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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was medical.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as Liberal MP for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley (Manitoba)

Lost his last election, in 2021, with 39% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act February 14th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise 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. The bill directly addresses the national public health crisis of opioid overdoses and provides measures to prevent increasing harm to Canadians and communities all across the country.

I would like to speak to the importance of two key components of the bill: first, streamlining the process of supervised consumption sites; and second, providing additional enforcement capacities to the Canadian Border Services Agency, which would help prevent illicit opioids from entering Canada through international routes and therefore reduce the risk of controlled substances entering the hands of Canadians.

These components of the bill are critical to Canada's fight against the opioid epidemic currently sweeping across Canada.

As we know, when the previous federal government decided it would not extend the legal exemption for Insite in Vancouver, advocates initiated a legal challenge, which reached the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the health evidence in support of Insite was substantial and opened up the possibility of establishing additional facilities in Canada if there was an appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety.

This balance was organized into five criteria: first, evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates; second, the local conditions indicating a need for such a supervised injection site; third, the regulatory structure in place to support the facility; fourth, the resources available to support its maintenance; and fifth, expressions of community support or opposition.

Simply put, the legislation removes the burdensome 26 application criteria put forward by the previous government. Instead, it uses the five factors outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 2011 ruling on Insite in order to streamline the process.

It has been established that opioid addiction is typically chronic, lifelong, difficult to treat, and associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality. Our ultimate goal is to reduce, and ultimately help eliminate opioid addiction but we first have to stop people from dying. We know that supervised consumption sites work to do just that.

Just a few of the organizations that support supervised consumption sites are: the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Association of Nurses in HIV/AIDS Care, the Public Health Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, and the Urban Public Health Network. Furthermore, international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, are in favour of harm reduction services.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I had the honour of assisting with the swift passage of Bill C-37 through the committee stage. With the current health crisis across Canada, the rapid passage of the bill is imperative. Time is of the essence to help save lives, and as I previously mentioned, a key outcome of the legislation is that the length of time required to process applications for supervised consumption sites would be significantly reduced, while still providing the necessary balance between public health and public safety.

Many witnesses throughout the Standing Committee of Health's study on the opioid crisis stated that there were significant barriers associated with the previous government's Respect for Communities Act and its 26 criteria. The act created an onerous application process for community groups wishing to apply for a supervised consumption site, as evidenced by the lack of applications that have been successful since the legislation was put in place.

For example, three supervised consumption sites were approved last month in Montreal under the previous government's legislation. Although their approval is positive, the time it took to process the application was quite long, as it was submitted in May 2015. That is 17 months the city of Montreal had to wait to assist their vulnerable citizens with opioid addictions. That is too long. I agree the important criteria must be met before supervised consumption sites are established within communities, but the application process must reflect the urgency of the situation. I believe Bill C-37 would do just that.

One significant statement made during the Standing Committee on Health's clause-by-clause on Bill C-37 was by the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway. He stated, “On the first day that Insite opened, they reversed 15 overdoses”. That is a staggering number of people saved in one day.

By streamlining the application process, Bill C-37 would ensure applications would be approved in a timely fashion, paving the way to save more lives. For example, at Insite there have been over 4,922 overdose reversals, and not a single death has occurred at that facility. Supervised consumption sites save lives and help reduce the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases.

I was shocked to hear that in 2016 in B.C. alone, a total of 914 people died from an overdose, an 80% increase from the previous year. This alarming statistic shows that it is our responsibility as federal members of Parliament to act now.

Another key component of the legislation that I wish to speak to is how the bill addresses the illegal supply, production, and distribution of drugs. One of the key findings of the September 2016 report published by the RCMP regarding the current opioid crisis Canada faced was that China continued to be the pivotal source for illicit fentanyl and its analogues, precursors, other novel emerging opioids, and tableting equipment that supplied Canada-based traffickers.

Bill C-37 addresses this issue by proposing to give Canada's border services officers greater flexibility to inspect suspicious mail, no matter the size, that may contain goods that are prohibited, controlled, or regulated. The current legislation prohibits the CBSA from opening suspicious mail that weighs 30 grams or less. If the CBSA found such a package, it would have to seek the permission of the addressee, which would prove to be difficult. This gap in enforcement capacity is problematic as just one standard size mail envelope, 30 grams, can contain enough fentanyl to cause 15,000 overdoses.

Given the prevalence of illicit drugs found in international packages is greater than domestic mail, this measure would only be for international incoming mail. Our border agents need to be given the clearance to inspect these packages to help stem the flow of illicit drugs entering into Canada.

