The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to stand today and speak to Bill .
I have listened to many of the speakers in the last few debates on this, and everyone is pointing fingers, saying that the other government did not do this and we are doing this, but I am coming here as a mom. I am the official critic for families, children, and social development, and I am thinking about what we can do that is best for our families and best for our communities.
Many people are giving information regarding safe injection sites and why they work, but I am looking at the communities. One of the most important things to me is having a safe community and having a good place to raise my children and all Canadian children. When we are talking about this, we have to go back to why we are putting in these laws. It is about the safety of Canadians, whether it is the safety of those people who are unfortunately addicted or the safety of the families that are living beside injection sites or living in areas where there is a huge drug issue.
When this started being discussed in December, I sent an op-ed to The London Free Press, which is one of our local newspapers. Immediately following that, I set up an appointment with Dr. Christopher Mackie, who is the medical officer of health and the CEO of the mental health unit. Many people thought we would be on different sides. He comes at it in a more liberated way, and I come at it in a more conservative way, basically because of being a mom. At the end of the day, we had basically no things that were not in common. Our concerns were the same. It was all about making sure that when our children go to school, they are safe. It was about making sure that when people are dealing drugs, they are not interfering in our communities. We recognize that it happens, and it is extremely unfortunate that it happens.
What is happening is that we are moving forward on things that we are really not comfortable with. As a mom, when l spoke to Dr. Mackie, I told him about my discussions with my own children regarding marijuana and about why it is so important for families to sit down and have these discussions. Things like marijuana, heroin, opioids, and all of these things are coming into our children's paths much more frequently, and they are something we do not understand.
I am a child of the eighties, and my teenage years were great in the eighties. We heard of cocaine and marijuana, but we did not see it in our small communities.
Everyone is looking at the discussions we are having, but we have to look at them through a family filter. We talk about gender-based analysis. I want to ask every member of Parliament to look at this through the filter of a parent. That is what I am asking.
In the city of London, when they were putting in a methadone clinic, there were discussions about where it would go. There were so many people concerned, because it was going directly across the street from a high school on Dundas Street in St. Thomas. To this day, five years later, it is still a huge concern, because in that pocket of the community, there has been a lot of turbulence, whether it is crime, increased drug use, or things of that sort. What is it teaching our children as they exit from the high school and there is a methadone clinic across the road? What signals are we sending to our children? Is it saying no to drugs or that we are there to assist them?
We are failing our children. We are failing the next generation by not teaching them right from wrong and not teaching them that the use of drugs and hard drugs is difficult. They are going to have addiction issues. They are going to have problems with brain development.
We are not starting at step one anymore. We are going to step 10 and saying, as one of the members said, let us legalize all drugs. I do not know if he was serious, because he was looking at drugs as not being a crime. Let us be serious. It may not be a crime to use drugs, but what does it lead to?
I have a lot of personal experience in my community with my own family's drug use. It is not me personally, but I have been touched intimately because of drugs. I have known people who have passed away. A person I grew up playing baseball with died right before Christmas, in our own community, from taking carfentanil. I knew this gentleman, Jeff. He died at the age of 46. He was a father with children. He had a son he loved like members would not believe and tons of friends. The problem was that he got mixed up with drugs when he was very young, and that is the life that led him down the path to his death.
I think what is happening is that we are blurring what is right and wrong, and we are saying that this is how we are going to help. Why do we not start at the front end, which is education and letting people know how to speak to their children and letting people know that the use of heroin is not right? We give so many reasons for saying that we need to have this. Why do we not start at square one and make it right in the first place?
I believe that we have to have places where we can help people rehabilitate. We know that there is a drug crisis, and we need to do better. Where do we start?
I like 90% of this bill. I think it is really important that when packages come into Canada, they are tested, that we do not allow counterfeit companies that come in to manufacture pills, and that we do not allow pill presses or anything like that. I think it is really important to have legislation against that, because it is helping in the war against drugs, and we know that this is happening.
However, when we start talking about the one piece, the safe injection sites and the fact that there would not be consultations in our communities, that is where I have to say stop. As I said, back in the city of London, where, across from H.B. Beal, they have a methadone clinic, there were many parents who came forward to the Thames Valley District School Board to state their opinions.
In a letter I read last year regarding safe injection sites, a woman spoke about her daughter who, at the age of 13, became addicted to cocaine. The daughter, who went into one of these clinics, at the time said that the ability to get drugs was even easier once these clinics were available to her.
