Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
As we have heard from other members in the course of this debate, the illegal production and trafficking of controlled substances continues to be a significant problem in Canada. Our government is profoundly concerned about the current opioid crisis and the growing number of opioid overdoses and tragic deaths across the country.
Today, I will speak to the human aspect of this crisis, as well as some of Bill C-37's proposals to help address the health and safety risks associated with the diversion of drugs from the legitimate supply chain to the illicit market, one important source that contributes to this public health crisis in Canada.
It is critical that we ensure our drug control legislation, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or CDSA, is modern, effective, and can better protect the health and safety of Canadians. This is an urgent priority for me and for our government.
In that respect, on December 12, 2016, the Minister of Health introduced Bill C-37 in the House of Commons. This bill supports our government’s commitment to drug policy that is comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based, and which balances both public health and public safety for Canadians.
As you are all aware, this bill proposes significant changes related to supporting the establishment of supervised consumption sites as a key harm reduction measure. It also contains important elements which aim to ensure that controlled substances used for legitimate purposes are not being diverted to the illicit drug market.
We must work tirelessly to ensure that controlled substances used for legitimate purposes are not diverted to the illicit drug market, where they are deadly and have led to hundreds of tragic accidental drug overdose deaths, 914 last year in my province of British Columbia alone. That is 80% more than the previous year, fentanyl being the major contributor to this awful statistic.
The 914 are actually not statistics; they are people and they are us. There were 914 people who died in British Columbia from overdose deaths last year. They are human beings. Each life, in its own unique way, is interwoven with families and communities. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. They loved others and were loved, they belonged, they shared their aspirations, and they inspired their friends. They were people, like each of us, who, in their own way, enjoyed their lives, work, and challenges, who were powerful, contributing, and recognized, who were moved to make the world a better place. They are human beings.
Donald Charles Alexander Robertson, known as Alex by his friends, was caught off guard by this crisis. He passed away just over two weeks ago due to an accidental death caused by the opiate fentanyl. I chatted with Alex the evening before. He was a close friend and work colleague of my son Erik over many years. His life was interwoven with ours, his community with our community. In the words of my son Erik, Alex really was an amazing, capable, wise, joyous, humble, grounded, passionate, brilliant young man. He was an innovator and emerging leader who loved and was loved by many. His memories, teachings, and legacy will inspire many of us for decades to come.
Let us not detach ourselves in this debate and lose sight of the humanity of this crisis in the quotation of statistics. The victims of the fentanyl crisis, they are us. I want to express my deep condolences to Alex's parents and his sisters, Chrissy and Leslie, to his extended family, friends and co-workers. I hope the passing of Bill C-37 will be one plank in the foundation that we need to build to help eliminate the unintended exposure to deadly illicit opioids and the harm they cause over the years to come.
I would now like to focus specifically on how Bill C-37 would modernize Canada's legislation to reduce the risk of controlled substances like fentanyl from being diverted from legitimate producers, importers and distributors and secured by the black market. The measures being proposed to address gaps in Canada's drug framework are designed to respond to this evolving opioid crisis.
First, while targeted amendments have been made to the Controlled Drug and Substances Act since it came into force in 1997, the provisions of the act have not kept pace with the quickly evolving licit controlled substances industry and the illicit drug market. Many of the legislative amendments being proposed in Bill C-37 will modernize the CDSA to strengthen law enforcement. They also enhance the government's ability to monitor and promote compliance of the regulated parties who handle, buy, sell and transport controlled substances as legitimate products every day.
These improvements will bring the CDSA into alignment with other modern federal legislation designed to protect public health, and these changes will reduce the risks of these drugs being diverted from the legitimate supply chain to the illicit markets that are creating havoc in the lives of the accidental victims. Professional tools are proposed within the framework of the CDSA to improve the government's ability to incent compliance with the requirements for safe and secure procedures and practices under the CDSA and its regulations.
Second, Bill C-37 would establish the legislative framework to support the development of an administrative monetary penalty scheme, or an AMP. Once the new monetary penalties are in place, it will allow Health Canada to fine a regulated party for a violation of the provisions of the CDSA or its regulations, as defined in the regulations required to bring the scheme into effect.
Third, Bill C-37 proposes amendments which would allow military police to be designated as a police force under the CDSA. Currently, military police are not afforded the same protections as other law enforcement agencies in terms of handling controlled substances under the Police Enforcement Regulations.
In the proposed provisions of Bill C-37, military police could be designated as a police force, in their respective areas of jurisdiction, which would allow them to exercise a full range of investigative tools in the course of the investigation of drug-related crime.
These kinds of enforcement mechanisms are important to save lives.
A fourth aspect of the bill includes improving inspection authorities under the CDSA to bring them in line with authorities and other federal regulations.
Currently Health Canada inspectors are only able to inspect sites where authorized activities with controlled substances and precursors are taking place. Under Bill C-37, new authorities are being proposed to allow Health Canada inspectors to enter places where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that unauthorized activities with controlled substances or precursors are taking place.
There are many more aspects to the bill to better control substances, like fentanyl, which are potentially dangerous chemicals. It is urgent that the bill go forward for public health and safety. Bill C-37 is a comprehensive package with many other aspects that have been debated today and in the previous days.
There is more to be done but this is an important step along the way. It will make the CDSA a more comprehensive and compassionate act that encourages timely compliance, deters non-compliance, and ultimately contributes to the government's objective of protecting the health, safety, and the lives of Canadians, valuable lives, the lives of people like a bright, fun, caring 29-year-old man his friends knew as Alex.