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House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-37.

Topics

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that under the Respect for Communities Act, there were certain criteria that had to be fulfilled, and one of the arguments to put this bill forward and change it was that it was impossible and onerous for these sites to be approved. What I am saying to my colleague is that obviously, that is incorrect.

We know that right now, as the member said, there are three sites in Montreal. It took a number of months to get them through the application process, but it allowed the mayor, the police, and community members to be involved in the process. When that happens, the likelihood of these things being successful is greatly improved.

The member talked about saving lives. He missed it in committee because he was not there yet, but we had a specialist come who said that addicts are dying. The witness said it was like being a lifeguard who saves someone in the water. As soon as the lifeguard gets that person breathing again, he or she does not throw the person back in.

I would ask the member and his colleagues to remember that we need proper detoxification treatment. This is not just about band-aid solutions, which is what many have called these injection sites. We would like to see the government take action and make sure that proper treatment is available for addicts, because this is a treatable condition. That is what we are all in favour of. We want to make sure that these injection sites, if they are put in a community, are wanted and have the greatest likelihood of success.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the answer to the hon. parliamentary secretary's question is that it was something in the order of 16 months, or perhaps even longer, for the groups in Montreal to get the safe consumption sites.

I wanted to point out for the hon. member for Oshawa that the so-called Respect for Communities Act was an attempt to do indirectly that which the previous Conservative government could not do directly. In other words, it wanted to defy the Supreme Court of Canada, which found that safe injection sites are a matter of law, and on the evidence, save lives.

The response from the previous Conservative government was to create 12 conditions, which I am amazed any facility managed to get through, because they required such things as the curriculum vitae of staff who would work at a site that was not yet built. The kind of criteria we would get rid of with Bill C-37 were there for the purpose of stopping the facilities from even being available for the people who need them.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, what my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands just said is hogwash. The Respect for Communities Act was compliant with what the Supreme Court said.

The member talked about the criteria. There were 26 criteria that needed to be fulfilled. Now what the Liberals would do is basically take away all of that. The consultation period would be non-existent. It used to be up to 90 days. The Liberals would get rid of that. Fundamentally, the minister could choose to have no consultation or give approval within a day. This is clearly unacceptable. If the member was paying attention in committee, it was quite clear from our experts that they need to have community support, so this is reasonable.

I made amendments in committee. The mayor of a community and the head of the police where one of these sites would be placed would likely want to have a bit of input as to where they would be located. These are only reasonable things we ask.

At the end of the day, all of us have to think about this entire situation in a compassionate way. We should be pressing the government for solutions instead of band-aid solutions that are really not getting rid of the cycle of repeat, repeat, and come back every single day. What does the member think the addicts are doing in the 24 hours if they are coming back to an injection site every day? We need to be compassionate and work for long-term solutions, not just these band-aid solutions. The current government wants to be seen to be doing something without really making a big change.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present an amendment to the bill, but I want to say that it is extremely important that this legislation be passed and that we move expeditiously on the fentanyl crisis. The opioid crisis is a national public health crisis, and for the first time in my life as a parliamentarian, I actually voted with the government on time allocation, because it is critical that we get the bill passed.

There were things said just moments ago in this chamber to which I must respond. This is not hogwash. It is based on the evidence. I was part of this Parliament when we debated the attempts by the Conservatives to bring forward conditions that were not reasonable. They were not put there in the interests of public health and safety. They were explicitly and clearly part of an ongoing effort by the previous Harper government to fight against the existence of Insite in Vancouver or its application as a model for safe consumption sites, which worked in saving lives, and to make them unavailable to people in the other jurisdictions.

I support Bill C-37, but I would have wished, as I moved at committee and as the member for Vancouver East also moved at committee, that there would have been more effort to streamline the approval of safe consumption sites where they are desperately needed to confront the opioid crisis.

I am bringing forward an amendment. It is difficult, I have to say, to bring forward an amendment at this stage. However, it is often the case that when there is an urgent circumstance and our attention is focused in one area, it is easy to say yes, it will be okay, because the need is so great that we can ignore other concerns.

This amendment has been brought forward by both the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. There is concern about clause 53 of the bill. Clause 53 of the bill allows suppression of excerpts in the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. Again, when focusing on one thing, such as terrorism, concern for civil liberties can be lessened, and that is definitely the trend. In the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, Canada Border Services agents and employees of Canada Post are allowed to open packages in a way that would not have previously been allowed. Packages that weigh 30 grams or more are not to be opened, but if they are larger, and they constitute packages, they are routinely now opened.

It is critical that we examine the practicality of this. If a civil liberties organization said that in the case of fentanyl, which we know can be absolutely lethal in tiny grains of an amount, we are going to turn a blind eye and say that no one should be allowed to open letters, that would be an unreasonable position.

