The House resumed from November 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-2, Respect for Communities Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill .
I cannot talk about Bill without making a reference to Bill , the former bill introduced at the close of the last session of Parliament, which, need I remind the House, ended when the Conservatives prorogued Parliament. All of the bills left on the table when the last session ended needed to be reintroduced and renumbered. That is why we find ourselves now completing the task at hand.
I might as well say it upfront: Bill is a thinly veiled attempt to put an end to supervised injection sites. This proposed legislation goes directly against the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision that called on the minister to consider exemptions for supervised injection sites, in an effort to reconcile health and public safety considerations.
I would like to take a moment to talk about the only supervised injection site in Canada. It is located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I do not know if my colleagues have ever been there, but it is certainly a neighbourhood where truly disturbing things happen. Everyone deserves to know what I am talking about.
InSite was set up as part of a public health initiative launched by the City of Vancouver and its community partners, after the number of overdose-related deaths in Vancouver increased twelvefold between 1987 and 1993. It took many years to get the InSite centre up and running, and each stage of the process was closely scrutinized, both locally and nationally.
The supervised injection site has the support not only of the Vancouver police, something which is by no means insignificant, but also of local businesses, the chamber of commerce and municipal politicians. The project has been the focus of over 30 scientific reports and studies that have described the benefits of InSite. These findings have been peer-reviewed and published in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the British Medical Journal. Studies of over 70 analogous supervised injection sites in Europe and Australia have recognized similar benefits.
When InSite opened in 2003, it secured an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for activities with medical and scientific applications. It is worth noting that since then, InSite has had a positive impact. It helps save lives, minimizes the risk of accidental overdoses and above all, makes the neighbourhood safer for everyone.
However, in 2008, the exemption granted to InSite under the law was set to expire. The Conservative government rejected InSite’s application for renewal. The debate went all the way to the Supreme Court, which held that InSite was a key stakeholder in the health field. In its ruling, the court called upon the minister to consider all of the probative elements of the matter, bearing in mind the benefits of supervised injection sites, rather than set out a lengthy list of principles on which to base conclusions.
I would like to quote a critically important excerpt from the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, since the bill now before us is supposedly based on this ruling. Here is what the Supreme Court had to say in its decision:
On future applications, the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety. In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Where...a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption.
That is what the Supreme Court stated. In my opinion, this ruling is quite clear.
In my riding of , I have had the opportunity to meet several times with stakeholders and volunteers, including those from Point de repères, a community organization that I would like to commend. The organization's mission consists of health promotion, prevention and the delivery of care and services, especially for people dealing with addiction. It is important to understand this difference: an organization like Point de repères does not encourage drug use, but, rather, it advocates a harm reduction approach. As the Point de repères website indicates:
The harm reduction approach is a community-based approach to health that focuses on helping people with addictions develop ways to mitigate the negative consequences of their behaviour, rather than on eliminating the use of psychotropic drugs.
I think it is important to understand the fine points of this often sensitive subject. Again, as explained on the Point de repères website:
Drug use has a significant impact on both the user and the community. Often, lack of knowledge, misconceptions and prejudices about people who use drugs lead to a series of inappropriate actions that cause additional harm to the user and the community.
I had the opportunity to watch a documentary entitled “Pas de piquerie dans mon quartier” about people's resistance to safe injection sites in their neighbourhood. The documentary shed light on the addiction issue in a city like Quebec City, for example.
The documentary's introduction, which unfortunately reflects the glaring truth, states that “the war on drugs often turned into a war on drug users. It is a bit like the war on poverty—we have to be careful not to turn it into a war on the poor”.
Why is the government so lacking in objectivity when it comes to this very sensitive issue? Why are the Conservatives refusing to recognize the facts laid out before them? The NDP believes that decisions about programs that could enhance public health should be based on facts, not ideological stances. We are not alone in thinking that. According to the Canadian Medical Association:
Supervised injection programs are an important harm reduction strategy. Harm reduction is a central pillar in a comprehensive public health approach to disease prevention and health promotion.
For its part, the Canadian Nurses Association said:
Evidence demonstrates that supervised injection sites and other harm reduction programs bring critical health and social services to vulnerable populations—especially those experiencing poverty, mental illness and homelessness.
A government that truly cared about public health and public safety would do everything in its power to improve access to prevention and treatment services, not create more barriers. Evidence has shown that supervised injection sites reduce the risk of contracting and spreading blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, and the number of overdose-related deaths. Evidence has also shown that they do not adversely affect public safety. In some cases, they actually promote it by reducing injection drug use in public, reducing the amount of violence associated with that activity, and reducing the waste associated with drug use.
Supervised injection sites strike a balance between public health and public safety goals. They also connect people who urgently need help with the health services they need, such as primary health care and addiction treatment.
The NDP believes that any new legislation about supervised injection sites must honour the spirit of the Supreme Court decision, which this bill does not do. As my colleague from has said, Bill contains as many criteria as there are letters in the alphabet, and those 26 criteria are so restrictive and biased that they are practically impossible to comply with.
Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour to stand in the House and follow my colleagues in speaking on such an important issue and one that relates to the piece of legislation that we have before us, Bill , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
First of all, I would like to indicate, as my colleagues have done, that we in the NDP oppose the bill. Essentially Bill is a thinly veiled effort to stop supervised injection sites from operating, a direct defiance of a Supreme Court ruling on these sites. The legislation sets out a lengthy and arduous list of criteria that supervised injection sites would need to meet before the minister would grant them an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These criteria would make it much harder for organizations to open safe injection sites in Canada.
I am proud to be part of a party that has long advocated for safe injection sites and a party that has indicated that we need to find ways to be able to support people who have fallen through the cracks, who suffer with addiction, who are keen to get out of the trap that so many face and who need help to do so.
The NDP believes that decisions about programs that may benefit public health must be based on facts and not ideology. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that InSite provided life-saving services and should remain open with a section 56 exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The court ruled that it was within InSite users' charter rights to access the service and that similar services should also be allowed to operate with an exemption. Over 30 peer-reviewed studies published in journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, the British Medical Journal and others have described the beneficial impact of InSite.
Furthermore, studies on over 70 safe injection sites in Europe and Australia have shown similar benefits. InSite is one of the greatest public health achievements in our country. We in the NDP believe that it and similarly beneficial sites should be allowed to operate under proper supervision.
That is why we are so concerned to see Bill in front of us here today. This is a bill that is fundamentally based on ideology and is not based on evidence. It is certainly not based on what we are hearing from people in the medical profession who are saying that InSite and other operations like it are extremely important in being able to lead to harm reduction, to save lives, to get people on the right path to heal from their addictions, and to integrate back into their communities and into a life of dignity.
Bill is a deeply flawed bill based on an anti-drug ideology and false fears for public safety. This is another attempt to rally the Conservative base, as evidenced by the fundraising drive entitled “keep heroin out of our backyards” that started hours after Bill C-2 was introduced in Parliament. However, the bill, which would make it almost impossible to open safe injection sites, will actually put heroin back into our neighbourhoods.
Another reason we find the bill extremely problematic is that Bill directly defies the 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which called on the minister to consider exemptions for safe injection sites based on a balance between public health and safety. It called on the minister to consider all the evidence on the benefits of safe injection sites rather than setting out a lengthy list of principles by which to apply judgments.
We in the NDP believe that any further legislation on supervised injection sites should respect the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision, which is not the case with this bill. The NDP believes that harm reduction programs, including safe injection sites, should be granted exemptions based on evidence of their ability to improve a community's health and preserve human life, not ideology.
There is currently only one operational supervised injection site in Canada, InSite, which is located in Vancouver. Since it opened, Vancouver has seen a 35% decrease in overdose deaths. Furthermore, InSite has been shown to decrease crime, communicable disease infection rates, and relapse rates for drug users.
InSite, as many people will know, opened as part of a public health plan by the Vancouver Coastal Health authority and its community partners following a twelvefold increase in overdose deaths in Vancouver between 1987 and 1993. At the time, the Vancouver area was also seeing drastic increases in communicable diseases among injection drug users, including hepatitis A, B, and C and HIV/AIDS.
InSite was originally granted an exemption in 2003 to operate under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for medical and scientific purposes, to both provide services and to research the effectiveness of supervised injection facilities. Section 56 of the current Controlled Drugs and Substances Act grants the minister authority to approve operations utilizing drugs for medical, scientific, or law enforcement purposes. In 2007, the OnSite detox centre was added to the site.
The InSite organization and the work that happens on the Vancouver east side is something that leads to better lives, not only for people who suffer from addiction but also for the broader community. I want to read into the record what people who support InSite and harm reduction measures based on medical evidence have said.
