Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank each of the members of the House, the House Standing Committee on Health, the Senate, and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for their work on Bill C-37.
I would also like to thank the minister as well as her current and previous parliamentary secretary for all the work they have done on this and the leadership they have shown.
The hon. members of the Senate have adopted some amendments to Bill C-37 around supervised consumption sites, particularly for supporting public consultation in the application process.
I welcome the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak to the amendments to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
As all my colleagues know, there is currently a troubling number of overdoses and fatalities associated with opioids and other substances in Canada. Far too often, we hear about new and powerful drugs that end up in our communities and heartbreaking stories of families and communities that lose loved ones to an overdose.
To help address the challenges associated with problematic substance use in Canada, Bill C-37 proposes important legislative changes to support a new Canadian drugs and substances strategy, a comprehensive, collaborative, and compassionate strategy composed of four pillars, which are prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement, each one built on a strong foundation of evidence.
These proposed legislative changes will help provide public health officials and law enforcement organizations in Canada with the tools they need to help communities in addressing problematic substance use, including live-saving harm reduction initiatives to help those struggling with opioid use disorder.
Bill C-37 was drafted to offer a real solution to the communities dealing with this crisis by eliminating, among other things, unnecessary obstacles to opening supervised consumption sites.
Should it receive royal assent, Bill C-37 will streamline the application process for supervised consumption sites by replacing the current 26 criteria set out in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with the five factors set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 2011 decision regarding Insite. These factors are: one, impact on crime rates; two, local conditions indicating need; three, regulatory structure in place to support the facility; four, resources available to support its maintenance; and, five, expressions of community support or opposition.
Reducing the number of criteria will alleviate the administrative burden on communities wanting to open a supervised consumption site without compromising the health and safety of those using the site, their clients, and the neighbouring community.
I want to underscore our government's position on the importance of community consultation in the establishment of supervised consumption sites, while also reducing the barriers for communities to establish life-saving services for their citizens. Our government recognizes and respects that there is a balance between a community's need for adequate time and appropriate channels to provide valuable feedback and the need to minimize unnecessary delays in the administrative process for critical harm reduction services.
In Bill C-37, our government is proposing an authorization process that respects the Supreme Court of Canada's decision and criteria, including the requirement that the minister of health must consider expressions of community support or opposition when reviewing applications for supervised consumption sites.
The proposed approach will give the communities the assurance that their voice will be heard and that every application is subject to a thorough review.
While supervised consumption sites have been shown to be effective in reducing the harms of problematic substance use, the Minister of Health needs to make informed decisions on future applications, which could include collecting additional information and hearing directly from community members when necessary.
Our government is committed to the protection of public health and the maintenance of public safety. Health Canada will do the necessary verification so that any potential site operates in a responsible manner and ultimately meets its stated objectives of saving lives and reducing harms.
In the amended bill, the minister would continue to have the authority to post a notice of the application and invite public comments. Such a provision could be used in cases involving extenuating circumstances where the minister feels that further community consultation is warranted.
Our government supports the Senate amendment to establish a minimum public comment period of at least 45 days, which will offer the public time to provide its feedback on site applications when the minister chooses to post the public comment period. Bill C-37 retains the previous maximum consultation period of up to 90 days.
The communities have an important role to play in the successful launch of a supervised consumption site. They have to work together on meeting the challenges and determining whether such a program is appropriate for their neighbourhood.
The support of the community within which the sites are located is a key element in a supervised consumption site's ability to have a positive and meaningful impact. This requires constructive dialogue among community members to find common ground and address potential concerns.
At the same time, our government also recognizes that stigmatizing problematic substance abuse can negatively impact the rates of which harm reduction services, such as supervised consumption sites, are accessed by those who need them. Adding measures for supervised consumption sites that are not applied to other health services add to the stigmatization of the sites and those in need and unnecessarily impact access to these critical services.
In addition, the advisory committee could be composed of individuals who do not have adequate qualifications to warrant their oversight of a health care service. As such, our government does not support the second amendment adopted by the Senate.
Now more than ever, it is important to help communities open supervised consumption sites in order to help address the underlying issues of problematic substance use.
The proposed changes will help us ensure that community members have the opportunity to make comments on applications for proposed centres, that federal legislation does not contribute to further stigmatizing these centres relative to other health services, and that there are no obstacles or unjustified delays to opening these centres where they are wanted and needed.
Because the need for supervised consumption sites is urgent in helping to save lives, it is imperative that the process not be overly burdensome so as to unnecessarily delay the establishment of potential sites. While our government recognizes the benefits and supports the use of alternative pharmaceutical therapy, the decision to offer additional services to clients should be made by each site based on the needs of its community. It is for this reason that our government does not support the amendment as currently written. We respectfully propose that the word “may” be substituted for “shall”.
Health Canada would also support communities through the publication of a revised application form, available online, and simplified guidance to help site applicants through the process and clearly state what documentation is required to support the minister's consideration of the Supreme Court of Canada's factors. The application form would provide details on how to address these Supreme Court criteria. The criteria would be streamlined and modified to provide applicants with greater flexibility to consider their local context.
We cannot turn our backs on the preventable deaths occurring across the country. We must do our part, and that includes passing Bill C-37. I urge all members of the House to support our government's proposed legislative changes that would support communities rather than place unnecessary barriers in their path.