What the Civil Liberties Association is saying is that if a letter is identified and there are reasonable and probable grounds to open that letter, then get a warrant. This is not cumbersome. This is why we have the rule of law and protections for privacy and for civil liberties. Once law enforcement agencies have extreme and sweeping powers to open any letter, it does not take much imagination to imagine the ways in which this power can and will be abused.

I want to draw the attention of the House to this amendment. It would suppress just one clause of the bill. It would not have the effect of saying that border services agents and Canada Post could not open letters that they suspected contained fentanyl. That is not the purpose of my amendment. The purpose of my amendment is to underscore that if they are going to open letters, they need to have a warrant. It is very clear that these broad and sweeping powers will be in the future misused. Letters will be opened by people who are suspecting something else and not necessarily because of the fentanyl crisis.

I do not need to use all the speaking time I have available to speak to the amendment. I support Bill C-37. I want to see it passed, but it should not pass with our focus exclusively on the opioid crisis without taking a moment to consider whether we are making a mistake here. Should we not require at least a warrant before border services agents and postal officials have the right to open very small packages?

I dedicate my commitment to Bill C-37 and to working on the opioid crisis to one of my constituents, Leslie McBain, a founder of Moms Stop the Harm, because she lost her son in this crisis.

It is not just downtown Vancouver that is seeing an unreasonable and extraordinary number of deaths from this crisis. Within in my own riding, and on the remote Gulf Islands, we have seen people die from the fentanyl crisis. We need this piece of legislation.

I will agree with my friend, the member for Oshawa, on one thing. We need more. We need these safe consumption sites, but we also need programming for mental health. We need programs for addiction counselling. We need ongoing support so that people who have gone through addiction crisis counselling and are clean of the drug have the support they need so they do not go back to it. This is a very large problem.

It will, I hope, be a focus in the 2017 budget and we will see money for mental health, money for addiction counselling, and money targeted particularly to adolescents. They are very often not in the right place when they have addiction counselling with older people with addictions and a lifestyle that may scare a younger adolescent. We need to think about how we target our mental health and addiction counselling.

We need Bill C-37. I support the bill. This one amendment would ensure that we do the right thing to respond to the fentanyl crisis without doing the wrong thing for civil liberties.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Louis-Hébert Québec

Liberal

Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her support of Bill C-37 as well as for her tireless efforts and advocacy in responding to the opioid crisis in Canada.

She raises an interesting point. Our goal, of course, is to balance privacy with responding to the crisis we are seeing. I would like to simply highlight that the provision, as stated in Bill C-37, would allow customs agents to open only international mail. The reason for that disposition is that we know that only 2 mg of fentanyl can cause an overdose. This means that a 30-gram package could contain as many as 15,000 fatal doses, which is why we have included this in the bill. The goal is to strike a balance, but we think that a 30-gram package that can cause 15,000 overdoses is out of proportion. That is why the disposition is in the bill.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, if I omitted to say that it is only international mail, I apologize. I do not write my remarks out. It is clearly intended to deal with letters that are mailed internationally. However, those letters mailed internationally could be from Canadian citizens. It is a question of getting the balance right.

I respect what my hon. colleague just said. We understand. Certainly, I am very concerned about the fentanyl crisis, but to me, it is not a step too far to say that if a suspicious piece of international mail has been identified, at that point get a warrant.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-37 is the government's response to the opioid, fentanyl, and carfentanil crisis. I hear of young kids who have died in their 20s. They are 21, 23, 24, and 25 years old. Some are leaving behind small children. However, the bill is silent on the treatment aspect. These kids would not go to a consumption site. There has to be another strategy. I want to ask the member if she would not have liked to have seen the bill be more expansive and broader in strategy to deal with the issue of these young kids taking pills, not injecting.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I understand that we need a broader strategy.

When we had the previous bill, Bill C-2 at the time, the Respect for Communities Act, so branded by the previous government, we needed to get rid of a lot of the provisions that were making it extremely difficult, close to impossible, to open a safe consumption site.

We may even have consensus on all sides of the House that safe consumption sites in Bill C-37 are not the whole answer to the fentanyl crisis. A lot more needs to be done, particularly for facilities designed, as the hon. member just said, for an adolescent who might not go to to a safe consumption site, and we are looking at better education.

I hope we are using the best diplomacy we have with the People's Republic of China in asking it to do more to stop the flow of fentanyl coming into Canada.

There are many steps: going from the full range of mental health and addiction counselling, supports in communities, helping law enforcement, yes, with safe consumption sites being available, and other steps as needed. They do not all have to be in this piece of legislation. This piece of legislation is likely to pass more quickly by focusing on only one aspect of what I hope will be a much broader strategy.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Louis-Hébert Québec

Liberal

Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House of Commons 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. This legislation is long-awaited and evidence-based, and it can save lives. I wish to thank the Standing Committee on Health for its timely and helpful review of Bill C-37.

