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.