials, and the groups that work with addicts every day all wanted them. Montreal had been asking for a supervised consumption site since May 2015. We can say that was a while ago. Every year, between 70 and 100 people in Montreal die of an opioid overdose. How many people could we have saved in that time?
Communities approve of this type of measure. I want to share a few short quotes to that effect. The first one is from Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver. “Every month we lose because of Bill C-2, and an onerous process that's totally unnecessary and overboard, means we're losing dozens of people.”
Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal, asked, “What are we waiting for? People are dying.”
Adrienne Smith, health and drug policy lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, said that she feared that while we wait, while we set up working groups and give the Liberal government the benefit of the doubt, hundreds of people could die.
Sterling Downey, a Montreal municipal councillor, asked, “How do you go into the media and announce over a year ago that you're going to open these sites and back off and go radio silent?”
According to another quote, the organizations that are supposed to host the sites don't even dare set opening dates any more. They are stuck in a grey area where, every year for the past three years, they are told that the sites will open in the spring, but it doesn't happen.
I have pages and pages of quotes like that. For years, people have been anxious to help our young people, and the older ones too, but especially the street kids who fall victim to these opioids, these hard drugs.
I think it is a shame that society has lost so much time because some people tried to score political points by holding fundraisers. I would remind hon. members that the director of the Conservative Party sent a fundraising email and used the politics of fear by accusing the NDP and the Liberals at the time of wanting to put our children in harm's way, claiming there would be more syringes in our schoolyards and back alleys. They would have people believe that with injection sites comes increased risk, but the facts say otherwise. If a person enters a supervised injection site and is treated by a professional, that person will be given a course of treatment and drugs to help ween them off the hard drugs. That person will pull through. What does that mean? It means that thanks to supervised injection sites, there will be fewer syringes in the streets, in the parks, and in the back alleys, not the opposite. For years, people have tried to convince us that this is more dangerous, but that is not true.
The NDP moved a motion in the House a few weeks ago. My colleague from Vancouver Kingsway wanted the debate to end and to send Bill C-37 to the Senate so that it could come into force as soon as possible.
It is too bad that the Conservatives refused and blocked the NDP's motion. That is why we would like to see this bill pass through all stages, intelligently and diligently of course, but as soon as possible. We have wasted enough time. We need to save lives.