As everyone knows, our government is deeply concerned about Canada’s ongoing opioid crisis. Over the last year, we have seen an unprecedented number of deaths in this country. In British Columbia and Alberta, opioid-related overdoses are overtaking motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death. While some parts of the country have been more severely hit than others, no part of the country is immune. Sadly, many Canadians have lost friends or family members, or know someone who has.

The government is therefore committed to addressing this complex public health crisis, and problematic substance use more generally, through a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach.

That is why on December 12, 2016, the Minister of Health, with the support of the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice, announced the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy. This new strategy formalizes our government's commitment to taking a health-focused approach to addressing problematic substance use by restoring harm reduction as a core pillar of Canada's drug policy. It also aims to strengthen the evidence-based underpinning of Canada's drug policy.

At the same time, the minister introduced a comprehensive bill in the House of Commons that would support the new strategy, Bill C-37, a bill that strives to address certain gaps and weaknesses in the existing legislation by better equipping health professionals and law enforcement with the tools they need to protect the public, protect public health, and maintain public safety. The provisions contained in Bill C-37 would help to address the ongoing opioid crisis, and for this reason I encourage all members of the House of Commons to support the bill's quick passage.

Addiction is a complex issue. Not everyone will respond to treatment the same way, and not everyone is willing or able to enter treatment. Unfortunately, evidence demonstrates that individuals who are outside of treatment are at an increased risk for major health and social harms, including overdose and death. This is why the government recognizes that we must be pragmatic in our approach to problematic substance use.

As Canadian communities struggle to respond to the opioid crisis, it is essential that evidence-based harm reduction measures, including supervised consumption sites, be a part of that response. Concrete evidence demonstrates that, when properly established and maintained, these sites save lives and improve health.

However, in 2015, the previous government passed the Respect for Communities Act, which required applicants interested in establishing supervised consumption sites to address 26 criteria in their application before the minister of health could consider it.

On top of that, to renew an exemption for an existing site, applicants have to submit information to address the 26 criteria as well as information related to two additional criteria before an application can be considered.

As a result, this legislation is widely viewed by public health experts as a barrier to establishing new supervised consumption sites, which is unfortunate.

As I have already stated, the evidence shows that supervised consumption sites save lives. As we work to stem the crisis of opioid overdose deaths, facilitating the establishment of these sites in communities where they are wanted and needed is a priority.

That is why Bill C-37 proposes to relieve the administrative burden on communities seeking to establish a supervised consumption site, without compromising the health and safety of those operating the site, its clients, or the surrounding community.

Further, with respect to renewals, existing supervised consumption sites would no longer require a new application. Instead, under Bill C-37, a renewal would simply be requested by informing Health Canada of any changes to the information that was submitted as part of a site’s last application.

Last week, the Standing Committee on Health adopted Bill C-37 with one amendment to clarify the information requirement for an application for a supervised consumption site. This is an amendment that our government fully supports.

Now at report state there is a motion from the member for Oshawa to delete clause 42 of Bill C-37. This would remove from Bill C-37 all of the amendments designed to streamline the application process for a supervised consumption site. The government cannot support this motion.

Supervised consumption sites are a key element to responding to the opioid crisis, and our government has heard that the current legislative framework is a barrier to their successful implementation in communities that want and need them.

An important aspect of this crisis is the extraordinary potency of the drugs being consumed, often unintentionally. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is one of particular concern. While it has legal pharmaceutical use for severe pain relief, it can be misused for its heroin-like effects. Fentanyl is often disguised as other opioids, such as oxycodone or heroin, or added to other drugs.

A pilot drug checking project at Insite, a supervised consumption site in Vancouver, found that 91% of drugs reported as heroin or containing heroin were also positive for fentanyl. Disguising fentanyl in other drugs leads to overdoses, as individuals are not aware of the potency of the substances they are using.

We know that pill presses and encapsulators, which can be used for legitimate purposes, are also being imported to manufacture illegal pills containing opioids. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, a single pill press can turn a kilogram of raw fentanyl worth a few thousand dollars into hundreds of thousands of pills worth millions of dollars on the black market

Currently, these devices can be legally imported into Canada by anyone, with no regulatory requirements. Under Bill C-37, every bill press and encapsulator imported into Canada would need to be registered with Health Canada.

The most illicit fentanyl is produced in other countries illegally and imported in small packages. Pure fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid where even a few milligrams can cause a fatal overdose. A small package of pure fentanyl smuggled into Canada through international mail can contain the equivalent of thousands of fatal doses.