Pivot Legal Society, the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition issued a statement on Bill . It was a statement first made when Bill was introduced. They said:
The bill is an irresponsible initiative that ignores both the extensive evidence that such health services are needed and effective, and the human rights of Canadians with addictions....
It is unethical, unconstitutional and damaging to both public health and the public purse to block access to supervised consumption services...
The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association have both criticized the government for bringing forward Bill . The Canadian Medical Association said:
Supervised injection programs are an important harm reduction strategy. Harm reduction is a central pillar in a comprehensive public health approach to disease prevention and health promotion.
Let us move on to other practitioners in the health care field. The Canadian Nurses Association said:
Evidence demonstrates that supervised injection sites and other harm reduction programs bring critical health and social services to vulnerable populations—especially those experiencing poverty, mental illness and homelessness. A government truly committed to public health and safety would work to enhance access to prevention and treatment services—instead of building more barriers.
Based on the validation of these positions we have heard from people who are involved in the medical field, based on people who work and live in Vancouver's east side, and based on the figures that overdoses have decreased by 35%, the evidence is clear. There is a great deal indicating that the government is going down the wrong path.
What is especially disconcerting is that the government is willing to ignore and disrespect a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that has ruled on this very issue. I wish I could say that this was shocking, but the government has shown great disregard for the work of the Supreme Court, certainly when it comes to areas that, ideologically, the government does not see eye to eye on. It is deeply disconcerting and problematic for a lot of people who are tuning in, whether to this debate or to Parliament, frankly, every day to see a government that was elected to represent the best interests of Canadians make decisions that are not based on evidence, science, or respect for the Supreme Court, the highest court of our country. It bases them on ideology and fearmongering.
I think of the people in my constituency who suffer from addiction, who are in a cycle of poverty, unemployment, and living in third world conditions, in many cases. They are unable to access help, because the same federal government has cut funding for important healing programs, including the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and other initiatives that helped people in my part of the country. I think of the many people across Canada who are increasingly struggling as the cost of living goes up, as employment leaves their regions, as they struggle to make do with what little they have. Often they are vulnerable to some of these same cycles of addiction and violence. I think of the fact that the government has a chance to act by retracting Bill and standing with us on the opposition side for harm reduction and healthier, better lives for people and communities across this country.
Mr. Speaker, I would correct my colleague. I never referenced philosophical issues. I referenced science, evidence, and facts. It may be difficult for the other side to understand, as I understand that there is a difficulty grasping these concepts on that side of the House.
I think I, along with my colleagues, have been pretty clear in indicating that the issue here is the barriers that would be set up. InSite, and other communities that would like to start a similar program, would face a process that is so onerous it would be challenging for them to put it together.
They clearly already do a lot of work to get all the permits and follow all the rules. There is no question about that. However, Bill is attempting to make this such a difficult task that organizations like InSite would not have the capacity to do what needs to be done.
If the Conservative government truly cared about making a difference when it comes to harm reduction and getting heroin out of our neighbourhoods, as they put it, or crack cocaine—although some people they know seem to be quite connected to that substance—maybe they would talk to the medical practitioners about what needs to be done.
Supporting InSite, supporting harm reduction programs, is where it is at. Let us listen to the professionals and the people living in the communities who want this to happen. Let us support them instead of standing in their way.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of Sherbrookers to speak to this very important issue for all Canadians.
Bill is a thinly veiled attempt by the Conservatives to prevent supervised injection sites from being set up, or continuing their operations. There is currently only one such site in Canada. This is a thinly veiled manoeuvre to oppose this kind of supervised injection site.
Several scientific studies conducted by researchers have demonstrated the benefits of such sites, where people can go and inject drugs safely. Otherwise, they would do it in the streets of our communities.
The Conservative logic in all this is quite impressive and baffling. The Conservatives say that having supervised injection sites would result in more drugs on our streets. However, precisely the opposite is true, and studies have documented and demonstrated that on many occasions.
We of course cite the example of Vancouver East, the only place where a supervised injection site is located. It was ultimately observed that this produced benefits for the entire community. Needles, or everything people use to take drugs, ultimately wind up in supervised locations instead of in parks and public places, where they endanger neighbourhood residents.
You have children, Mr. Speaker. I do not for the moment, but I am sure you would prefer that those needles be left in safe places and disposed of safely rather than have your children walk around in a park or on the street and possibly find dirty needles, with all the danger that entails. You would prefer, as I do, that experienced people dispose of those needles safely. They know how that works and they can also help people who are addicted to certain drugs.
These sites therefore have clear and obvious benefits. It is unfortunate that the government is using this bill to put up all possible barriers to any future establishment of other injection facilities elsewhere in Canada. The obstacles are enormous, with conditions that are just about impossible to meet. To open a facility, 30 requirements must be met.
As I said earlier, the government’s thinly disguised objective with this bill is to stop other facilities from opening and prevent the one that already exists from continuing to operate.
It is sad to see the Conservatives using this for partisan purposes and even in order to raise funds. A few hours after introducing the bill in the House, they sent an email to their members, their supporters and the people on their email lists to tell them that the Conservatives would be protecting communities better, and then they asked for money from their supporters, with Bill .
It is very obvious that they are using this issue to collect funds. They want to paint themselves as the great defenders of safety in our communities, while all the studies are showing exactly the opposite: that it is safer to have supervised injection sites.
In addition, it is important to mention that 80% of the people in Vancouver East support the supervised injection site. The Conservatives are saying that the whole community is in danger, that the people are against it, that it cannot be left open and that it must be closed as quickly as possible, while 80% of the people in Vancouver East are in favour of this supervised injection site. I do not understand why the Conservatives are saying that the centre is dangerous, it has to be closed, and people do not like it and do not want it in their backyard, when 80% of the people in the neighbourhood involved are in favour of it.
The other element that really surprises me is the fact that the Conservatives are going against a Supreme Court decision, which was handed down following a number of other legal proceedings. All the courts, from the British Columbia Supreme Court to the Supreme Court of Canada, came to the same conclusion, despite the opposition of the Conservatives and the government. All the courts have always been in favour of these facilities and have always recognized the rights of the people using them. Section 7 of the charter states that:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The government tried to defend its position before the various levels of court. Finally, the Supreme Court rendered its decision saying that the infringement at stake is serious; it threatens the health, indeed the lives, of the claimants and others like them.
The Supreme Court itself—the highest court in the country—supports our position that people have the right to have access to these sites in order to protect their own charter-guaranteed rights.
The Conservatives are acting as though nothing has happened and doing the opposite of what the Supreme Court asked them to do. I am rather surprised to see a government respond to a court decision in that way. Since the decision did not go their way, the Conservatives decided to pass legislation that goes against the Supreme Court's decision.
It is rare for a government to behave in such a manner, and it is unfortunate that the Conservatives are thumbing their noses at courts that are recognized as being impartial. No one has ever questioned that. As legislators, it is an affront to the justice system for the Conservatives to try to defend a position in court and then go against the court's decision when it does not go their way. It is unfortunate to see this happening.
There is a lot of talk about public health and safety. It is often said that supervised injection sites strike a balance between public health and public safety. The court also recognized that. These sites strike a certain balance between the two poles because both are equally important.
It has been shown that supervised injection sites can enhance public safety by getting illicit substances off our streets and putting them in safe and supervised locations. These substances have not been legalized; their injection is merely supervised.
What is more, in most cases, the people who come to these sites are referred to community resources that can help them to overcome their addictions. This approach ensures that there is a good balance between public health and public safety, which is something that the NDP will always support. We are therefore going to oppose Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure today to talk about Bill . What we are actually discussing is supervised injection sites.
Do we live in a perfect world? In a perfect world, everyone is well educated, everyone lives well, everyone is happy and everything is fine. The reality, however, is that we do not live in a perfect world. Children do not to go to school as much as we would wish, people do not necessarily have the job they want, and in many cases, basic needs are not met. Unfortunately, some people descend into the hell of drug use.
Once that happens, and we find that people are descending into the hell of drug use generation after generation, what do we do? What do we do as a society? The bill compels us to ask that question. As a society, what do we do when the issue arises? How do we respond in a civilized and effective manner? This is important. Everything depends on it.
The bill is a response by the government to a 2011 Supreme Court decision. The court based its decision on fundamental principles of our society, namely the right to life, liberty and security of the person. I am not talking just about those living in the hell of drug use, but also about those who may be exposed to it indirectly or by misfortune. This is where we get to the crux of the issue.
A supervised injection site reduces the risk of death and disease. Public safety must also be taken into account, of course. This cannot be done just anyhow and anywhere. Such things must be regulated. Reducing the number of needle-borne diseases like hepatitis C or HIV, and reducing the number of overdoses, is no small thing. We know that supervised injection sites make results like this possible.