We have to understand that it is not a fix. It is a band-aid approach unless we go into it full scale to help Canadians, whether it is Canadian families or Canadian youth at risk. We need to make sure that we are doing better, and we are not doing that. That is what makes me so concerned.
We are talking about fentanyl. We know that in Vancouver, more than 950 people have died because of it. In my own community, we had six overdoses in one weekend right before Christmas, and unfortunately, one person died.
I was speaking to both the police chief of the city of St. Thomas, Darryl Pinnell, who will be retiring shortly, and the police chief of the city of London, John Pare. I wanted to discuss with them some of their concerns in their cities. To be honest, I thought when I went into this conversation with the police chiefs, we would be talking about prostitution, because we know that there has been some sex trafficking going on in our communities. I thought we would be talking about marijuana and the concern about people driving under the influence of marijuana, but the big issue for the two police chiefs was fentanyl. In the city of London, I know that there have been three different seizures of fentanyl that has come into our communities. I applaud them for doing their great work. However, we have to do more.
We sit here and become so open and so allowing of things, whether we are talking about sexual expression or drug use. We have lost our innocence. As a parent, I can tell members that each and every time I have a conversation with my children, it is about talking about right and wrong. However, when we are watching television, when we are watching the news, when we are seeing things on the Internet, when we are having these discussions, do we not think we are also saying, “Drug use, well, you know, it happens”? It happens, but it has to stop happening. Our job is to change that.
Maybe I am coming out here as a Pollyanna. A gentleman, many years ago, said that I was his Pollyanna. I like to see the positive side. When I look at this, we are starting the wrong way. We should be educating people. We should be having a program and educating people about the use of drugs. Instead, we are allowing it. We are even talking about legalizing all drugs. What the heck?
What really concerns me is that we are going in the wrong direction. I am worried about what we are doing to the future of Canadians. What are we saying? What is right and wrong? Those are some of my concerns.
We can do better. I think we are all just kind of saying that opening these clinics will be fine. It is a band-aid approach. Unless we have wraparound services to allow people to rehabilitate and get off drugs, it is not going to help anybody. It is a short-term cure. Although I understand the need, it is just that, a short-term cure. When the municipalities and the communities are not involved in the decision on where these sites are going to go, we are in trouble.
I thank all members for their time and for listening to Karen, the mom, today. That is what I believe, and I wanted to share it with members today.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Conservative Party member for her speech.
I often hear Conservatives on the other side of the House talking as though the communities were never consulted about the bill that we introduced.
I would simply like to remind them that, under paragraph 42(2)(e), some of the information that will be requested by the will be expressions of community support or opposition. That is one of the criteria that must be considered, as set out in the Supreme Court ruling.
With regard to what the member was saying about the importance of education, it is true that people need to stay far away from drugs. I think that everyone agrees on that. At the same time, we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that there are no Canadians struggling with this problem, which is causing too many deaths.
In British Columbia alone, 1,000 people died of drug-related overdoses in 2016. There has also been a major increase in the number of overdose deaths in Alberta. This is a problem in cities all across Canada.
I believe we are taking a fact-based approach. We are trying to reduce the harm that this can cause while still cracking down on the problem. We are doing that by allowing authorities to open packages weighing less than 30 grams, which could contain as many as 15,000 fatal doses, while adopting an approach that seeks to reduce the devastation caused by drugs.
My question is simple. Can the member see the balance that exists in Bill , and can she comment on that?
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her passion. I think it is really important that we share these stories, because it is what will make Canada a better country.
As indicated, during the voting, the Conservative Party put forward an amendment. We looked at all the clauses, and one clause we were not set with was to do with the injection sites. Everything else was fine, but this is where we have an issue.
I understand where the member is coming from, because I am fortunate to sit with the member for , who is devastated about what is happening in her community. I will do what is best, but at the same time, I think we need to make sure that we have these honest discussions.
What is happening in the member's community is horrific, but it affects everyone, and it goes across the country. We need to make sure that all the communities are on board. We need to make sure that we have safe communities.
As I indicated, walking on Vancouver streets, I did not expect to see people falling out of windows and smoking crack. It is a beautiful city, but that is what I saw. That is not what we want our communities to be about. We want safe communities, so we have to find a balance.
The biggest thing for me is communication with communities to make sure that these injection sites are going in places that are best for their communities to keep them safe.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak in support of Bill . 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 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 would do just that.
One significant statement made during the Standing Committee on Health's clause-by-clause on Bill was by the hon. member for . 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 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 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 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 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.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts. The bill is part of the Government of Canada's comprehensive approach to drug policy, one that strikes a balance between public health and public safety.