Currently, all mail entering Canada may be examined by an officer at the border prior to being allowed into the domestic postal stream, if the officer has reasonable grounds to do so. However, mail weighing 30 grams or less may only be opened if consent is obtained from the sender or the addressee. If no consent is given, suspicious mail is simply returned to the sender. It is believed that this exception is being exploited by drug smugglers and resulting in the proliferation of trafficking via international mail.

Bill C-37 would address this by enabling officers at the border to open all items in the international mail stream if they have reasonable grounds to be suspicious that the mail contains illicit goods.

Finally, we know that the opioid crisis has introduced very real workplace health and safety concerns for front-line staff, including border agents, law enforcement officers, and others who may be exposed to fentanyl and carfentanil during the course of their duties.

This concern is only made worse by the current rules related to the handling and disposition of seized controlled substances; precursors and other offence-related property are cumbersome and complex and include requirements for agencies to store materials until a court order can be obtained. This results in large quantities of controlled substances, potentially dangerous chemicals, and other offence-related property sitting in police evidence holdings for long periods, increasing the risk of exposure to these dangerous substances and increasing the risk of their being diverted to the illicit market.

Among the many provisions included in this bill to modernize the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to keep pace with changes in the licit and illicit drug market, there are provisions that would introduce a new expedited process for the disposal of seized controlled substances, precursors, and chemical offence-related property.

Since I have only a few seconds left, I will wrap up now.

In conclusion, I would say that Bill C-37 would address gaps and weaknesses with existing legislation in order to better respond to the opioid crisis. This bill is another example of our government's commitment to establishing a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy in order to reduce the harms currently being experienced by individuals and communities, caused by drugs.

I strongly, therefore, encourage all members of the House to support this bill, as amended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the parliamentary secretary's words about safe injection sites very carefully and he said “properly established and maintained”. I also want to note that in committee there was an amendment suggesting, among other things, that the mayor and council formally endorse the proposal, that the police also support the proposal, and that within two kilometres of the planned area, there be some community dialogue. That, to me, is absolutely part of a proper establishment.

I would like the parliamentary secretary to stand and defend to people in those municipalities why that is not part of the process, in terms of the proper establishment of safe injection sites.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is definitive evidence that supervised consumption sites save lives.

What we are doing with Bill C-37 and what people need to understand is that we are complying with the Supreme Court's 2011 ruling in Insite, by allowing access to these supervised consumption sites in communities where they are necessary and useful.

As Mayor Coderre said in Montreal, we have a responsibility to protect Canadians, even from themselves at times.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the question I have for the parliamentary secretary is, basically, whether he thinks the government is doing enough.

New Democrats have been calling on the government to declare the opioid overdose crisis a national public health emergency since last November. It is going on four months now. Such a declaration under the Emergencies Act would give the government emergency powers to flow emergency funding and, more importantly, provide legal sanction to what are called overdose prevention sites, which are popping up in my home city of Vancouver and operating illegally right now, but are saving lives.

Does the parliamentary secretary agree with New Democrats that such a declaration is necessary to get the sites, which he acknowledges save lives, up and running now, instead of forcing the people working there to work, essentially, against the law?

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the government is doing all it can to respond to this crisis. The question allows me to point out a few things that this government has done.

Health Canada has issued a necessary exemption to Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux to provide three supervised consumption sites in Montreal, which took nearly two years under the previous government's 26 criteria in Bill C-2, and now we are moving forward with Bill C-37.

We have made the overdose antidote naloxone more widely available. We have provided an emergency interim order to allow the importation of bulk stocks of naloxone nasal spray from the United States. We have scheduled W-18 under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. We have scheduled precursors to fentanyl. We have supported Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. We have enabled access to diacetylmorphine via Health Canada's special access program.

In addition, we have launched a five-point action plan to address opioid misuse, which focuses on better informing Canadians about the risk of opioids, supporting better prescription practices, reducing easy access to unnecessary opioids, supporting better treatment options, and improving the national evidence-based strategy. We also held a summit on opioids, resulting in 42 organizations bringing forward 128 concrete commitments to address the crisis. Also budget 2016 provides $50 million over two years, starting in 2016-17, to Canada Health Infoway to support short-term digital health activities in e-prescribing and telehomecare. That is just to name a few.

We have done a lot to respond to this opioid crisis, and Bill C-37 is one of the steps we are taking to respond to this crisis. I appreciate the member's support and work on Bill C-37.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think all members of the House approach this debate with a very trenchant and acute sense of the crises gripping communities across the country. The opioid overdose crisis is not restricted to any one province or territory. It is affecting communities from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, from Inuit territories all the way down to the border with the United States, and in every major city, from Vancouver to Edmonton to Calgary to Winnipeg to Toronto to Montreal. I am told that even Cape Breton is having a serious problem with opioid overdoses. This is not restricted to any one place. It is touching communities and families across our country.

