Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-37, legislation proposed by the Liberal government to help deal with the opioid crisis that is affecting too many communities across Canada.
I am not encouraged after hearing the minister's comments. She talked about 900 fatalities in British Columbia in the last year, 500 in Alberta, that 1,400 have died of overdoses. She said after quoting this that she sees no end in sight. That tells us the severity of what we are facing across Canada. However, it seems a little disappointing that the minister does not give a lot of answers to the problems that she sees. Bill C-37 does not contain enough answers. In fact, we believe there are some problems with Bill C-37.
Today, we are considering some amendments by my colleague, the official opposition health critic. It is my first entry into the debate on Bill C-37, although it is not the first time I have dealt with this. As a member of Parliament back in 2001-02, we had an opioid problem in the country. There was a committee struck, the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. We travelled across Canada and to Germany, and I believe to France, Switzerland, and a number of other countries. We saw safe injections sites. At that time, they believed it was the answer to the opioid problem. They called them safe injection sites then, not supervised consumption sites. I guess the government feels that supervised consumption sites sells a little better.
I travelled with Randy White, a member of Parliament from Abbotsford. I think he would find it very disappointing that 16 years later we are still debating the same types of issues and have seen even greater problems since some of these safe injection sites have been incorporated into the landscape across our country.
I will take this opportunity to thank my colleague, the member for Oshawa, for all his hard work on the health file on behalf of his constituents and Canadians. As a doctor, he understands all aspects of the health file. For many years, we have benefited from his input, his comments, and knowledge. He has been on the committee for years as well. Today, he is asking the House, again, to consider the amendments to Bill C-37 that have been brought forward by the Senate of Canada. His amendment states:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, be now read a second time and concurred in.”
The first amendment that the Senate brought forward ensures that there is a minimum consultation period of 45 days prior to the approval of an injection site.
The second amendment looks to establish a citizens advisory committee that is responsible for advising the approved injection site of any public concerns, including public health and safety issues. The amendment also looks to have the committee provide the minister with a yearly update on these matters.
The third amendment directs those working at the site to offer the person using the site some legal pharmaceutical therapy before that person consumes or injects illegal drugs.
It is disappointing that the minister is flatly refusing to accept the amendments from the Senate. I believe that many Canadians would feel that those amendments are fair, substantive, and reasonable. The Senate does not amend legislation from this House very often. The Senate takes very seriously any amendments that it would recommend to the House. Therefore, when senators do take the time to study and bring forward amendments, we should be paying attention to what they do. We should not discount it as quickly as the minister did.
The Senate tries to help the government and this House pass good legislation. It wants to help us ensure that the laws we pass accomplish what we want done. The Senate wants to help ensure that our legislation would not cause other harm, or place an unnecessary burden on Canadians.
There are many reasons for the Senate to return a bill to the House with amendments, and it is important that we accept suggestions and recommendations from the other place and agree to consider them seriously.
The first amendment asks for a minimum consultation period of 45 days prior to the approval of an injection site anywhere in Canada. The Senate knows that not all Canadians want injection sites in their local communities, or, as the minister calls them, supervised consumption sites. Anyone looking at community injection sites would understand why. Those who have been involved understand why. To discount the amendment out of hand is disappointing. The Senate is trying to inject a measure of democracy into Bill C-37 by providing communities with a chance to further consider proposals for injection sites. We hope that the Liberals will respect that.
The Liberals talk about inclusion, but we see the opposite. They talk about partnerships with other levels of government, but we see the opposite. Why will they not listen to Canadians? They promised to do politics differently. They said that under their rule, we would all live to our full potential as Canadians, whatever that means. They also promised to consult with Canadians. Now, when the Senate is suggesting that they consult with communities as to where a safe injection site is going to be put, they do not want to hear it. The Liberals do not want to hear from those communities or from those groups that would advocate for one site being a better place than another site.
The Liberals should learn to listen to the grassroots of communities and allow them to have their say. Under Bill C-37, communities should be encouraged to make comments, to offer suggestions, to consider proposals on where an injection site should be built, or if it should be built at all. That is what being community minded is all about. The government should not be afraid of local governments, citizens, community organizations, or anyone who has a differing opinion.
The first amendment wants to allow a local community, large or small, to have at least 45 days to study and prepare before the government opens an injection site. That is fair. The Senate believes it is reasonable, diplomatic, and democratic, but the Liberals say no. Far from delaying the approval of a new injection site, a courtesy to the community is about to be changed.
The second amendment wants to establish a citizens advisory group. Much like the first amendment in some respects, the Senate is trying to help the government with Bill C-37, and after great study on the subject, it felt that this amendment would do that. The Senate is recommending that a group be formed that will help communities deal with the challenges of establishing an injection site. That would be generous and very helpful.
Many Canadians do not know much about what happens at a safe injection site or a supervised consumption site. We want them to be aware of the opioid crisis that is facing Canada and what the Liberals see as solutions. Canadians only know the images that they see on the media, which depict the horrors, for example, of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, what we used to call heroin districts and other things in the United States and Europe.
The constituents that I represent in Battle River do not want to become like the Eastside of Vancouver. In fact, I do not know of too many constituencies, rural or urban, that do. Being almost like a Bible belt in parts of Alberta, more time is probably spent praying for drug victims on those streets. They care very much. They feel badly when they see lives being ruined by the opioid crisis.
I believe the communities are there and want to help. We want to do the right thing. We want to address the crisis, even if it is in our own communities. As we can see from the statistics that the minister quoted of 900 deaths in B.C. last year and 500 in Alberta, it is in every community.