Last year in my province of British Columbia, over 900 people died of drug overdoses. This was an 80% increase from 2015 and we now know that the opioid fentanyl was disproportionately responsible for these deaths.
As the medical community has known for some time and as the general public is becoming increasingly aware, fentanyl is a difficult drug to combat. When used legitimately, it is a powerful pain suppressor which can help people who are suffering with acute and chronic ailments. However, when used inappropriately, incredibly small doses can be fatal.
What has become evident to my community is that illicit fentanyl has become both widely available and far too easy to obtain, so today I stand in the House not only for my riding of Cloverdale—Langley City or even as a British Columbian, but for all Canadians who have been or may be affected by the opioid crisis.
Central to the Government of Canada's efforts to help individuals and communities affected by the current drug emergency is the reintroduction of harm reduction as an integral part of our country's narcotics strategy. This bill includes changes to streamline the application process for new supervised consumption sites, which I believe is not simply a compassionate course of action but a responsible and evidence-based decision which has been proven to save lives.
This important public health initiative will be partnered with the recently announced Canadian drugs and substances strategy. This strategy is built on four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement, which will be grounded in a strong evidence base to bring about a decrease in both the manufacture and consumption of illicit opioids and the tragic incidence of overdose deaths across our country.
This government knows that while we must address the public health perspective in dealing with the crisis at hand, we must also deal with the illicit drug supply issue. That is why Bill addresses problematic drug use from all sides and includes proposals to respond to controlled substances obtained through illicit sources.
Canada's drug control laws are centred on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, also known as the CDSA. This act serves the dual purpose of protecting public health and maintaining public safety.
The CDSA provides controls over drugs that can alter mental processes and that may result in harm to one's health and to society when misused. This is done by regulating the legitimate use of controlled substances and prohibiting unlawful activities, such as the import, export, and trafficking of controlled substances and precursors.
As I discussed earlier, problematic and illegal substance use coupled with an illicit drug supply that has become increasingly more dangerous has led to a spike in overdoses and deaths. This risk is especially pertinent to fentanyl given its extreme potency and difficulty to detect in other so-called recreational drugs. Our government is committed to protecting public health and safety by curbing production and trafficking of banned substances. Bill would amend the CDSA to provide the necessary tools to do so.
At the end of 2016, the Government of Canada added six fentanyl precursors to the list of controlled substances under the CDSA to help address the illegal production of fentanyl and related drugs. If passed, Bill would provide a wider array of effective tools to fight the illegal production and trafficking of all dangerous narcotics, including fentanyl and carfentanil.
In addition, many overdoses have come as a result of ingesting drugs that appear identical to legitimately produced pharmaceuticals. These drugs are made without adequate controls and often contain unpredictable amounts of high potency and potentially lethal substances, such as fentanyl and carfentanil.
Essential to making these illegal drugs are pill presses and encapsulator devices that allow illegal producers to turn out thousands of counterfeit pills or capsules in a very short time. This presents a significant risk to public health and safety.
That being said, pill presses and encapsulators are also used in legitimate manufacturing processes in the pharmaceutical, food, and consumer product industries. This is why a registration system is being proposed. This new requirement would impose minimal burden on legitimate manufacturers. Importers of pill presses and encapsulators would simply have to register with Health Canada prior to bringing these devices into this country. Importation of these devices without proof of registration would be prohibited and border officials could detain those arriving without proper registration.
Changes are also being proposed to help information sharing between Health Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency about the importation of pill presses and encapsulators, as well as with law enforcement agencies in the course of an investigation.
In addition to the registration of imported pill press and encapsulator equipment, Bill would broaden the scope of pre-production activities associated with the production of illegal drugs. Pre-production activities include buying and assembling the chemical ingredients or industrial equipment with the intention of using it to make illicit narcotics. The offences and punishments would be extended to capture equipment and chemicals not currently listed in the CDSA schedules.
Bill 's proposed amendments to the Customs Act would also allow border officials to open incoming international mail weighing 30 grams or less if there are grounds to suspect it contains goods which are prohibited, controlled, or regulated under another act of Parliament. This would allow border officials to open packages that are suspected to contain substances intended for use in the production of illicit drugs. It is in response to substantial evidence that illicit drugs, such as fentanyl, are being brought into Canada through the postal system. As was noted by a member previously, 30 grams may seem like a small amount, but it is equivalent to approximately 15,000 lethal doses of fentanyl.