Our deliberations should be based essentially on the public interest. What do we mean by “the public interest”? Some demagogues will say that the NDP is just defending drug users, but that is not the case. The NDP wants to make sure that harm is reduced to a minimum and that as many people as possible can overcome their problems. That is what “the public interest” means. We do not want children and young people falling into that world. If they are caught up in it, we want them to get out as quickly as possible, so that they can make a positive contribution to society.
We cannot think that someone who has succumbed to drug use once or twice will never do anything worthwhile in life. We cannot think that way. We must be able to give such people a chance, so that they have a real opportunity to make something of their lives. The reason they turned to drugs in the first place is that they saw no way out, no opportunity. They did not think they had the resources to achieve some level of happiness.
To get back to supervised injection sites, if we think about it seriously, the concept for such sites is primarily one of a front-line health care service.
Let me explain. To take the Vancouver example: nurses and paramedics supervise activities. People using the injection site are assessed. They can also be treated if things go wrong. Detoxification services are available nearby. It is easier to reach addicts, and offer them a way out. In our society, it is not possible for workers to go into the streets and go up to people one by one and tell them that services are available and they are invited to make use of them. That is not how it works; we do not have the resources to do it. By bringing them into a safe place where they do as little harm to themselves as possible, and where they can then be offered a way out, I believe we are working in the public interest.
I would like to give an example of something that upsets parents. They believe it is unacceptable to find used syringes in the parks in some cities. As parents, we do not like finding traces of drug use scattered about where children may go to play. Nobody wants that. By moving the activity to a site, getting people to do it safely, concentrating our health care resources—which, as we know, are hard-pressed—and optimizing our health care services through this kind of response, I believe we are working in the public interest. We are thus able to offer a better society to many people, both those who are living through the hell of drug use, and people to whom the children should not be exposed unnecessarily. There are enough bad examples in our society. We do not need more, we need fewer.
That is why I fail to understand some aspects of this legislation. The application process for setting up such sites and the increased complexity may discourage more than one community from trying to take responsibility and resolve or at least address the problem. There is no magic remedy, but if we add to the paperwork, the requirements and so on, are we working in the public interest? Is that not, rather, a much more ideological position? Basically, they want to see no evil, they want to be repressive and hope that it solves the problem, but history tells us that such a strategy will never really succeed.
When they tried to prohibit alcohol nearly a century ago, we saw what happened and how people reacted. I do not mean that we have to put up with people injecting just anything, but in this 21st century, we should have 21st-century solutions. We should provide care based on the knowledge we have acquired about how to treat people. First and foremost, the debate should be about the public interest, and I call upon all parliamentarians present to think about the debate on the basis of the public interest.
Mr. Speaker, you have no idea how disappointed I am with this bill. One would think that over the years we would get used to these kinds of laws that do more harm to the public than anything else, but I cannot get used to it. Bill is a very important reminder of that reality.
There are several elements in this bill that remind us just what the Conservatives represent. They are ideologues, they ignore scientific evidence and they even disregard rulings from the highest court in the country. It is absurd. This bill is first and foremost a way to dismiss the idea of supervised injection sites, just like they tried to do with InSite in Vancouver.
We need to put this bill in context. This bill was introduced because the Supreme Court ruled that the only supervised injection site in Canada—InSite in Vancouver—was necessary and that the should continue to give the facility an exemption. The court based its decision on section 7 of the charter, which states:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The Supreme Court decision states:
On future applications, the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety. In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Where, as here, a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption.
I have a lot of questions. The court recognized the positive impact that supervised injection sites have had in east Vancouver, and its ruling was unequivocal:
InSite has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area.
I repeat, “without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area”. The court is not the only one to say this. The Canadian Nurses Association agrees:
In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where the Insite safe injection site is located, business owners, service providers and residents in the neighbourhood agree that the clinic has had a positive impact on the health of the people who use it and on the health of the community.
That is a fundamental aspect of this debate. While sites like InSite can improve the situation, the Conservatives want to ban them. The campaign of misinformation the Conservative Party launched just after the bill was introduced is proof enough.
As a health care professional, I find this bill mind-boggling. I want to add my voice to those of people in the field who have criticized this bill. The Canadian Nurses Association is concerned that:
...the conservative “tough on crime” ideology will overshadow evidence that demonstrates positive outcomes for communities with harm reduction programs.
The Canadian Medical Association had this to say:
The CMA fully endorses the existence of these harm-reduction tools, including supervised injection sites, and believes they should be included in a comprehensive national drug strategy. The CMA's position is founded upon clinical evidence. Bill [C-2], it would appear, is founded upon ideology that seeks to hinder initiatives to mitigate the very real challenges and great personal harm caused by drug abuse.
The CMA represents all of the doctors in the country. It added the following, which is even more critical of this government:
The unanimous decision [by the Supreme Court] was grounded in evidence, not ideology. The overwhelming clinical evidence is that centres like Insite save lives when it comes to some of our most vulnerable patient populations. In its ruling, the Supreme Court stated that “…the evidence indicates that a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption”. What we are seeing today seems to contradict the essence of the ruling.
Harm reduction works. This method has proven to be effective. In Australia, a report on supervised injection sites found that one site had reduced the number of overdoses, reduced the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and alleviated safety concerns related to users shooting up in public places and the availability of clean needles. The report even indicated that the site served as a gateway to addiction treatment.
Mr. Speaker, if that is not improving safety in the community, I do not know what is.
Many countries now have supervised injection sites: Australia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, just to name a few. These sites work.
It is no wonder Montreal's director of public health recommended, in December 2011, that the city establish such a site in the greater Montreal area. He gave a number of reasons similar to the ones I just quoted concerning Australia's experience. Do you know why, Mr. Speaker? Because they are based on conclusive data that the Conservatives and the have patently decided to ignore. I will quote Montreal's director of public health:
The reasons that justify implementing SIS in Montréal are very succinct: the epidemic of infections caused by HIV and HCV, and the excess mortality among IDU [injection drug users]. Cocaine use, the drug most often injected in Montréal, is a major determinant of HIV transmission, as is sharing used needles. HCV infection is also having devastating effects: 7 in 10 IDU have been exposed to the virus and its transmission does not appear to be slowing. As for excess mortality among IDU, the data on hand indicate that the problem in Montréal is alarming.
I urge the government for once to do its job in the health field. Since the Conservatives took power, we have seen the federal government disengage from files where Canadians expect it to play a role. I am referring to the government's refusal to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces, the shortage of prescription drugs, and diluted chemotherapy treatments.
It is unbelievable and completely unacceptable for a bill such as this, which flies in the face of the Supreme Court ruling, to be introduced.
It is my privilege to rise in the House today to speak to Bill .
I would like to begin by firmly stating that our caucus and our party are opposed to this bill, which has now come to second reading. Our caucus feels that decisions about programs that could be beneficial to public health must be given serious consideration and must be essentially based on facts. When we talk about facts, we are of course talking about tangible, solid, quantifiable evidence, not hypotheses and qualitative methods, or indeed ideological positions.
Not so long ago, in 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the InSite organization was providing essential services and should remain open under the exemption provided for in section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Once again the Conservative government is proposing a very imperfect bill, based on a very conservative and openly anti-drug ideology. To justify itself it is fearmongering about public safety.
However, at present there is only one supervised injection site operating in Canada. This is InSite, and it is in Vancouver. Since it opened, Vancouver has seen a 35% reduction in deaths by overdose. Furthermore, it has been established that InSite has brought about a decrease in crime, in communicable disease infection rates and in relapse rates for drug abusers.
This site has become such a model that big cities like Toronto and Montreal are thinking of creating their own. We in the NDP feel that decisions about programs that could be beneficial to public health have to be maintained. We must reject any intervention based on unjustified reasoning.
The position of our party is supported by three major institutions in Canada. Those institutions issued a statement regarding the former Bill C-65, which is now Bill C-2. That statement speaks of a flagrant lack of judgment. It goes even further, describing this initiative as irresponsible and unethical.
Other institutions have also spoken out against this bill as proposed by the government, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association. Both have criticized the approach being taken by the government.
I would also like to mention the attitude of the Conservative caucus, of our colleagues opposite. Since this morning, I have noticed that there are only seven to 11 Conservative members in the House.
That is evidence of blatant disinterest on their part. The members who have spoken—
I understand, Mr. Speaker.
What I wanted to say, really, is that our colleagues should be here to defend their own bill, but they are not. They are not doing their job. I am sorry if that was interpreted as highlighting their absence. What is more, among those present, only three of them rose to ask questions.
On this side of the House, the hon. member for quoted the Supreme Court decision, and then a member from the other side asked her an irrelevant question. Proof that the Conservatives do not listen.
Among other things, the hon. member for stated the evidence, contrasting it with ideology, but the Conservatives did not seem to get it. The hon. member for very clearly described the importance of these sites that are set up safely to address the scourge the bill refers to, but his comments went unnoticed.
