Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today and speak in favour of the private member's bill put forward by my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville. I want to thank the other members who have risen in the House today to speak on this important piece of legislation to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to increase sentences for offences related to the importing and exporting of controlled drugs and substances.
I want to be very clear. We have an opioid crisis. It is plaguing our communities. As legislators, we must take some sort of action. We heard from some of my colleagues earlier today on Bill C-37, which would give our border services agents additional tools to address things like illegal pill presses and to search small packages. Those are all steps to address what I think all of us in this House would agree is a plague that is impacting communities across the country.
Bill C-338 is another step for us as parliamentarians to give our law enforcement officers, as well as the judicial system, the tools they need to fight this opioid crisis that is unfortunately taking away our friends, neighbours, and, in some cases, our family.
I want to talk a little about what is going on in my home province of Alberta. My riding is almost completely rural. We have never seen something like this affect the communities in my riding for as long as most of us have been there. For example, in 2016 there were 338 accidental opioid deaths, and the 2017 numbers are predicted to be much worse.
I have a first nations community in my riding, the Kainai Blood first nation, which had to declare a state of emergency in 2016 because of the number of deaths they were facing in their community. Many of those were young people. About 80% of the deaths in Alberta were people 20 to 35 years old. These were young people who had their entire lives ahead of them.
We have to understand that we have to get away from that stereotype that these are somehow down-and-out people or those who have long-term drug addiction problems. Some of them may, but what is most frightening to me and to many of my colleagues in this House is that a large number of those who have died from these opioid overdoses were trying opioids for the first time, or had taken something else that unknown to them was laced with fentanyl or carfentanil.
My colleague across the floor was talking about trying to take marijuana out of the hands of children and out of the black market. Unfortunately, many of these deaths are from people smoking marijuana that has been laced with some of these very dangerous opioid products. It is disingenuous to say that the legislation brought forward by the Liberal government is going to take marijuana out of the hands of children. That is what concerns me on the approach to fentanyl.
If people are allowed to have four plants, three feet high, in their house, how is it possibly going to make it less accessible to children? For example, in Ontario the provincial Wynne government is saying it is going to look at the LCBO as the avenue or vehicle to sell marijuana. The odds of the LCBO selling marijuana at a cheaper price than what is available on the street is probably slim to none.
We have to take stronger action to address some of these issues. What is attractive in Bill C-338 is that it takes a hard line on those who are importing and exporting fentanyl and carfentanil and these other very harmful opioids. These products are flooding our communities. I would attest that there is not a community, not a constituency, not a riding anywhere in Canada that is immune to this opioid crisis.
I think those of us who are in western Canada, in B.C. and Alberta, felt it a little sooner than maybe the rest of the Canadian provinces and territories. It is certainly making its way across Canada. There are massive numbers of these fentanyl and carfentanil pills. I know some of it is from prescriptions, from pharmacy patients who are distributing or reselling these products, but the vast majority of it is being imported from out of the country. A lot of it is from China.
We have to take some very strong steps as parliamentarians to ensure that those who import these products face some very harsh punishment, as well as those who export them, even though we do not have as much control over that aspect of it.
I have been to far too many funerals over the last two or three years for young people who have overdosed on fentanyl. The last one I was at was for a young man who was 26 years old. I had known him for most of his life. I coached him in hockey. I certainly never expected something like that to happen. This is a life that was taken much too soon. I know the bill does not address some of the consequences of fentanyl and opioid abuse, but it certainly addresses some of the root causes of it. I am not saying we cannot focus on funding for mental health. That is a key part of this issue as well.
Certainly access to counselling, access to addictions counselling and recovery, those things are also very critical. I hope we have those discussions in Parliament moving forward. However, a big part of this is also on the justice side. What tools can we as parliamentarians give to our law enforcement and justice to ensure they can take hard action against people who import these products and then sell them in our neighbourhoods, schoolyards, and in communities across the country.
That is why as Conservatives we have taken such a hard stance on ensuring we have safe communities, mandatory sentencing, being tough on crime. As Canadians, we want to ensure we have safe communities, safe streets. I want to feel comfortable that my children are safe in my community. That is why it is so critical to do everything we can to stop the illegal importation of these drugs, methamphetamines, ecstasy, fentanyl. Again, we must provide our health services with the tools they need for mental health, resources on counselling, but we must ensure that those who import and sell these drugs face the harshest of punishments. They must be severely held accountable when they import these types of products.
I want to emphasize the fact that Bill C-338 does not talk about substance misuse. I do not want our friends across the floor to think we are not focusing on the consequences of drug addiction. That was a large issue with Bill C-37, which we talked about in the last session. We are talking about people who are bringing in these illegal substances into our country and making them available for sale and distribution in our communities. I recognize the importance of mental health services, but it is also to ensure we have the tools in place so those who import and sell these drugs face the most severe consequences.
The bill from my colleague from Ontario is one step, one tool in taking action against drug dealers.
We are facing an emergency. Drugs do not discriminate. It does not matter what age, gender, or how much money people make. These drugs are dangerous and unfortunately for many of us in the House we have seen they can kill our friends, neighbours, or loved ones.
It is important as parliamentarians that we take action. Canadians are looking to us to take strong action on the opioid crisis. I believe Bill C-338 brought forward by my colleague from Markham—Unionville is a key part of that strategy. It is one tool we can take to ensure our communities and our families are safe.