The changes proposed in Bill are an important part of the government's multi-faceted plan to address the growing opioid crisis in Canada. The bill would provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to take early action against suspected drug production operations and to respond to the ever-changing illicit drug market.
At the end of 2016, news of over 10 overdose deaths in one night in British Columbia highlighted an already alarming and tragic situation, and the opioid crisis has not gone away since the beginning of the new year. Instead, it gets worse, as hard-working emergency responders and public health officials struggle to keep up with the increasing number of those afflicted. Unfortunately, I witness this challenge in my own riding of Cloverdale—Langley City, one of Canada's communities most affected by the opioid crisis. Sadly, my constituents are not alone in facing this issue.
As we in this House study legislation from day to day, we must often ask ourselves: What will be the direct result of this legislation, this action? With Bill , we have an opportunity to pass legislation that would directly save lives. There is currently tremendous work being done to combat this issue, such as the RCMP's Surrey outreach team, which has been effective in addressing addiction and homelessness issues in the local community. This team responded to 55 overdoses in just two weeks and has continued saving lives in the city of Surrey. While the individual efforts of police detachments and public health officials have resulted in positive results at the local level, these front-line responders need federal assistance and a national framework to tackle the issue.
The sooner Bill becomes law in Canada, the sooner it can help those most afflicted by this ongoing public health emergency. I trust that all members of the House understand the importance of this bill and hope that they will support it.
I would like to close with a comment relating to an earlier speaker, who talked about needing to take a family approach to this crisis. I would like to remind all members that we have seen 900 deaths in B.C. in the last year. Those are 900 families affected by this tragic opioid crisis. It is only by working together across all parties that we will actually be able to make Canadians safe, focus on families, give them a safe and healthy upbringing, and deal with those who are facing crises in their lives.
Mr. Speaker, though I stand in support of much of Bill , there are a few issues I have trouble supporting. I will take the time to share my thoughts today.
Whether we support supervised injection sites or not, one thing is certainly true, and that is that the placement of a site will impact the communities in which they are located. For this reason, I believe it is absolutely necessary for communities to adequately consult with members of the public and hear them out. As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I was very troubled when the Liberals voted against my amendment that would ensure public consultation be carried out before the building of a site.
“Social licence” was a phrase that we heard repeatedly used by the Liberals during the last federal election. We heard buzz phrases like “community input”, “consultation”, and “evidence-based decision making”. In the 's mandate letter to the , he said, “I expect that our work will be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians”.
The Prime Minister went on to say:
|| Government and its information should be open by default. If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians.
This begs a question then. Why do the Liberals not trust Canadians to have a voice when it comes to the placement of a safe consumption site? Under the current text of Bill , the minister is under no obligation to issue public notice that a supervised injection site is being considered for a community. Further, the organization that is applying for the authorization is the only group required to demonstrate that local consultations have in fact taken place. This clearly undermines the impartiality of these consultations, since an applying organization can simply cherry-pick who it consults with.
Let us imagine an alternate scenario here for just a moment: say, the construction of an oil pipeline. No one would be comfortable with a decision to go ahead with building a pipeline if the decision were based solely on the oil company's report of its consultations with local environmentalists and first nations representatives. Moreover, no one would accept that a federal minister in Ottawa would have the facts to sufficiently decide where a pipeline should go, at least not without significant study by impartial experts and wide-ranging consultation with those who would be most impacted by the decision. Why then does the present Liberal government feel it is acceptable to trust that an applying organization has indeed consulted comprehensively when it comes to building a supervised injection site?
In my riding of Lethbridge, Alberta, I have to say that I am incredibly impressed with the efforts to which my community has gone with regard to collaboration and consultation. The organization that is taking the lead on studying the need and feasibility of opening a supervised consumption site is going beyond the scope of this legislation in order to ensure that community members are respected and given a voice and that all levels of government are included. It is very concerned that community partnerships are formed and that comprehensive services are created that include a treatment model.
Why is it doing so much work? It is doing this because it understands the importance of social licence, something the Liberals use as buzzwords but do not actually understand how to do. The organization in my riding understands that, while it could get the application approved without broad consultation, the suspicion and animosity that this would generate within our community would actually go against the very nature and purpose of the site.
I believe that education, consultation, and collaboration are very key components to dealing with the crisis at hand. This is why I, as a member of the health committee, sought to amend this legislation. My amendment would have required the minister to provide 45 days' public notice to communities where an application was being considered and that the feedback would then be made available to the public. Across government, it is typical for consultations of this sort to last between 30 and 90 days. For my efforts at the committee, I was accused by my Liberal and NDP counterparts of wanting to kill addicts who would overdose while consultations were taking place. Apparently they believe an application will be processed in fewer than 45 days, which is usually unheard of.