We are here debating Bill C-37 because the Conservatives have put in amendments at report stage which they could not get passed at committee. We are dealing with an amendment from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands as well.

It has been the consistent position of the New Democrats, going back over a year now, that the opioid overdose crisis is a national public health emergency, and we need action now. It has been our position that this political issue is different than many other issues and, in fact, almost every other issue that comes before the House. It is an issue that affects life and death.

The consequences of the decisions we take in the House and the consequences of the decisions we do not take have the effect of perhaps meaning someone lives or dies on the streets of Canada today. We cannot say that about every issue in the House. It is that seriousness, that sober reality the New Democrats bring to this debate, and have brought to the debate from the beginning.

The previous speaker, on behalf of the Liberal government, felt that the government had been doing everything possible that it could be doing. That is demonstrably false. The government has failed to take into account many factors and many actions it has not taken up to now, and they remain before us. There are literally dozens of actions that are open to the government to take to respond to the overdose crisis, which it seems reluctant to do.

Interestingly, the last speaker talked about taking 16 months for three supervised consumption sites in Montreal to be approved. He blamed that on the previous Conservative government. It is true that this application was dealt with under Conservative legislation introduced in 2015, but 16 months is about the length of time the Liberal government has been power. Therefore, it unjust for the Liberals to blame that on the previous government.

The New Democrats stood in the House a year ago and told the government that it should introduce legislation to repeal or amend Bill C-2, the legislation that made it virtually impossible to open safe consumption sites, and to act on that immediately. What was the response at that time? It did not think it was necessary.

The Minister of Health publicly stated that she did not see the problem with the act and if she did eventually see a problem, she would act at that point. She felt that the remedy for dealing with the problems of Bill C-2 were administrative. She did not acknowledge or understand that the problem was the 26 separate criteria that were in the act. It is funny, because my hon. colleague, the member for Vancouver Centre, former Liberal health critic, at the time the Conservatives brought in their bill in 2015, nailed it on the head, as did the New Democrats. She identified that Bill C-2 was specifically brought in by the Conservatives to prevent the opening of safe consumption sites. Yet, when the Liberals came into power, suddenly they changed. Suddenly, they could work with the act.

In the year we have waited, finally dealing with Bill C-2, finally bringing in Bill C-37, which would streamline the act, how many Canadians have died? Approximately 2,000. Now, not all of those deaths would have been preventable. However, when we know safe consumption sites save lives, we know the sooner we can get safe consumption sites open across the country, the sooner lives will be saved. Therefore, we know Canadians died unnecessarily because of the delay of the government, and that is a fact.

The thing about the Conservative amendments are that the Conservatives, with great respect, still remain stuck in their ideological perspective that they want to slow down the introduction of safe consumption sites.

I believe the vast majority of Conservatives do not support safe consumption sites. The only reason they brought in legislation was because they fought Insite all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, based on evidence, that the government had to grant a section 56 exemption. Therefore, the Conservatives reluctantly brought in legislation to do so, but they did so with poison pills, 26 of them in fact. The legislation had the desired effect. In the time that the Conservatives brought Bill C-2 to the House, not a single safe consumption site was opened in the country. Therefore, I think that is not a coincidence.

What we have done here, and this legislation tracks this quite well, is restore the process and the criteria for opening a safe consumption site back to the criteria identified by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court of Canada said that the minister must grant an exemption to an applicant who wanted to open a safe consumption site if he or she was satisfied that six criteria had been satisfied. The applicant would need to provide evidence of the intended public health benefits of the site, the local conditions indicating the need for the site, the resources available to support the site, the impact of the site on crime rates, the administrative structure in place to support the site, and expressions of community support or opposition.

I want to stop for a moment because I continually hear the Conservatives misrepresent this issue. All parties in the House believe that the expressions of community support or opposition are important and, in fact, must be taken into account by any health minister. That is in the legislation.

I hear some Conservatives say that it is not there. It absolutely is in the legislation, If they have read it, it says that expressions of community support and opposition is one of the factors that must be taken into account. Perhaps the Conservatives can read the legislation on which they want to vote.

While I am on the topic of the Conservatives, I have to say this. While we were at the health committee last week, one of the most bizarre interventions I have ever heard was made by the member for Calgary Confederation. In opposing the position of the New Democrats that we supported legislation to make safe consumption sites easier to open in the country, with an appropriate regulatory structure mirroring the six criteria set down by the Supreme Court of Canada, he said to me:

I think [the member for Vancouver Kingsway]'s intention here is to try to make the application process for safe injection sites easier.