The hon. member for asked an excellent question and made some wise observations about the importance of monitoring these activities, and the hon. member for did a great job underscoring the social impact that this represents.
Last but not least, my colleague for drew from her medical knowledge to explain the risks involved as well as the scientific underpinnings of the issue.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise in the House and join my colleagues in the official opposition in opposing the bill. Normally I do not read a speech, but I find that it is very important on this bill to be clear that I am conveying the actual words of medical specialists, including those from my city of Edmonton, from the Canadian Medical Association, and from the Supreme Court of Canada.
In reintroducing Bill , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the government is flying in the face of credible, strong evidence that safe injection sites lead to improvements in public health and public safety.
The specific objective of organized, supervised safe injection sites is widely recognized to improve health outcomes and to reduce impacts to communities where drug use is already occurring, and it is important to recognize that drug use is occurring.
Bill , in imposing 24 conditions on the operation of any safe injection site and then completely giving the discretion to the minister to ignore that advice and impose her decision, rather than relying on the opinions of scientists and medical experts, has a clear intent of rendering it inoperative.
The intent of a safe injection program is to directly address the problem of addiction to dangerous and illegal substances by mitigating the negative effects of such addictions while ensuring that addicts have access to support when they are ready to begin treatment to get off drugs, and it is important to emphasize. That is clearly the path we support, and that is the path of the safe injection sites.
Safe injection sites have been proven to do both of these things. The Canadian Medical Association has expressed deep concern about this legislation. It has pointed out that there is overwhelming clinical evidence to show that safe injection sites save lives, and it has called for such facilities to be included in a national drug strategy. According to the CMA:
Supervised injection programs are an important harm reduction strategy. Harm reduction is a central pillar in a comprehensive public health approach to disease prevention and health promotion. In a preliminary assessment based on initial review of the Bill, the CMA is deeply concerned that the proposed legislation may be creating unnecessary obstacles and burdens that could ultimately deter creation of more injection sites.
The CMA's Dr. Haggie, then president, in response to the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, said:
While for some this is an ideological issue, for physicians it's about the autonomy to make medical decisions based on evidence, and the evidence shows that supervised injection reduces the spread of infectious diseases and the incidence of overdose and death.
Dr. Stan Houston is a professor and specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Alberta, and he has extensive experience working with HIV patient care and organizations assisting such patients. Dr. Houston expressed support for the operation of safe injection sites for a number of important health-related reasons. According to Dr. Houston:
Although exact numbers are difficult to determine, hepatitis C infection rates run rampant through intravenous drug users. At one point, more than 80 per cent of those users were infected.
He has advised that due to needle exchanges and other social services provided by Streetworks, an Edmonton support program, the rates of HIV and hepatitis C have declined. According to Dr. Houston:
HIV cases are steadily going down in drug users in Edmonton. In fact that's our biggest HIV prevention success story. HIV rates are going up in other risk groups, but they are going down in injection drug users. And harm reduction practices should get a large part of the credit.
He said that by provision of a safe, supervised location for injection, staffed by medically qualified people, the probability of engaging drug users in drug treatment is substantially enhanced. He said that the preponderance of evidence from 25 peer-reviewed reports determines that programs such as InSite improve rates of further treatment for addictions.
Dr. Houston has advised me that, to his knowledge, not one case of drug overdose has occurred at InSite since 2003. That is a lot of lives saved, lives that can be redeemed and then supported to end addiction. Should that not be the health objective?
Dr. Houston has pointed out to me that those who operate safe injection sites are not pro drug use. It is quite the opposite. Surely it is better to have addicts injecting drugs in a clean, secure place instead of back alleys. Quite logically, it is a preferable alternative to ensure public safety. He has also called for more government funding of drug treatment facilities to help end their addictions.
Dr. Houston points out that the research supports his position. The obvious question, then, is this: why is the government not willing to take the advice of Canadian doctors when it comes to dealing with a serious health issue?
In September, a total of 87 organizations experienced at dealing with addictions signed a letter to the , urging her to not reintroduce this bill. They included a number of Edmonton organizations that assist the homeless, HIV-infected persons and addicted persons, such as the Boyle Street Community Services, the Bissell Centre, the George Spady Centre and Street Works. Their common request to the minister was for support for increased access to supervised consumption sites similar to the InSite program in Vancouver and those in other nations, including Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, in order that lives could be saved.
These dedicated and highly respected community organizations point out that supervised consumption sites have been proven to decrease overdose, death, injury, and risk behaviours associated with HIV and hepatitis C infections; to increase access to health care for marginalized people; to save health care costs; and to decrease open drug use and publicly discarded drug use equipment, which is one of the issues communities usually raise.
I urge the minister to respond to their request to sit down with them to learn from their direct experience in dealing, on a daily basis, with people battling addictions and seek effective solutions to both assist those addicted and increase public safety.
There are obvious medical, social and psychological costs associated with a single HIV infection. If nothing else, one can appreciate the cost savings derived from preventing HIV infection. Directly because of the introduction of a needle exchange program in Edmonton, reduced rates of infection among drug addicts have been reported for both HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, while in the same period rates have increased in other high-risk areas.
If we are truly serious about tackling the issue of drug addiction and the attendant health risks to the entire Canadian population, as parliamentarians we have an obligation to base our decisions on appropriate program or regulatory responses, sound science, and research results. Surely this should be the basis for all good public policy.
As the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network concluded from a detailed study, “many of the arguments against are ill-conceived or overstated, and are outweighed by the likely benefits of safe injection facilities”. It reports that there is an ethical imperative to at least support the trial facilities given the unacceptable harms currently experienced by drug users and the general community, and the potential for these sites to eliminate or reduce at least some of the harms. It advises that a refusal to establish these critical sites may be deemed to violate human rights obligations under international law or potentially subject governments to negligence suits. It is important to observe what they are advising us.
It is important to observe and respect as well the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of the continued operation of InSite and right of access to similar facilities.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stated in that unanimous decision:
Where, as here, a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption.
In closing, by shutting its eyes to the evidence and seeking to put as many barriers in the way of communities opening their own safe consumption sites, the government is risking the lives and health of Canadians. Let us not forget that if it were not for the Supreme Court, lnSite would have been closed.
I urge the to withdraw this bill and begin a serious consultation on how we can decrease addiction to illegal drugs in Canada and the attendant health and social costs.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak today to oppose Bill . As you are aware, this bill had been introduced as Bill at the end of the previous parliamentary session. It has now been reintroduced in its current form, as Bill .
We are the only party to comment on the subject today. The NDP is the only party standing up to give a voice to the least fortunate in our society.
The Conservative government has missed a fine opportunity. It should have taken advantage of the House prorogation to consign this bill to oblivion. It is a thinly veiled attempt to stop supervised injection sites from operating, in direct defiance of a Supreme Court ruling on these sites.
The bill sets out a lengthy and arduous list of criteria that supervised injection sites would have to meet before the minister would grant them an exemption under the . These criteria will make it much harder for organizations to open supervised injection sites in Canada.
For new supervised injection sites, preparing the application would be so onerous that it would likely deter applicants from opening such a site. The department's representatives have told us that if an applicant were to accidentally forget to include any detail, the application would automatically be refused. Even if all the required documents were included with the application, and it has the full support of the community, the minister would still be able to refuse the application.
If the bill is passed, new applications will have to include the following: scientific evidence demonstrating a medical benefit; a letter from the ministers responsible for public health and safety, municipal governments, local police chiefs and senior public health officials; information about infectious diseases and overdoses related to the use of illicit substances; a description of the drug treatment services available at the public safety site; a description of the potential impact of the site on public safety; a description of the measures that would be taken to minimize the divergence of controlled substances; information on loitering in a public place that may be related to certain activities involving illicit substances, drug trafficking and crime in the vicinity of the site at the time of the application; a report of the consultations held with a broad range of community groups from the municipality, including copies of all written submissions received and a description of the steps that would be taken to address any relevant concerns.
Needless to say, drug addicts could die 15 times in that timeframe.
Some requests may also take forever for no good reason, which means groups could be kept waiting for months or even years. The bill mentions there will be a 90-day public consultation period when a group requests an exemption, but it does say how long it could take for Health Canada to process a request, or for the minister to reach a decision.
The bill also lays out principles that the minister will have to consider before accepting a request. These principles, stated in section 5, essentially list all reasons why a request could be rejected. I quote:
The Minister may only grant an exemption for a medical purpose under subsection (2) to allow certain activities to take place at a supervised consumption site in exceptional circumstances and after having considered the following principles:
(a) illicit substances may have serious health effects;
(b) adulterated controlled substances may pose health risks;
(c) the risks of overdose are inherent to the use of certain illicit substances;
(d) strict controls are required, given the inherent health risks associated with controlled substances that may alter mental processes;
(e) organized crime profits from the use of illicit substances; and
(f) criminal activity often results from the use of illicit substances.