It does, however, beg the question as to just how thorough this application process would be when it comes to considering whether or not a site should be opened. I believe it is not a simple process, but I wonder if the Liberals just plan on ramming them through.
The health department will need to review the information provided, confirm the information is accurate, write its recommendation, brief the minister, and receive her decision. This takes time. If the government expects this process to take fewer than 30 working days, it would mean the department would have virtually no time to confirm the accuracy of the material provided. There is a real concern, then, that the Liberal's so-called streamlined process is nothing more than a rubber stamp.
When our Conservative government was in power, one of the bills the government of the day brought forward was the Safe Streets and Communities Act. This legislation required that meaningful consultation with community members be carried out before a supervised injection site could be established. Because this legislation was quite detailed, having 26 different requirements, it ensured that a fully informed decision was made.
The Liberals have gutted these requirements, removing the requirement for evidence and reducing the criteria from 26 to five. The Liberals justified their decision to gut the Safe Streets and Communities Act by saying it was too onerous, but the same week the Liberals forced a stop to debate, silenced the health committee, and rammed this bill through, the announced the approval of three new supervised injection sites for Montreal. Clearly, the former criteria were not too cumbersome.
A thorough application process helps organizations avoid mistakes and sets them up for long-term success. This has been affirmed by one centre after another in European countries. The fact that the Liberals rushed Bill through the House, by cutting off debate and imposing unprecedented restrictions at committee, shows they are unwilling to listen and unwilling to consult, as they promised they would during the election. Furthermore, refusing to hear from a single witness, either in favour or opposed to the bill, means parliamentarians have no context to understand whether or not the bill actually lives up to the intention of the drafters.
Ironically, at committee, the Liberal members voted to amend their own legislation. This is odd. They deleted the requirement that applicants must provide evidence to support their application. This is something the Supreme Court actually outlined. This is from the government that claims to value science and evidence-based decision-making. It is one of the tag lines they like to use quite commonly.
It is really quite concerning, because, as my Liberal colleagues have pointed out, lives do in fact hang in the balance. On December 16 of last year, nine people passed away from drug overdoses in Vancouver. Eight of these deaths took place in the Downtown Eastside. Interestingly enough, it was in the Downtown Eastside that the Vancouver fire and rescue department responded to 745 calls due to overdoses in November. This is significant, because the Downtown Eastside is the home of Insite, the first legal supervised injection site in Canada. Interestingly, the Liberals and the NDP have rushed Bill through Parliament with the rationale that legalizing supervised injection sites is the only way to stop rising numbers of opioid overdose fatalities. However, the evidence from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside appears to contradict this narrative. Despite the presence of a supervised injection site, offering clean needles and the ability to test street drugs for fentanyl, there continue to be dozens of overdose fatalities only steps away from the Insite building. It is clear that the Liberals have not fully considered the impact of this legislation.
Our Conservative caucus supports all but one section of the bill. The Conservative critic for health attempted to work with the Liberals to separate out that one section, while passing the remaining sections, in order to allow the health committee to conduct a proper study. The Liberals refused this offer. Instead, they have used every procedural trick in the book to ram the bill through the House with absolutely no scrutiny or thorough process.
Again and again, the Liberals have shown that they uphold democracy the same way a screen holds water. This reckless approach undermines the authority of local communities to have a voice over their own affairs. It threatens the effectiveness of this legislation by preventing drafting errors from coming to light. It also increases suspicion around the approvals process, thus undercutting local support for harm-reduction facilities. For these reasons, I stand in opposition to Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
As members are aware, Canada is facing an opioids overdose crisis across this country. We have seen very troubling figures and have heard many tragic stories. As stated earlier in the House, British Columbia alone saw 916 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2016, an almost 80% increase from the year before. The majority of these overdoses are due to opioids. Other parts of the country have been impacted as well, with Alberta reporting 343 apparent overdoses related to fentanyl in 2016, which is an over 30% increase from the year before. While some areas have been more acutely affected that others, drug use is not unique to one part of the country, and the potential for this crisis to spread is very real.
Our government is committed to addressing this complex public health issue through a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy in Canada. To that end, the with support from the and the announced the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy on December 12 of last year.
