Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to debate Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The bill before us today brings into sharper focus what is happening under this Conservative government. This bill is driven solely by ideology and completely ignores the facts. That is nothing new for the Conservatives. Bill C-2 is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to put an end to supervised injection sites.
As we have seen routinely for some time, this government has no qualms about introducing bills that disregard recent rulings by the highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada. In fact, in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that InSite provided essential services and had to remain open under the exemption set out in section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The Court also ruled that the charter authorized users to access InSite services and that the provision of similar services should also be authorized under the same exemption.
In addition, a number of studies published in major scientific journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the British Medical Journal, describe the benefits of the InSite supervised injection facility.
We have noticed over the past few years that the Conservatives are not fond of scientists who express their opinions, particularly when those opinions are critical of the Conservatives or when they go against the Conservatives’ ideology.
A government’s mission is not to muzzle scientists or to gag members of the House of Commons a record number of times. The government’s role is to take note of the facts and, on the basis of those facts, make the best decisions for Canadians. With Bill C-2, the government is again falling into the embarrassing trap of grandstanding and ignoring facts that clearly prove that supervised injection facilities like InSite have a wide range of benefits for the general public.
Just a few hours after introducing Bill C-2, the Conservatives launched a campaign called “Keep heroin out of our backyards”, designed to rally grassroots support and, once again, to fuel the public’s unfounded fears about safety. I am really looking forward to hearing the arguments they make to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Let us just take a few moments to think about this seriously. Are the Conservatives really so keen on magical thinking that they believe that, if InSite were closed, heroin use would automatically disappear? I hope their cognitive reasoning is a little more advanced than that. The reality is that, after the closure of supervised injection facilities, heroin use would not disappear but would once again be widespread in neighbourhoods and could at that point become a real danger for the general public. This is the exact opposite of what the Conservatives are claiming.
This is a fact. Let us forget the Conservatives’ ideological inflexibility that results in the exact opposite of what they claim, and talk about the facts, the real facts, about InSite and the positive benefits of supervised injection facilities.
The InSite project was set up as part of a public health initiative by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and a number of other community partners following a 12-fold increase in the number of overdose deaths in Vancouver between 1987 and 1993. Over that seven-year period, the Vancouver area also saw a disturbing increase in the rate of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis A, B and C and HIV/AIDS, among injection drug users.
In 2003, InSite secured an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for activities with medical and scientific applications, in order to provide services and conduct research into the effectiveness of supervised injection facilities.
In 2007, the Onsite Detox Centre was added at the same location.
In 2008, InSite's exemption expired. The Minister of Health denied its application for renewal, in a portent of the bill now before this House.
The Minister of Health's decision triggered a series of court cases, following which the British Columbia Supreme Court found that InSite had to be given a further exemption. The Conservative government appealed that decision, but lost its appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which also found that InSite should remain open.
Finally, in 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Minister’s decision to close InSite violated its clients’ charter rights, was arbitrary, and was contrary to the very purpose of the Public Health and Safety Act. In the NDP, we believe that government decisions should be made in the best interests of the public, and not in accordance with an ideological stance.
Evidence has shown that supervised injection sites are effective in reducing the risk of contracting and spreading blood-borne diseases and overdose-related deaths. It has also shown that such sites are not bad for public safety and that in many cases, on the contrary, they promote it by reducing drug injection in public places, the associated violence, and the waste materials that result from drug use. They also make it possible to strike a fair balance between public safety and public health and to connect users with the health care and drug treatment services they need in order to escape the hell of drug use.
In this case, the facts are clear and unequivocal. Between 1987 and 1993, before InSite opened, the number of overdose-related deaths in Vancouver rose from 16 to 200 a year. Since it opened, the number of overdose-related deaths in east Vancouver has fallen 35%.
For our Conservative friends who believe that InSite is a dangerous place that poses a threat to the public, here are some more facts. Over a one-year period, 2,171 InSite users were referred to addiction counselling and other support services. People using InSite's services at least once a week are almost twice as likely to enrol in a detox program than those who visit only occasionally.
There was a very significant drop in the number of discarded needles, injection-related waste materials and people injecting themselves with drugs, just in the year following the opening of InSite. It was found that 80% of respondents living or working in Vancouver's downtown east side support InSite. A number of studies have looked at the possible negative impact of InSite. Not one produced any evidence of harm to the community.
The facts are clear. An initiative like InSite is a step in the right direction in terms of public health and public safety. In contrast to what the Conservatives claim, it gets drugs off our streets and moves them to supervised sites where people are attended to and strongly encouraged to explore the possibilities for drug treatment and social reintegration.
That is why we will be voting against Bill C-2, which is based—as is all too often the case on the other side of the House—on magical thinking, rather than facts.