I am not sure what kind of circus the Conservatives are living in, but they seem to act as if we were still in the 20th century, rather than fully in the 13th year of the 21st century.
I encourage them to open their eyes, and to see that drugs have infiltrated communities all across the country. I encourage them to put on new glasses, and to realize that Canada exports a lot of drugs, mainly to the U.S.
To back up that statement, I would like to quote from an article by Tom Godfrey published on the Canoe network on January 30, 2012. He said:
Canada has joined Colombia as a leading exporter of synthetic or designer drugs, flooding the global market on an almost unprecedented scale, police say. The RCMP have seized tonnes of illicit synthetic drugs that include Ecstasy and methamphetamine being shipped abroad after being “cooked” in make-shift labs in apartments, homes and businesses in the GTA.
Police are now seizing more chemicals and synthetic drugs, which they say is favoured by young people, at Canadian border checks rather than the traditional cocaine, heroin or hashish that officers call drugs of “a last generation”.
According to a Radio-Canada report broadcast on November 8, 2013, Colorado was about to legalize the free consumption of marijuana for all adults over 21. This is a North American first, and it is happening in a country that has always officially waged war on drugs, including cannabis. The state is unmistakably planning to legalize it, not decriminalize it. We are talking about recreational marijuana use, not medical use. This is unique, and Uruguay and Washington state will soon be doing it too.
Before wrapping up, I would like to talk about an experience I had. I was living with my two daughters in an apartment with a back alley. I frequently found needles in that alley. When the kids found needles, they gave them to us. That is why I would really have appreciated having a place in the community that I could have referred people to when they came to shoot up behind my apartment building.
When people are sick, they get care. When people are using drugs, they are sick and need care. That is why specialized care has been made available to help these people get the unique care they need. That is what Vancouver's InSite provides.
This is a deeply flawed bill based on anti-drug ideology and false fears for public safety. This is the latest attempt to rally the Conservative base. The Conservatives' “Keep heroin out of our backyards” campaign, launched just hours after Bill C-2 was introduced in Parliament, makes that very clear. That is what I call turning a blind eye.
This bill will make it practically impossible to open safe injection sites, which will put heroin back in our neighbourhoods. The Conservative government is increasing barriers to providing a service to those in need in a safe place, rather than in an alley where needles can be found by young children. There are many risks associated with that.
Mr. Speaker, I asked for the opportunity to speak to Bill today because it is a piece of legislation that has to be called out. It has to be exposed. We have to tell the Canadian people what is really going on in the Parliament of Canada and what is driving and motivating the type of legislation being put forward by the Conservative Party, the ruling party.
I should say at the outset that Bill , the bill that is supposedly entitled “an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act”, should really be called “an act to raise money through fearmongering act”, because within hours of Bill being tabled in the House of Commons, a blitz, a flurry, of fundraising letters went out across the country under the title “Keep heroin out of our backyards”.
Imagine the cynicism of introducing legislation that is not based on evidence, reason, logic, science, or public health. Not one of those factors enters into this whatsoever. The fact is, the Conservatives are running out of red meat to throw to their base. They do not have the gun registry to milk anymore. I am amazed that they killed the goose that laid the golden egg on the gun registry. That used to be how they bankrolled the whole darn party, really, their war room and everything.
The hon. member across is probably wanting to say that we do not have the Canadian Wheat Board to slap around anymore. No, the Conservatives cannot milk that one anymore either. That was a good one. They milked that one for years, calling it marketing freedom. I always called it the freedom to sell grain for less.
We should label these bills a little more honesty, really. The keep heroin out of our backyards fundraising campaign started just hours after the bill was tabled. Sometimes it is the same minute that the bill is tabled that the fundraising letters start blitzing out. It makes us wonder who is paying for some of the mailing, because I know a lot of this messaging is paid for by the taxpayer.
In my own riding, 10 Conservative members of Parliament have been carpet bombing my riding with their propaganda and their literature, followed up immediately with a fundraising letter from the party. The Conservatives plant the seed on the taxpayer's dime, putting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of letters into my riding on a regular basis, and then they pay for the postage stamp for the follow-up letter that asks for money based on the taxpayer-funded literature that just arrived.
Is that legal? I do not think it is. I think it is an abuse. At the very least, it is an abuse.
When the 's Office is being investigated for high crimes and misdemeanours, let us summarize some of the abuse of privileges, mailing privileges being one. With the Prime Minister's Office being investigated for bribery, breach of trust, fraud, and obstruction of justice, we could add contempt of Parliament to that sordid list. We could add abusing the taxpayers' dollars by misusing the mailing privileges of members of Parliament to another one.
But I digress. I want to speak to the substance of the bill in a serious way.
I might be one of the few people in the House who have actually toured the InSite safe injection site in Vancouver, although I know quite a few of our NDP members have, in fact. I doubt that very many members on the Conservative side ever have, because they would not be able to say with a straight face that there is any evidence in the way they have been arguing in the keeping heroin out of our backyard fundraising drive. That is because if they did canvass the community of the Downtown Eastside, they would find it is overwhelmingly supportive. If they canvassed ordinary Vancouverites, they would find the site is overwhelmingly supported. There is no NIMBY, not in my backyard, associated with InSite, yet we have a whole piece of legislation that is crafted specifically to undermine the Supreme Court ruling and shut down one public health facility in downtown Vancouver. It is another spurious, wasteful use of the taxpayer's dime to have Parliament seized of the issue in order to get revenge for the Conservatives losing a Supreme Court ruling on the veracity, the use, and the efficacy of the InSite safe injection site in downtown Vancouver.
One of the problems is that the mindset of the Conservatives is that substance abuse and addiction are somehow a criminal justice issue. They are not. They are health issues and they should be treated as public health concerns.
One of the other problems that I do not think a lot of the people who introduced this bill realize is that if we are going to help someone who has a substance or addiction problem, we need to reach them and have the supports available and concentrated for when that person is ready.
I had an example in my own office recently. My riding has some serious issues, not unlike the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. There was a young sex trade worker who worked up and down the street on Sargent Avenue, where my office is. One time, she came into our office, clearly jangled on what we believe was crack cocaine. She wanted to make a change to her life. She said she had had it and she wanted to get off the streets. She wanted help and she wanted to clean up.
We got on the phone to try to help her, but we could not find a bed for her. We could not find any place to refer her. We cannot tell addicts that we are glad they want to clean up, but to come back in six weeks when we will have a bed for them. It does not work that way.
One of the magic things about InSite is the OnSite, which is eight floors above. There are rooms. They are clean, safe, detox-assisted rooms where an addict can literally be using the safe injection site on the main floor one minute, speak to a counsellor or social worker that very moment and then be referred to the detox centre, where they dry out in the rehabilitation program in the same building at the same time.
The success rate is evident. The empirical evidence exists that InSite saves lives and helps people get off drugs, because we can have access to them to offer the services that they need to clean up their lives. Unlike the situation with the woman in Winnipeg, where there was no room available. InSite/OnSite/apartment hotel services are a whole campus of support mechanisms, concentrated right where they are needed.
In this fearmongering and fundraising campaign about keeping heroin out of our backyards, one of the pieces of literature that the Conservatives are bombing into my riding, misusing their MPs' mailing privileges, has a picture of a guy sneaking in a bedroom window with a knife. It is as if this junkie is going to kill us in the night with his knife if we do not vote Conservative and only the Conservatives can help protect us from the junkie who is going to creep into our bedroom windows. That is how cynical this messaging is. They build up a straw man and then try to convince people that this straw man is going to hurt them, and say that the Conservative Party is the only one that can protect them from this imaginary straw man.
That is what the Conservatives are doing with this legislation. They are trying to imply that if the bill does not pass and if we do not somehow overturn the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling, we are going to have junkies in our backyards shooting up heroin. That is really what the message is when we strip it down to its actual substance. The Supreme Court ruling showed great wisdom and it is a shame that it had to go that far.
InSite opened in 2003 and started showing improvements immediately. There used to be 12 people a year dying from an overdose in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. That has changed dramatically. Communicable diseases are way down in terms of people using dirty needles and sharing hepatitis C, or even worse, HIV-AIDS. These things are being treated with a common sense approach.
People were supportive. The Supreme Court of Canada was supportive. The Conservatives are sore losers, so they are again abusing the arbitrary and absolute power that they have by not showing any respect for Parliament to ram this through. At least show some respect for the Supreme Court of Canada, which has spoken recently on this subject.
Bill should go down in flames. The Conservatives should apologize for the fundraising campaign where they are trying to milk the public by fearmongering.
Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if my colleague would like to see a copy of some of the literature that his colleagues are bombarding my riding with. Here is one that is signed by 10 individual members of Parliament, all from Manitoba, who I guess are pooling their mailing privileges, which I thought was something we did away with. I thought the Speaker and the Board of Internal Economy prohibited this.
I hope my colleague is listening. The worst thing about it is that New Democrats believe that they are mining the Revenue Canada database to get this information. I will give an example.
A guy who works in my office received one of these letters in his mother's name. His mother only lived in his house for four months before she passed away. He filed her taxes from that address just once, and guess what? She got a personalized letter from the Conservative Party in her name at that address. Nobody in the Conservative Party should have known that Mrs. Morrison passed away living on Dominion Street. No one knew she was in that house. She was only there the last four months she was alive. How did the Conservatives find out?
Another one went to the Theule family. How did the Conservatives know? When anybody turns 18, they can change the personalized letter. It says, “Dear Gerrit and Jennifer”. Gerrit just turned 18. How do they know these things? They are misusing their mailing privileges by bombarding my riding under the signatures of Vic Toews, Merv Tweed, and eight others.
An hon. member: There is a crook.
Mr. Pat Martin: The only guy that has ever been convicted of electoral fraud in the Parliament of Canada is writing letters to my constituents on Government of Canada stationery and postage. It is wrong.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say I am very glad to be rising to speak to the bill, but I am speaking with a sense of sadness. This is the level to which the current government is descending in terms of its misrepresentation of facts, its willingness to leave people basically out on the streets to die and of course to play political games, attacking the Supreme Court, attacking the peer-reviewed medical communities and attacking medical authorities so it can make a few bucks for its Conservative war machine.
Twenty-five years ago, I spent a number of years working on the streets of the east end of Toronto in Riverdale. Twenty-five years later, my oldest daughter is back in the east end of Toronto working with the homeless. We sit down and talk. She was born in a house that we were running, taking in men coming out of prison and taking in addicts. Having a child in that house did marvels for restoring a sense of community and of helping to heal people. We have had people who came through that house who went on to live wonderful lives. I think of my dear friend Pierre, a lifelong heroin addict whom we managed to get out of prison and who ended up becoming the adopted grandfather of my children. He lived with us until he died in his 70s. That would not have been possible if there had not been opportunities in place to get him off the streets.
Twenty-five years later, my daughter is back working on the streets of Toronto. I would like to say that things are better, but they are not. Things have deteriorated, as far as I can see. We talk about the causes. Of course, many of the causes are sitting over on the front bench of the Conservative Party. They are all the former Mike Harris thugs, who are now in the House of Commons, who stripped social housing programs. Previously we could get men and women off the streets and into subsidized housing, but that is disappearing, particularly in Toronto centre, where we see more and more condos going up and more and more of the poor being put out onto the streets. We see the lack of health supports for these people on the streets. I talk with my daughter about the issue of addiction and what she faces with the people coming through.
In contrast to the Conservative Party and its dumbed-down attack machine that likes to show people the junkie sneaking through the child's bedroom window so they will give them some money so that the , whose office is under investigation for all manner of criminal activities, can defend them, what we see with junkies and addicts is a cross-section of society. What we are here to discuss today is not ideology. We are here to discuss the Supreme Court, to discuss the support of the Canadian Medical Association and peer-reviewed studies. This is on our side of the House. On their side is a cynical attempt to make money off the Conservative base with their expression “keep heroin out of our backyards”.
If we look at the evidence, we find that if we do not have a way of dealing with these street drugs, it will be in our backyards. When it is pushed underground, that is where we see the crime and the break-ins, and this is where we see the long-term effects. It is not just the overdoses and the deaths, but the hepatitis, HIV, and the other blood-related diseases that end up destroying people, sometimes who sober up and then many years later start to die from liver ailments and other problems that have been caused because they were not dealt with properly when they were on the street.
I would like to say this for the Conservatives who live in this fairy bubble that it is the 1950s: the drugs are in their communities. It is the fentanyl patches that young people are getting caught up in. It is the OxyContin addictions that went across our communities when they were over-prescribed by the medical authorities. It is the meth. These are drugs that are cutting across all manner of society. As my hon. colleague from said, when you see the people who ask, who try to break the cycle of addiction, try getting them a bed in rehab, try getting them the support they need. If it is not there, the cycle becomes worse, and it becomes a cycle of crime.
What we need to do here is to put this in context. The Supreme Court called on the current government and laid down very clear rules for when there would be an injection site.
I personally have many problems with anyone using heroin under any circumstance. I find it is an anathema. However, what was agreed upon was that there had to be a way of constraining this to limit the damage. Therefore it is done with the community. It is done with proper oversight. It is done with support so that somehow these people can get off the addictions.
As they say in the 12-step program, and I spent many days at Alcoholics Anonymous with the men coming out of prison, to get them sobered up, there but for the grace of God go I. People who find themselves in this situation are not born to be criminals. They have medical problems that hit them, and it takes over their lives.
I will also say, having dealt with the Toronto police 25 years ago, and in talking with my daughter, who deals with the Toronto police today, that too often the police in Toronto, and in other cities as well, are the front line social and health care workers. They are the ones dealing with people who are in this crisis. It is a waste of their resources and a waste of our resources.
Do I believe that heroin needs to be stopped on the streets? I would do anything to stop heroin on the streets. However, to simply turn it into a fundraising tactic for the Conservative base is a complete abdication of the role of Parliament, which is to find out the best ways to limit the damage and start moving toward constructive solutions so that we can bring people out of the depths of addiction.
I would like to point out that my colleagues in the Conservative Party pride themselves on their lack of mercy. It seems to be their hallmark. They have zero tolerance for anyone. They love throwing people in jail. They love standing up on the back bench on any given day railing against the little punk who took the old lady's purse. However, when it comes to defending their own, oh my God, they have arms so wide they could fit around Rob Ford. That is how much they are willing to defend their own.
Here we have one of their close friends, a man who is a thug, who has disgraced a public office in this country and around the world, who has turned our nation into a laughingstock with his egregious use of crack cocaine, of all things, who was hanging out with drug dealers and criminal elements, and who is under investigation by the Toronto police.
We do not hear a peep out of anybody on that back bench. Oh, no, he is one of theirs. He is one of their pals. When we have the mayor of Toronto, the fourth-largest city in North America, the economic engine of Ontario, a mayor who has turned city hall into something that looks like a Hells Angels hangout, we hear nothing from over there. Oh, no, he is one of their boys.
The said that he was slightly concerned. The , who is helping to rally the troops to go after the poor addicts in downtown Vancouver, has so much concern for Rob Ford. Oh, my God. Then the was tearing up about this thug. Poor little Robbie; he is one of our boys.
The Conservatives have no mercy for anybody else, but when it is one of theirs, like those in their office, like their senators under investigation for breach of trust, under investigation for fraud and bribery, they say that the cannot be held accountable; everybody else is accountable.
When we ask the Conservatives questions, we have to ask the Rob Ford kind of question: “Are you smoking crack right now? Did you smoke crack yesterday at three o'clock”?
You see how the Conservatives cannot stand up and be accountable.
This bill being brought forward by the government is an attack on the Supreme Court. It is an attack on attempts to save lives. It is being done not because the Conservatives really care about what happens to the junkies in downtown Montreal or Vancouver. It is so they can make a few bucks from their base. That is as dismal a political standard as I have ever seen in this country.
We will continue to stand up for smart policies, not dumbed-down policies. We will continue to oppose the government. It is mired in corruption and mired in criminal activity and would prefer to hang out with its Conservative gang members while going after victims on the street.
Mr. Speaker, I would just like to make a brief comment. It is curious that no Conservatives decided to rise to debate this bill. Is it because they realized that it is indefensible? I wonder why they decided to remain silent. I hope that one of my hon. colleagues on the other side of this House will be able to answer this question. I still have a few nagging doubts, though, because they do not have many arguments to use to defend their position.
That being said, this issue of public safety must go much further. We must ask ourselves some questions here: what is a government? What is a government for? What is the purpose of the Parliament that I am part of right now?
Its purpose is to serve Canadians. Its purpose is to help vulnerable people who unfortunately have not been as lucky as we have been.
What is a government for? It must do what it can to help the people who have unfortunately fallen into the vicious cycle of drugs at some point in their life. You can try to justify the situation or blame it on a number of things, but the fact is that this situation must be resolved and it is through initiatives of this kind that a government ensures that the most vulnerable people are able to recover.
A number of members have been in this House longer than I have, and I would have hoped for better from them. Why did we become members of Parliament? It is because fundamentally, deep in our hearts, we thought that we could hold out a helping hand to people in dreadful situations and that we could help them out. I am sorry, and far be it from me to lecture my colleagues about morality, but I believe a good member of Parliament must know the difference between the common good and his or her own personal opinions.