This new strategy replaces the previous national anti-drug strategy with a more balanced approach for restoring harm reduction as a core pillar alongside prevention, treatment, and enforcement, and supporting these pillars with a strong evidence base. The Canadian drugs and substances strategy formalizes our government's commitment to taking an evidence-based and more appropriate health-focused approach to addressing problematic substance abuse in our country.
The bill before us would ensure a sound and modernized legislative base to support this new strategy. This comprehensive bill aims to balance protecting public health and maintaining public safety. It is designed to better equip health professionals and law enforcement with the tools they need to address this issue.
Specifically, this bill would improve the government's ability to support the establishment of supervised consumption sites as a key harm reduction measure in communities. It would address the illegal supply, production, and distribution of drugs, and reduce the risk of controlled substances used for legitimate purposes being diverted to the illegal market by improving compliance and enforcement tools.
In addition to introducing this new strategy, proposing this bill, and building on our five-point action plan, our government has taken and continues to take concrete steps to address problematic substance use. Since coming into office, our government has used all the tools available to address this issue.
One of the first steps our government took, as expressed by experts, was calling for an increase in availability of naloxone, a drug that temporarily reverses an opioid overdose. We acted quickly in this regard to remove the requirement to have a prescription to facilitate access to naloxone in March 2016. Further, our government completed an expedited review of an easier to use nasal spray version of naloxone, which, as of October 2016, is now approved for sale in Canada.
In the meantime, our used the extraordinary legal authorities available to her under the Food and Drugs Act to issue an interim order to allow the emergency import of naloxone nasal spray from the United States. This significant step has increased access for emergency responders and helps to address the growing number of opioid overdoses.
We have also demonstrated our support for the establishment of supervised consumption sites, a key harm reduction measure. Through a thorough and rigorous review in January 2016, Health Canada granted an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for the Dr. Peter Centre to operate as a supervised consumption site.
Not long after that, in March 2016, Health Canada granted Insite an unprecedented four-year exemption to continue its extremely important work in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. Insite has demonstrated time and again through a countless number of peer-reviewed research studies that it saves lives without increasing drug use and crime in the surrounding area. This four-year exemption is a positive shift from the previous annual exemptions. Just last week, Health Canada issued three new exemptions for supervised consumption sites in the city of Montreal, the first such exemptions outside of the province of British Columbia.
I do want to briefly touch upon a concern that was raised in this House by the opposition, that the views of communities would no longer be important in the assessment of an application to establish a supervised consumption site. Let me be very clear; this was actually determined by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada determined that the must consider expressions of community support or opposition when reviewing such applications.
Our government is respecting the Supreme Court of Canada's decision by proposing to include these factors in this legislation. We support the need for community consultation in the application process for considering the establishment of supervised consumption sites. We understand and respect that communities may have valid concerns about a proposed site, and that these concerns deserve to be heard and should be adequately addressed by applicants in their applications. The proposed amendments would demonstrate that respect for communities is a multi-faceted issue. It means that the concerns of communities must be considered and addressed by the applicants. However, it also means that the federal government should not place any unnecessary barriers in the way of communities that need and want to establish supervised consumption sites as part of their local drug harm reduction strategy.
In order to combat this crisis head on, our government is also supporting private member's bill, Bill , the good Samaritan drug overdose act, a bill that would help encourage individuals who witness an overdose to call for emergency help. It would provide immunity from minor drug possession charges for individuals who experience or witness an overdose and call for emergency assistance.
The opioid crisis is something we know we cannot fix alone. We need collaboration with all levels of government, experts, and professionals. This is why we are committed to working with our colleagues across Canada to address the opioid crisis, from medical professionals to law enforcement partners.
In November last year, the co-hosted an opioid summit and conference along with the Ontario minister of health. The summit and conference brought together governments, experts, and key stakeholders to address the opioid crisis and to determine a path forward. Participants heard a number of perspectives on this crisis from people who use drugs, families devastated by opioid misuse, health care providers, first responders, educators, and researchers. Provincial ministers and heads of organizations with the ability to bring about change committed to a joint statement of action to address the opioid crisis. This joint statement of action reflects a combined commitment for each participant to work within respective areas of responsibility to improve prevention, treatment, and harm reduction associated with problematic opioid use by delivering on concrete actions. We will publicly report on the progress of these actions, starting in March 2017.
In conclusion, Bill is a key example of our government's commitment to establishing a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy in order to reduce the harms caused by drugs that are currently being experienced by individuals. One life lost to an opioid overdose is one too many. We need to take action now. As this bill would help save lives, I strongly encourage all the members in this House to support this very important piece of legislation.