Would you be in a similar position...if we were sitting around the table here talking about application processes for pipelines in Alberta? To apply for a pipeline is extremely onerous. It's extremely burdensome and time-consuming. It can often take years.

We fought hard as Conservatives to try to make it easier to get pipelines built throughout this country, but we're not talking about pipelines here today; we're talking about safe injection sites.

...I don't support what you're doing here...in your motion or your amendments. However, I am making again the comparison between pipelines and safe injection sites.

...If you're willing to make it easier for us in Alberta, we can make it easier for you to put in safe injection sites throughout the country.

That was the most offensive intervention I have ever heard from any member in the House or at committee. To draw a comparison between moving fossil fuels through pipelines and a process that saves Canadian lives is about the most offensive, dishonourable comment I have heard made by anybody in the House. To actually suggest that there is a comparison between the regulatory process for approving pipelines and the regulatory process to open up health facilities to save Canadians is offensive. To suggest that there could be a trade-off, that if one party supported an easier approval process for pipelines in exchange for an easier approval process for opening safe consumption sites, is also offence. This does not surprise me.

However, what I am surprised by, and where I will conclude, is the Liberal government's refusal to entertain the two amendments of the New Democrats.

First, the New Democrats moved to amend the act to better apportion the burden on an applicant for these sites to make it more appropriate. We believe that the six criteria of the Supreme Court ought to be taken into account by the Minister of Health, but that it is only the local conditions, the resources available, and the need for the local community that applicants should have the burden of meeting. The impact on crime rates, the expression of opposition or support for the site, and the regulatory structure are matters for the minister to use her discretion. We should not burden the applicants for that.

Our second amendment would have allowed provincial health ministers to bypass that process on an emergency basis and ask the Minister of Health for a section 56 exemption in order to open up temporary emergency overdose prevention sites, which are operating in Vancouver today against the law.

I am disappointed the Liberal government rejected those amendments, but the New Democrats will continue to work to move this act swiftly through Parliament so we can start saving lives as soon as possible.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, everyone knows that there is a nationwide opioid crisis. We know that the government must take immediate action. We understand that there is a great need for supervised consumption sites. What impact does the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway think that Bill C-37 will have in terms of promoting the introduction of these sites in communities where the need is great?

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that section 37 would restore the balance to the law in this area and respect the Supreme Court's direction to Parliament in instructing a health minister and a government as to when or when not an application for a supervised consumption site ought to be approved.

As I mentioned in my speech, there are six criteria set down by the Supreme Court, each an every one of them important. What will happen is when section 37 becomes law, it will ease the burden on applicants who are seeking to open safe consumption sites. It will streamline the process and make it quicker. Those communities that want safe consumption sites, where there is a need for that, will open them more quickly and we will start saving lives.

It is a fact that not a single person has ever died in safe consumption sites in Canada, and they have been operating, I believe, for 12 years now. As my former colleague, Libby Davies, used to say, “dead addicts don't get treatment”.

The very first principle of harm reduction, while nobody here is countenancing the use of drugs, is to help people get off substance use and we want them to get treatment. While they are doing so, we can ensure that at least the community is protected, disease is not spread, lives are saved, sterile equipment is provided, and there are medical personnel around in case of an overdose. Those are the facts around supervised consumption sites. They save lives and they are better for our community as well.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech, his steadfastness, his interest in this matter, his very important documentation and, above all, his knowledge of the situation because I am going to ask him a question about what is actually happening.

All Canadians and all Quebeckers have seen in the news something that they had already heard about. However, over the holidays, we started seeing for ourselves, through television cameras, teams responding to real situations. This is a tragedy of huge proportions.

I would like to thank the member for pointing out the staggering number of victims. We would have addressed this some time ago except that this is a subject that elicits strong reactions, sometimes very unreasonable ones, from the Conservative Party.

Can my colleague explain why in the last 16 months the Liberal Party lost touch with what is happening? This is not a new issue; it has been brought up many times. We knew and said in advance that it would be a major problem if we did nothing. They did nothing.

Why does he think that they lost sight of the issue even though many members are from that part of the country?

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, those are very powerful comments. Fundamentally, this issue occurs at the grassroots level in our communities, affecting real people.

As we sit here debating this, people in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, all across the country are injecting opioids in an unsafe manner and are overdosing. Our first responders are dealing with these situations on the ground right now, in very stressful circumstances. Brave nurses and medical personnel are operating right now to try to get a handle on this.

I really think the answer is that substance use disorder is not a moral failing. It is not an issue of character. It is a health matter. Ultimately, we need to respond compassionately to ensure that the people who are suffering from substance use disorder have access to the best health care they can get. We have to quit looking at them as if they are criminals. We must look at them as if they are patients.