Every person in this House has personal opinions. We have opinions about abortion—we know, that debate is not going to be reopened—and about this kind of situation, the drug situation. That is okay. That is good. That is what makes us human beings.
We have values, principles and personal opinions. However, we are here as representatives of the people, and we make up a House of Commons. We do say “commons”, and I would like to point out that in the past the House was for the common people, the people representing the people. We are here today because we are the representatives of the people. Our values and our personal opinions are not any more important than the common good.
Working towards the common good begins precisely by recognizing that supervised injection sites not only contribute to public safety and help ensure that children, women and families are safer, but also help people overcome completely intolerable situations.
Why would the government, whose fundamental role is to ensure the safety of Canadians, while at the same time helping vulnerable people in extremely difficult situations, refuse to take on this role? I cannot express how disappointed I am right now that I have to make this speech to say that the public safety of Canadians is more important than mere political ideologies.
The Conservatives are trying to make us believe that supervised injection sites, which are internationally recognized as being beneficial to public safety for having reduced the number of deaths and crime rates, will not benefit Canadians. I am truly disappointed.
We know that the minister decided to give preliminary authorization to InSite on a trial basis.
Why would the minister want to give this kind of exemption if not to make it possible to conduct impact studies, to see if it works? Now that we know that this site has reduced the crime rate and the number of deaths, in addition to making the streets safer, why is it not being granted a second exemption?
The inherent role of Parliament is to provide assistance to vulnerable people. People who used InSite were twice as likely to enrol in a detox program and seek help than those who were left out in the street.
The Supreme Court stated, and I quote:
In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
I talked about fundamental justice at the beginning of my speech. Members of Parliament have an inherent duty to ensure that people get help. In 2008, Health Canada published a report indicating that since 2006, InSite had intervened in 336 overdoses and there were no deaths. This means that that site is saving the lives of Canadians. I cannot believe that a Conservative member can stand here today and say that this kind of site has no purpose. If it saves just one life, this kind of site has a purpose. Unfortunately, the government cannot say that this is not in the interest of Canadians. The government has a role to play in saving lives, making our streets safer and helping vulnerable people get by. It should not be standing in the way.
Based on observations made six weeks before and 12 weeks after InSite opened, the number of people injecting drugs in public had decreased. All the municipalities agree that this kind of site reduces crime. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has shown that injection sites reach out to vulnerable groups, are accepted by all communities and help improve the health of drug users and even reduce drug use among frequent users.
According to the Health Canada report, people who used InSite services were twice as likely to seek help and enrol in a detox program. I am repeating this because it is very important. This site has actually decreased drug use. Is that not what the Conservatives want—to reduce crime, make our streets safer, and most of all, decrease drug use? These sites exist all over the world and experts everywhere approve.
For example, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal have all said that these types of sites have positive outcomes. The Supreme Court also said that these sites are in the inherent interest of Canadians' security of the person and life.
I urge the Conservatives to understand that the role of Parliament is not to champion an ideology, but to open its heart to Canadians and help them. If we save even one life, the government cannot say that these sites are useless and serve no purpose. Canadian lives have been saved.
Mr. Speaker, I just want to say how shameful it is that the Conservatives are not standing up to take part in the debate on Bill . As my colleague just pointed out, their position is indefensible.
This is an important debate about saving lives by giving people in need access to care and referrals to drug treatment options. This debate is about a very important public health and public safety issue: setting up supervised injection sites.
I would like to begin my speech with some quotes from a feasibility study for such a site in Montreal. The study was conducted in 2011 by the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal. The tone and the word choices paint a very accurate picture of what supervised injection sites do:
Supervised injection services are medical and nursing services provided in response to addiction, which is a disease. In countries where these services are legal, they are offered in places where injection drug users can inject drugs they bring in themselves in a clean and safe environment, under the supervision of qualified medical, nursing and psychosocial staff.
What are the goals of these sites? I quote:
...to help prevent diseases and deaths among people who inject drugs, and to reduce social inequalities in health that affect one of society's most vulnerable groups.
Earlier, members talked about compassion and helping people who need resources and tools. That is what the government should be doing, but the Conservatives either do not understand or they have decided to wash their hands of the whole thing.
Anyone who wants to understand what supervised injection sites do has to understand what drug addiction is and what patients suffering from the disease go through. It just so happens that drug addicts consume substances deemed illegal, but they are still people with a disease. More than anything else, they need help.
Any government that cannot understand that basic need for care and help cannot create public health legislation. Unfortunately, that is what is happening now with Bill .
This bill is the result of the Conservatives' ideological war against drug addicts. It is not based on science or facts, but rather on ignorance and fear. Earlier we were accused of being soft on crime and soft on heroin. On the contrary, supervised injection sites provide a safe, secure and supervised place for users, while the Conservatives would rather send all these people into the streets, with no resources and without any chance of being referred to health care professionals.
The New Democrats cannot help but be opposed to this witch hunt. This is not the Middle Ages. This is a modern, advanced society with experts who can help the people who need help.
The Conservatives' war on the InSite supervised injection site in Vancouver and others has been going on for years. In 2003 InSite received an exemption to operate for medical and scientific purposes under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. More than 30 scientific studies have confirmed that InSite has positive effects on patients and public health.
In Europe and Australia, 70 similar injection sites have seen the same positive results. I do not know what other evidence the Conservatives need. There have been 30 scientific studies on 70 sites around the world.
In 2008, when the site had been operating successfully for five years, the Conservative government set out on a crusade against InSite. It refused to renew the site's exemption and spent thousands of dollars in court, but every court ruled in favour of the medical centre.
The B.C. Supreme Court, the B.C. Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada all said that the centre should remain open. The Supreme Court was very clear: the minister's decision to close InSite violated the charter rights of the centre's clients. Here is what the court had to say about the decision:
It is arbitrary, undermining the very purposes of the CDSA, which include public health and safety.
Who is soft on crime? I do not think those of us on this side of the House are. This quote was from the Supreme Court of Canada.
With Bill , the government sets out the new criteria to establish a supervised injection site. Some of these criteria are reasonable, but others seem to indicate that the government will use this legislation to close such sites. Moreover, the sheer number of criteria is enough to deter people from launching a project before they even begin. The number of criteria is really high.
These criteria are basically new ammunition for the Conservatives' ideological war against addicts. This is also a way to shape people's minds through fear. Bill requires proof of the project's acceptability to the community. That is fine. However, this will have to be done with all the necessary medical and psychosocial information. When people are well informed, they support such initiatives.
However, I suspect that the government will once again resort to ignorance and fear, rather than education and public health. How can we trust it when it has been fighting for years to close InSite, a decision that flies in the face of the Supreme Court's position? Did the government even read the scientific studies confirming the results achieved with these supervised injection sites? People who use these sites are almost twice as likely to enter a detox program.
There is a significant drop in the number of discarded needles on the streets. As I mentioned, there are fewer people shooting up on the streets. There is less crime and less violence. Consequently, there should be less fear about the Conservatives' claims whenever they talk about heroin on the streets.
The drop in needle sharing reduces the transmission of HIV-AIDS. More importantly, supervised injection sites help improve the health of people who use them and lower the number of overdose deaths. Even though people's lives are at stake and studies show that crime decreases, the Conservatives deny this and only talk about crime.
This approach is pragmatic and humane. It is based on compassion for people with addictions and respect for their rights, including their right to life and their right to be treated like any other citizen. This medical approach has proven effective, unlike the coercive and repressive approach proposed by the Conservative government.
Repression has only had negative and deplorable effects for decades. Criminalizing drug use gives power to the Mafia and street gangs. We must talk about both public health and public safety because they go hand in hand. By criminalizing substance abuse, we force people struggling with this problem to live on the margins of society. By contrast, if we treat them, we help them overcome their addictions. Fewer drug users also means less crime and less power for the underworld.
Would we rather focus on medical science or ignorance, on compassion or fear? What moral values do we want to teach our children? Do we want to teach them to pass judgment on a sick individual or to help that person? Do we want to base our judgments on facts or ideology?
Canada is held up as an example for its universal health care system. Our system is based on respect for universal rights, including the right to life, health and safety. By restricting access to supervised injection sites, the government is denying patients their right to be treated and receive care. This is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Supervised injection sites that have done well work with the community. That is the case with Vancouver's InSite. Effective mechanisms are put in place to promote cohabitation, patients must comply with a code of conduct and the site co-operates with the police, the public and various community organizations.
The Conservatives should be ashamed of inciting public fear and making up information that is not based on scientific data or studies. Instead, they should look at the studies and the Supreme Court decision supporting an exemption for a facility such as InSite.
They should co-operate with the opposition parties, with the NDP, which feels that policies should be based on facts, not ideologies. Crime reduction programs, including supervised injection sites, should be evaluated based on their ability to improve public health and safety.
