Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to support the proposed legislation, the respect for communities act, otherwise known as Bill C-2. I do not think that anyone can deny the enormous public health harms associated with illicit drug use. In some way, we have all seen the damage that illicit drug use can cause, not only to the health of the user, but to families, friends, and communities.
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the CDSA for short, is the federal legislation that controls substances that can alter mental processes and may produce harm to health and society when diverted or misused. The CDSA has the dual purpose of protecting public health and maintaining public safety.
The substances covered by the CDSA have a risk of abuse and pose serious risks to individuals when they are misused or abused. Those risks are significant. They increase when the controlled substance is unregulated, untested, and obtained from illegal sources. That is an important point that often gets lost in this debate. The drugs that would be used at any proposed supervised injection drug site are bought on the black market. We are not talking about drugs that are prescribed by a doctor and have the needed medical oversight. These drugs are purchased on the street and then used by people suffering with addictions.
Our government takes safety very seriously, and we have a number of controls in place when it comes to prescribed drugs. In fact, this House recently passed Vanessa's law in order to strengthen the safety of prescription drugs. Given this, I think it is only appropriate that we give all Canadians an opportunity to comment on the measures which could be needed to protect health when a site is proposed to allow the injection of illegal street drugs.
Our government believes that exemptions from the CDSA for activities involving illegal substances at supervised consumption sites should only be granted once rigorous and relevant criteria have been addressed by the applicant. The criteria that are outlined in the bill stem directly from the five factors laid out in the 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision on lnsite. The court's decision requires the Minister of Health to consider the following five factors when assessing an exemption application for a supervised consumption site: evidence, if any, on the impact of such a site on crime rates; local conditions indicating a need for such a site; the regulatory structure in place to support the site; resources available to support its maintenance; and, expressions of community support or opposition.
All of the criteria proposed in Bill C-2 relate to one of these factors that I just referred to. Much like the dual purpose of the CDSA, which is to protect public health and maintain public safety, the criteria in this bill balance both the public health and public safety considerations of the operation of a supervised consumption site. The criteria included in this bill are relevant to matters of public health or public safety, and some of the criteria address both.
Today I would like to focus on some of the public health criteria in the bill and discuss how each one relates to the factors set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. One criteria requires that an applicant provide a letter from the provincial minister responsible for health in the province in which the site would be located, which outlines his or her opinion on the proposed activities at the site and describes how those activities are integrated within the provincial health care system. I can guarantee that the health minister in my province of Alberta would want to be consulted on proposals for a site like this. It is only appropriate that provincial ministers be afforded an opportunity to have their views heard. This relates to the Supreme Court factor that requires that community expressions of support or opposition be considered.
These criteria allow the professional opinion of the respective provincial minister of health to be a part of what the federal minister would consider when assessing or assigning an application. Moreover, information about access to drug treatment services, if any, could help to understand how drug users would be supported within the provincial health care system.
Other public health-related criteria fulfill the court's directive to look at evidence, if any, on local conditions indicating a need for such a site. These criteria are asking for relevant information on things like the number of people who consume illicit substances or have infectious diseases in relation to illicit drug use in the area of the proposed site.
Another requirement for applicants which contributes to the minister's understanding of the local conditions is official reports, if any, that are relevant to the establishment of a supervised consumption site, including any coroners' reports. These reports, including those from a coroner, could be used to support evidence of illicit drug problems in the area, indicate important drug use patterns, and identify the demographic of the individuals who could benefit from the services provided by a supervised consumption site.
We all know that the best laid plans can sometimes run into local circumstances that present unexpected challenges to a plan, so it is critically important that the bill require that the facts on the ground be considered when any proposed site is being looked at.
Additionally, following an initial exemption, if an applicant wishes to continue activities at a supervised consumption site, subsequent exemption applications would have to inform the Minister of Health of evidence, if any, of any impacts of the site's activities on public health during the period that the site had been operating.
This information provides the minister with an understanding of public health impacts that the site has had and would potentially continue to experience with a future exemption. This criterion builds on the Supreme Court factor requiring the minister to consider local conditions in the area where a site would be located.
In its decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the discretion of the Minister of Health to grant or deny exemption applications and to request information for this purpose.
This proposed legislation clearly identifies information to be addressed in an exemption application to assist the minister in considering the information relevant to the Supreme Court factors. Her decision must balance the protection of public health and maintenance of public safety in accordance with the charter.
Moreover, the criteria serve to add clarity and transparency to the exemption application process. With this legislation, all persons wishing to open a supervised consumption site would know exactly what is expected as part of their application.
While the focus of my speech today has been related to public health, it is important to note that the proposed legislation balances both public health and public safety. Indeed, Bill C-2 would amend the CDSA to create a more robust legislative structure to balance protection of public health and maintenance of public safety with respect to supervised consumption sites.
It is imperative that there be strong controls around activities with these dangerous drugs, and I urge all members to vote in favour of the bill.