However, the Liberals are saying that we must do only what the Liberal politicians in Ottawa say we have to do, whether that is in Alberta or anywhere else, and by opposing amendment number two, the Liberals are denying Canadians the opportunity to be involved. The government does not want experts bringing their knowledge into communities and making recommendations and suggestions or amending anything. The Liberals are trying to dictate what every community in Canada must do when it comes to their supervised consumption sites. That is too bad, because wherever the opioid crisis raises its ugly head, in most communities, rural or urban, those communities would like to have some credible and knowledgeable assistance. Why do the Liberals not want that?
The government is saying that it knows what is best: one size will fit all. Imagine, as injections sites are brought into communities across Canada, that none of the lessons learned would be shared with those communities, none of the problems that have been dealt with successfully in certain communities would be available to other communities so that they would be able to benefit.
The Senate is simply trying to help the government with its bill. The Senate is trying to look out for communities, large and small, by having experts who know about the problems help communities grapple with them. That would be a good thing. We hope the government does not dig in its heels on these amendments. We hope that the minister is not just saying that we should do what she says because she knows best, but it seems that is what she is doing.
Canada has many different diverse communities. The operators of injection sites would appreciate being advised of community concerns and local health and safety issues. Not all injection sites would be able to operate the same way in every community.
There are many concerned citizens in every community in Canada. I have seen this in my own large geographical constituency. In every small town and village, there are folks who know very well how the local community operates, and we want to allow them to help. We do not want the Liberals to consider their efforts to be interference. We need everyone with knowledge and experience to work on the opioid crisis. We do not want to exclude the very people who can help us the most, the residents who know how things work in their communities. If the government proceeds with this program, every community could certainly benefit by having five to 10 volunteers within the immediate vicinity of the site at least consulted.
The third amendment that the Senate brought forward directs those working at the site to offer the person who is using this illegal drug some legal pharmaceutical therapy.
Much of the drugs that are being used are obtained illegally. In Senator White's speech in the other place, as a long-time police officer and city police chief, he talked about the day that an addict uses his drug as a day of crime, when he or she would go out and usually commit various crimes in order to raise enough funds to obtain the drug. If this plan is adopted, should we not give those people in those sites who would be using at least some counsel or therapy? Why would the government not listen to what the senators are calling for here? Is it not the most basic and simple thing to try to help those who are abusing opioids at the time they are actually going to use them? Is it not in the best interests of the addicts, and of our society, to help those individuals who are addicts to get off opioids? It sounds as though the Liberals are saying no.
The more people abuse themselves with harmful opioids, the more they will want to stop as their health declines. I have never met one who wants to keep going. They wish they could get out of the rut they are in. As their relationships with others disappear and their finances disappear, they are going to want help and they are crying for help. They will need to be rescued in order to save their lives.
They probably had a very difficult time getting drugs from some of these drug dealers. The drug abuse world is a violent, lawless world. Every time a drug abuse victim visits an injection site, we should be offering them an alternative. We should make saving that person's life a priority. Why would the Liberals not want that? It is unbelievable. It is almost as if the Liberals are trying to enable the continuing abuse of drugs by drug addicts. It is unfair. This is not the sunny ways the Prime Minister talked about. It is not helping everyone live to their full potential as Canadians, as the government said it wanted to do. What we see is mismanagement of the opioid crisis.
We should make it a criminal offence not to offer an alternative to someone who is so addicted to a drug that they need supervision when they inject that drug. Anyone in that position needs help. They may not accept the help being offered, but at least it should be offered to them. If everyone knows that the injection site is offering a way out, an alternative, then we have a better chance of saving lives.
I have heard some say that offering pharmaceutic therapy could erode the relationship between the drug abuser and the facilitator at the injection site. Really? Could offering a little counsel could lose the relationship between the two? I think the Liberals are off base on this.
The facilitator, as they call it, would be from the community. To the extent that the facilitator may not approve of the drug abuse, that facilitator would want to be ready to help if he or she is asked. I would say that is true in many parts, if not all parts, of Canadian communities, and I hope it would be true in our communities. That is the Canadian way. We are there to help. Is that not what the Prime Minister tells the world—that Canada is there to help? What part does he not get?
I see that my time is running short, so let me just say this: are there good things in Bill C-37? Not much, but we hope the Liberals will support the first amendment and include communities. We hope the Liberals realize communities need time to figure out how they will provide an injection site, and we hope the Liberals are willing to come up with something that could satisfy the third amendment.
There are other measures in Bill C-37. The bill gives the Canada Border Services Agency the authority to open international mail of any weight, should there be reasonable grounds. Perhaps this may sound like a good measure, but I think we had better be careful what we ask for here. In their hurry to find some solution, they may have eroded some of the rights of Canadians, and a lot will depend on the term “reasonable grounds”. Allowing searches of packages and shipping and so on will slow down commerce. Do we mean “reasonable grounds” that there are drugs in there? I think there are already reasonable grounds for every package, if they want to use that, but again, it may not be exactly what they want to accomplish.
If passed, Bill C-37 could add prohibitions and penalties that would apply to possession, production, sale, importation, or transport of anything intended to be used in the production of any controlled substance, including fentanyl. That is a good measure.
I brought forward a private member's bill that offered to allow the minister to allow Canadians access only to specific narcotics that have tamper-resistance or abuse-deterrent formulations. The technology is there now. This measure would only be used when a particular drug is being abused with deadly results of the kind we saw with fentanyl. Oxycontin is available now as OxyNEO, a tamper-proof pharmaceutical, but the government voted against it.
Today the minister said that this is just one measure that will fight the opioid crisis. It is funny, though, that when pharmaceutical companies and United States governments under Obama and other states started going down that road, this minister said it was not in our best interests.
We should improve Bill C-37 so that it helps Canadians deal with the opioid crisis. We should support the amendments that are being debated, and we should support the amendment of the member for Oshawa.