Once we start doing that, we can move beyond the dark decade of Conservative rule in the House, when the Conservatives substituted their ideology and their disrespect for evidence, and finally return to an evidence-based, compassionate, health perspective on what is fundamentally a health issue. I am happy to work with the government in every respect to accomplish that.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway for a very excellent presentation. I think he understands the issue very well. This is an issue about health. This is, as the minister has said and as we have acknowledged, now a national public health crisis and steps are being taken to work across the country with resources, as we heard the minister saying, as well as working with all of the public health officers in every province to deal with this issue on the ground.

As a physician, the first thing I look at in any kind of public health emergency, whether it is a virus, whether it is a bacteria, whether as we see now overdose deaths from tainted opiates, is the immediate, urgent means of stopping the problem and of saving lives, of looking at a medium set of policies and legislation that would help us look at longer term solutions to the problem.

I want to congratulate the New Democratic Party for helping to move this so quickly through the House. It means that members get it; for most of us in the House, saving lives is paramount. We can put nothing else before saving lives.

I want to congratulate the Minister of Health for bringing about this change in repealing Bill C-2, which I consider to have been a very tragic and heinous, cruel bill that stopped people from doing what was necessary to save lives. If I may paraphrase something that was said by the Conservative health critic earlier on today, it was that yes, indeed, safe consumption sites save lives, but they help people to stay on drugs.

I want to ask anyone who has any ounce of common sense, which would they put first, saving a life, or saying that people should be able to stay on a drug that they are addicted to. We know all of this is a public health issue and all of this has to do with patient care and understanding the issues of public health.

I want to congratulate the minister because when the Supreme Court brought down its ruling, the Liberal Party was very adamant that we should listen to what the Supreme Court had said. I was the health critic at the time. The Supreme Court had exactly word for word the five criteria that the minister has put in the bill.

At the time I remember most of us were absolutely concerned that the Conservative Party brought in what was then called the Safer Communities Act, which no one saw the irony in because it certainly was not about safer communities at all. Therefore, what we see now is that since 2011 when the Supreme Court made the ruling, until 2015, four years had passed before the Supreme Court's decision had been considered by the government.

I think that is a pity and it was sad because it stopped safe injection sites from being set up across this country. It stopped harm reduction, which is about bringing down the mortality rates of any disease, of any condition, of any public health problem, and bringing down the disease rates as well, not just saving lives, but bringing down disease rates. We saw the safe injection sites. I am proud to say I was the minister responsible for the Downtown Eastside, setting up the Vancouver agreement and agreeing with the harm reduction principles that were set out in the four-pillar approach by the then mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen. During that time, we had the UBC Centre of Excellence for HIV/AIDS, which did the actual project by 24 peer bodies around the world that was accepted as being well done and the evidence was completely accepted.

At that time, we had 90 safe injection sites around the world, in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, Australia, and Portugal. This was happening. People had seen that evidence and this was when we were concerned about 234 overdose deaths in the Downtown Eastside. We saw that once a safe injection site had been set up, evidence showed that there were no overdose deaths from anyone who came into that safe injection site. We had in fact stopped deaths. The other thing that was noticeable was that the crime rates had gone down in that area, so public order was restored.

We also saw that these very high-risk people who had actually started to use Insite at the time suddenly decided that they wanted to go into treatment. These were high-risk addicts. They went into treatment at OnSite, which is above the Insite site. There were 25 beds there for people who wanted to go into treatment. This was an important piece of the evidence as well. It not only saved lives, it also helped people to go into treatment. We saw that it had restored order, and fulfilled another criteria; it allowed people to have hope and to begin to want to build new lives.

These are some important things when we look at harm reduction. When I heard the Conservative health critic say in the House this morning that evidence shows it may save lives, but it helps them stay on the drugs, I wonder why ideology should take human life so lightly. These are human beings, and just because they happen to be addicted to a drug does not mean they are unworthy. Who should say what lives are unworthy and what lives are worthy? That is what we are talking about here.

I am pleased to see the minister moving forward, calling this a national public health crisis. I am pleased to see the extra pieces with regard to opening of suspicious mail that may contain up to 30 grams of fentanyl. We know that 30 grams of fentanyl can actual cause 15,000 deaths. This is a huge number. We are talking about deaths in the thousands.

After Insite, we not only saw the deaths were stopped, we also saw that the rate of HIV reduced. There had been 2,100 new cases of HIV/AIDS at the time Insite opened. That went down to 31. We are talking about the need to look at this as something that is essential.

I am pleased to see the New Democrats supporting the bill. I am pleased to see everyone in the House determined to move it forward, because it is essential if we are going to have safe injection sites, and all the evidence has proven safe injection sites save lives and bring down mortality and morbidity.