According to the same report by the RCMP, in May and June of 2016 the CBSA intercepted for the first time two separate shipments of carfentanil, which is estimated to be 100 times more potent and toxic than fentanyl and 10,000 times greater than morphine.

Therefore, we know there has been an increase in trafficking and it is our responsibility to equip the Canada Border Services Agency with the tools needed to stop it.

Bill C-37 would save lives, whether that would be by the seizure of a shipment of an illicit opioid by the CBSA or through the nurses at new supervised consumption sites, whose applications would be approved based on the new set of five criteria. This legislation is the next step in fighting the crisis we see across Canada, and I believe this bill is a step in the right direction to help Canadians today.

Many Canadians are one overdose away from becoming another tragic statistic in the ever-increasing Canadian epidemic of opioid addiction. This evidence-based legislation could not be more timely. With these rising fatalities, it is now more important to act. It is my hope that Bill C-37 will be granted the same swift movement through the Senate as it is being granted in the House of Commons. It would enable Canada to tackle this nationwide problem and help to ensure the safety of vulnerable Canadians. The faster it is enacted, the faster it will help save lives.

Aerospace Industry February 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, this past Friday, I was pleased to visit StandardAero in my riding to see the work it was doing to maintain engines for the CP-140 Auroras and CC-130H Hercules aircraft. StandardAero and the aerospace industry are important employers of good middle-class jobs in my riding.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement inform the House about recent investments in the aerospace industry in support of our Canadian Armed Forces?

Induction into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame February 9th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate a constituent on her induction to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

From 2000 to 2004, Rhiannon Leier Blacher represented Canada at many international swimming competitions, including the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Throughout her competitive career, she won 13 national titles and 19 international medals and set four national senior records, specializing in 50-metre and 100-metre breaststroke and 4x50-metre medley relays. In 2004, she was named Canadian female swimmer of the year.

Since retiring from active competition, Ms. Leier Blacher has stayed active in her sport and is assistant head coach of the St. James Seals Swim Club in Winnipeg.

I wish to commend her for her commitment to sport and her community and for all she has done to represent Canada on the world stage. I ask all members to join me in congratulating her on this significant and well-deserved honour.

Agriculture January 31st, 2017

Mr. Speaker, our government understands that research and innovation are critical to the future success of our agricultural sector. This sector drives one in eight Canadian jobs and adds well over $100 billion to our GDP. Investing in research and innovation will help maintain our competitive edge and ensure that Canada is a global agricultural leader for years to come.

Can the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food tell us about our recent investments in agricultural research?

World AIDS Day December 1st, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I too rise today on World AIDS Day to salute the efforts of the many organizations working to rid the world of HIV/AIDS, and to bring attention to the often overlooked issue of TB-HIV co-infection.

Tuberculosis is the number one killer of people with HIV. In fact, for people living with HIV, contracting TB doubles their risk of dying. Last year alone, TB took the lives of 400,000 people living with HIV; that is 35% of all AIDS-related deaths.

Therefore, as we work toward creating a world free of HIV/AIDS, let us ensure we also work to prevent further loss of life. That means taking action on tuberculosis and ensuring we do better for people living with HIV. By supporting initiatives that improve prevention and treatment of TB, we can create the conditions necessary for people living with HIV to survive and thrive.

Children's Health November 1st, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to speak about the importance of children's health in Canada.

As a physician, I am aware of the negative health effects unhealthy foods can have on children. We must be proactive in educating our children about the benefits of healthy food. We can do this by restricting food and beverage advertising towards children and revising the Canada Food Guide. Food and beverage marketing greatly influences children's food and drink choices.

The World Health Organization recommended banning food and beverage marketing to children, and a March 2016 Senate committee report recommended taking action on this issue. Poor diet contributes greatly to chronic disease, placing a substantial burden on Canadians and our health care system.

By consulting with Canadians on these issues, I believe we can pave the way for healthier food choices for future generations. I am proud to be a part of a government that stands up for children's health.

Eating Disorders October 4th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring attention to the complex and devastating issue of eating disorders in Canada. Unfortunately, not many are aware of the dark reality of eating disorders in this country. Therefore, as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, I would like to shed light on these difficult illnesses.

They affect an estimated 600,000 to 900,000 Canadians at any given time and impact Canadian men and women of all ages and ethnicities. Research has shown that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

From my career as an emergency physician, I can attest to the struggles and serious negative health implications that people with eating disorders face.

It is time for all Canadians to look outside the stigma of mental illness and recognize eating disorders as a serious health issue. By acknowledging this mental illness, we are in turn helping the thousands of Canadians struggling to overcome this issue.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act June 3rd, 2016

Madam Speaker, I am proud to once again rise in strong support of Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act. I would like to thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam for bringing up this vital piece of legislation. Now is the time to help our fellow Canadians in need.

Drawing on my 20 years of experience as an emergency physician, I can say with confidence that, if passed, Bill C-224 would save lives. During my clinical experience, I have witnessed and treated many overdose victims in the poverty-stricken downtown core of Winnipeg. Emergency room doctors, nurses, and first responders are better able to help people when they know what the victims have ingested into their systems. Finding out what someone has ingested is vital when determining what one can do to help them.

The findings on physical examination are often too variable to yield any useful information and laboratory tests can take too long to be of benefit. I often have to ask these patients or those who accompany them what substances they have taken. Typically, they are reluctant to provide this information. However, once I explain that there is no risk of prosecution due to patient and physician confidentiality, they give me honest answers and I am able to provide better care.

Doctor and patient confidentiality should be extended to the individuals who accompany the victims and fear of the law should not prevent someone from potentially saving a life. As physicians, nurses, first responders, and as a society, we all have a duty to care for the most vulnerable in our communities. I believe this bill would help our vulnerable population be less afraid to ask for the help they need for their friends and themselves.

Some may argue that people who routinely ingest harmful drugs are responsible for their outcome and what happens to them is their choice. I disagree. It is almost unanimously accepted by the medical profession that addiction is an illness. Furthermore, it is not widely understood by the public that addiction is highly correlated with underlying mental illness. Someone with an undiagnosed or poorly controlled mental illness may take harmful substances in an attempt to self-medicate. This bill is vital to helping these vulnerable individuals.

Critics of this bill might claim that by preventing legal sanctions against drug users, this bill facilitates and encourages drug use, as is claimed with other forms of harm reduction. On this point, the evidence is also clear. Harm reduction saves lives, improves outcomes, increases access to rehabilitation, and does not increase either the use of drugs or incidence of crime. This is the conclusion of the Canadian Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.

While we have made steps in other areas of harm reduction, Canada lags behind other jurisdictions on this issue. In the United States, over 30 states and the District of Columbia have some form of good Samaritan overdose immunity law. In 2014, the House Standing Committee on Health recommended considering good Samaritan overdose legislation in the future. This recommendation has yet to be implemented. What are we waiting for?

When looking at this bill, we should consider the evidence. A Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council study found that fewer than half of respondents would call 911 in an overdose situation, citing potential charges as a major barrier. A study of Washington state, which passed good Samaritan overdose legislation in 2010, found that almost 90% of respondents aware of the law would make the call.

When considering this legislation, it is important to recognize these people are our sons, daughters, friends, and family members. Young people at a house party may be too scared to call for help for their overdosing friend if they fear charges. Too often we have seen this story in the news, how fear caused delay, and there should not be a need for hesitation or a second thought when calling to save a life. If this bill is passed, scared young people at a house party will be more likely to call 911 if their friend is in trouble. A bystander will be more likely to put compassion and conscience before fear and self-interest.

I expect this legislation will receive very wide support in the House, with very little opposition. In fact, if any members are considering opposing this bill, I urge them to please talk to a recovering addict, an emergency room doctor, or a victim's family. Members should ask these persons with direct experience if they think this bill could save lives, and then they should vote their conscience.

Evidence-based legislation should appeal to our hearts as much as it appeals to our logic. We need a law that responds to the rising fatalities associated with opioid use. With these rising fatalities, it is now more important to act. The future victims of an overdose cannot wait any longer. The sooner this legislation is implemented, the more vulnerable Canadians could be saved because someone made the right decision to make the call to save a life.

We are dealing with an ongoing and escalating tragedy. Let us wait no longer. The time is right to pass Bill C-224. As the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam has said, there is no time for saving lives like the present. Let us pass Bill C-224. Let us save lives.

The Budget June 3rd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, budget 2016 contained the most innovative development in social policy in a generation, the Canada child benefit.

With cheques set to start flowing to hard-working Canadian families next month, the parliamentary budget officer has completed an independent review of our new benefit. Would the Minister of Finance please share with the House the results of that review?

Prostate Cancer Awareness May 17th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, every year, 24,000 Canadian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and over 4,000 will not survive. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. However, thanks to early diagnosis and improvements in treatment, mortality is dropping, and five-year survival is now 96%.

However, we have not won the battle yet. That is why, on May 28, in Winnipeg, I will be riding my Triumph Bonneville in the annual Ride for Dad. Across North America, thousands of riders will be holding motorcycle parades through their cities to bring awareness and raise funds for research to defeat prostate cancer.

If any members of the House wish to help, I will let them know how they can pledge funds for this great event. Together we can watch prostate cancer ride into the sunset.