I understand when the leader of the Green Party talked about not wanting to intervene in civil liberties by opening these envelopes, but in the case of lives being saved, it is an essential thing we must do.

I am glad to see the minister bringing up precursors in the bill, to stop precursors. They are important in many instances, but at the moment we have to decide that stopping precursors from being given without going through a prescription and being approved, is actually one way of saving lives.

As a physician, I can say that lives will be saved as a result of the action the minister has taken with this bill, and by making naloxone widely available. As the member of the NDP said, it is important that the mobile units that are helping to save lives at the moment in Vancouver Centre, which are infringing on the law, should be able to give this. It should not simply be given in a buffer zone, but should be considered across the country if we see this as a national crisis.

There are other things we can do. We were asked what those were. The minister has moved very swiftly to do some of the things that are necessary, but we need to look at a public awareness campaign for all the young people, the young professionals, and youth who are not necessarily addicted, but who are recreational drug users, to let them know that using drugs off the street is a dangerous thing to do. When the minister first became minister, she moved to allow for the SALOME project, which had also been done under the Chrétien government, to show whether or not the use of substitute pharmaceutical grade heroin was important to save lives. It was shown that allowing hydromorphone, which is being used in the heroin assisted treatment in Europe and Scandinavia with a great deal of success, is saving lives and helping people to manage their addiction so they do not have to buy off the street anymore. They can go to the clinic and get a pharmaceutical drug, which costs pennies, to be able to save their lives and move them off the street drugs. We have to stop the illicit trafficking. That is of key importance.

If we continue to only look at the demand side of the problem and do not look at the supply side of the problem, illicit opiates will continue to not only kill people but damage lives for a long time.

A lot of the work that has been done in New York gives us the ability to truly look at evidence-based solutions to this problem, to act as quickly as we can, and to make these decisions not based on ideology, but based on clear evidence and science.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the previous speaker as well as the member for Vancouver Kingsway both grossly mischaracterized the earlier comments from the Conservative health critic, the member for Oshawa. When the member for Oshawa acknowledged that supervised injection sites may save lives at the moment but do not address the issue of addiction, that is exactly what he meant by that. An injection site is not a panacea, it is not a solution in and of itself to the opioid crisis, it may be part of a solution. It is not ideological to merely point out that preventing a person from overdosing in the moment is not to solve the problem of addiction. Addiction is an enormous problem that encapsulates many parts of society, far beyond street-level addiction.

I wanted to clarify and say there is nothing ideological about acknowledging the complexity of the problem—

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, there is something ideological about preventing when we know that safe injection sites on evidence have saved lives.

Saving lives alone is not an answer, but saving lives is an immediacy. People go to emergency rooms when they have an accident. They want their lives to be saved so they can move into other areas such as keeping healthy and fixing the problem.

The minister and our government have been very clear. We have moved into the medium-term and the long-term problems but we need to deal with the immediacy of saving lives. If a person's life is saved, that person can then move on to treatment, that person can then move on to rehabilitation, and as has been shown in Europe with the advent of safe injection sites, that person can live a meaningful life. No one has denied that. The minister has put in place all of these things.

We set an opioid summit to talk about how we can move forward to the longer and the medium term. If the member had been listening he would have heard me say at the beginning of my presentation that public health deals with immediacy, medium and long term.

No one is suggesting that a harm reduction strategy is the only thing we need to do, but it is the thing we need to do now to—

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert.

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. If there is a member representing a region who knows what is happening there and who has spoken out against this situation many times, it is her. I commend her for that.

Clearly, given the work that we are doing together on various committees, my colleague understands that we sometimes need to work on the most obvious common denominator, or the thing that everyone agrees on, in order to take action on what matters most.

However, I would like to ask her if there are any other complementary measures that could be taken. Are there other options that are not included in this bill that we could eventually look into to resolve the problem, since it seems to be growing so rapidly?

Motions in amendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wan to thank the member for the important question, and to thank his colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, for the kind words he said about this.

I am a physician, and in the government of Jean Chrétien, I was responsible for the Downtown Eastside because of the problem that was happening with overdoses, so I was there from the very beginning.

I look at evidence-based solutions. There are other things that we need to do not so much with respect to this legislation, because the bill must be passed now to get moving on this. We need to do things such as analysis at certain mobile units, at safe injection sites, and in other areas and on the street of whether or not a drug that is being used is tainted with fentanyl or carfentanil. It is because of the safe injection sites in Vancouver that we first found out that there were tainted opioids. We need to do that.

There is a clinic in Vancouver that is giving hydromorphone to a small group of very high-risk addicts. The people who were in the SALOME trials are now getting hydromorphone, which is important for saving their lives and keeping them off street drugs or from buying on the street.

There are some things the minister is working on but this legislation hits the nail right on the head of what we need to do right now.