Mr. Speaker, I always find it deplorable to see the Conservatives' patronizing attitude toward other MPs, considering we are here to advance the debate by relying on studies and scientific facts.
Here are some facts for the hon. member. Thirty peer-reviewed studies, published in journals like The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, describe the positive impact of these sites. The member talked about people in the community having a say in the process. The fact is that 80% of respondents living or working in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where InSite is located, support this initiative.
The legislation should be based on facts, and there are many. I am going to mention a few. The rate of overdose deaths in Vancouver East has fallen by 35% since InSite opened. In one year, 2,171 InSite users were referred to addiction counselling or other support services. The number of people enrolling in a detox program is 1.7 times higher.
Therefore, there are many benefits. Thanks to the expert staff supervising InSite users, there are even people who survive overdoses.
The benefits can be quantified. They are based on scientific facts. It is all there. Even the Supreme Court invalidated the decision by the Conservatives, who were opposed to supervised injection sites.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to today's debate on Bill , which I would have entitled the “not in my backyard” bill.
The Conservatives’ ideology is to always be sure to try and hide what they regard as neither fine nor good. It makes me think of those countries that are named hosts of the Olympic games and, at some point, decide that when the foreigners are about to arrive, it will be time to clear the area around the games site of the homeless and all those who, in the authorities’ opinion, would not reflect a good image of the country.
However we must not bury our heads in the sand, as a member of the Quebec National Assembly has said. It is a fact, however, that people do play the ostrich. In vain we put on rose-coloured glasses, in vain we try to build a wall of silence around problems of health, homelessness, substance abuse and so on: the fact remains that these things exist.
The InSite centre was created to help people who are dealing with substance abuse problems, not to be a place of debauchery. To listen to the Conservative members’ speeches since the start of this debate, one would think that the latter was true.
However, as my colleague just said, the courts that have considered this issue have been very clear.
First of all, the British Columbia Court of Appeal declared in 2010 that this was a medical centre falling under provincial jurisdiction. The matter should have been settled there: it had been put to rest. The province, the local authorities and the people familiar with the issue who work in the health field know what to do and what is good for their population. The City of Vancouver and the Government of British Columbia had decided that the supervised injection site had its place and its usefulness, as has since been demonstrated.
The Conservative government just cannot accept this. It is now bringing forward a bill that sets a whole pile of conditions. I think there are 26 in total. The purpose behind this, and it is certainly no secret, is to effectively shut down InSite and prevent other sites from opening.
I will talk a bit later about Montreal, for example, in Quebec. Indeed, the new mayor, Mr. Coderre, said during his campaign that this was a pressing public health and safety issue, and that he was considering at least creating an agency to discuss the issue more thoroughly and move forward with plans for a supervised injection site. I never thought I would be quoting him in a good way; no, I am just joking.
A Supreme Court decision followed in 2011, as the federal government had appealed the ruling of the B.C. Court of Appeal.
This was clear to the Supreme Court:
It is a strictly regulated health facility, and its personnel are guided by strict policies and procedures. It does not provide drugs to its clients, who must check in, sign a waiver, and are closely monitored during and after injection...The experiment has proven successful.
The Supreme Court also stated the following:
The Minister’s decision, but for the trial judge’s interim order, would have prevented injection drug users from accessing the health services offered by InSite, threatening their health and indeed their lives.
I think that this is very clear and very far from the horror stories we heard earlier from the Conservative minister. He would have us believe that supervised injection sites are located in residential neighbourhoods right next to daycares. According to him, these sites hold open houses every Sunday afternoon after church, so that small children can visit, play with needles and mingle with people who are, as they say, unsavoury. Obviously, this is not at all how these sites operate.
Bill , with its 26 conditions, requires obtaining the approval of a city’s police service, first responders and mayor. There is nothing wrong about this on the surface, because we tend to think that nobody can be against social acceptance.
However, the InSite centre in British Columbia is socially acceptable because the provincial government, the municipal government, the police, first responders and doctors have decided that it is. Clearly, all these people are not imbeciles who suddenly decided that it would be fun to open such a site, and, why not, to open more sites just about everywhere else in the province; and to arrange, as I was saying, for sites like this to be located in residential areas, more or less haphazardly, with no framework.
On the contrary, when a decision is made to set up services like these, it is done with a sense of social acceptability. We do not need an ambulance attendant to suddenly exercise a veto right and to say that it cannot work, and that the site will not be opened. That is not how it works.
In any event, it is clear to the Bloc Québécois that medical treatment and the organization of health services are not Ottawa’s areas of jurisdiction. It is up to Quebec to evaluate and authorize treatment, together with Quebec's health institutions. Quebec has the power and the jurisdiction needed to open supervised injection sites as part of a solution to mental health and addiction issues. That, moreover, is a subject that was studied by Montreal's health and social services agency in 2011.
There is a very eloquent and interesting report entitled “Vers un service d'injection supervisée” that sets out succinctly what would justify the opening of a supervised injection site in Montreal. It is a matter of a higher mortality rate among injection drug users and infection epidemics caused by HIV and hepatitis C.
Cocaine use, the drug most often injected in Montréal, is a major determinant of HIV transmission, as is sharing used needles.
That is why, in one of the main recommendations in the conclusion of the report, the director of public health recommends fixed sites and a mobile unit staffed by nurses:
It is proposed that the fixed sites be located in RSSS [health and social services networks] institutions and community organizations that based on an agreement with the RSSS, would integrate medical supervision of injection and nursing care into the services they already offer.... The mobile unit would be more appropriate for priority sectors where a fixed service could not be offered....
According to this report, supervised injection sites are essential because even though they are geared toward only a small segment of Montreal's population, that segment of the population is affected by more than its share of health and social inequalities. Dr. Richard Lessard, Montreal's director of public health in 2011, stated that he felt it was a matter of social justice and equality.
I would like to give everyone a chance to have a look at this important report. As I was saying, this issue came up during the Montreal election campaign. It definitely has a lot of momentum. Neither Quebec, nor Montreal, nor public health and safety stakeholders will let the federal government create all kinds of obstacles and barriers to prevent this kind of service. That is what the Conservatives really want. They would rather not see and not know.
I am sure my government colleagues will be interested in the fact that the Montreal police has studied this issue. The Montreal police has said it will collaborate under certain conditions. That makes sense because the police force cares about public safety. It is in favour of a collaborative effort among partners to combine several approaches: prevention, treatment and care, law enforcement and harm reduction. To keep users from shooting up on the street, the Montreal police would encourage them to go to supervised injections sites.
Earlier, I was listening to the member for , who is clearly from Montreal. In response to the Conservatives' rhetoric, he said that by not allowing drug addicts to use supervised sites, they will not just suddenly give up drugs. Unfortunately, these people will not stop using. That is what we would like to see, but they will not necessarily stop using drugs. They will keep using, in public washrooms, parks or places where a child's hand, foot or finger could come into contact with a used needle and he could get sick or hurt himself. That has already happened; it has been documented.
It is a myth to think that banning these types of sites will improve the safety of our children and families. It is quite the opposite.
Mr. Speaker, the member should talk to the NDP and Liberals themselves. As a Bloc Québécois member, I cannot answer for them.
The member talked about scientific evidence, but we all know what the Conservative government thinks about scientists. Whether environmental scientists or scientists in other fields, they are not popular with this government, and in particular that member, who is living in the dinosaur era when it comes to technology, health and the environment.
Speaking of scientific evidence, according to the Canadian Medical Association, 80% of its members support services like InSite, and their opinion is based on scientific evidence. What is more, they are far more informed than members of the Conservative Party, the NDP, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party or independent members.
The 2011 Supreme Court ruling in this case was based on scientific evidence. The court ruled that such sites are not only useful, but are also very important, and that they should exist in Vancouver, where InSite is located, as well as in other places.
I thank my hon. colleague from for the question.
Quite frankly, I cannot say that I am surprised, because I am not. I have been a member here since 2004, and the Conservatives came to power in 2006. They are capable of anything. The member for has surely seen this, too. He was elected here two years ago, but I am sure he is not surprised by anything the Conservatives do, either.
I would like to revisit a couple of issues. For instance, the Conservatives always attack the other parties and their positions in a demagogic way, particularly when it comes to justice and public safety. If we are not with the Conservatives, we are against them. A certain George Bush had the same attitude in the United States. There are no grey areas and there is no room for compromise; either you are right or you are wrong.
However, that is not how life works, and fortunately, Quebeckers and Canadians are not fools. If these sites are properly set up, located in the right place, properly supervised and monitored, with the approval of experts in health care and public safety, people can really get the help they need. They will stop injecting hard drugs in parks, near schools and near daycare centres. Basically, they will stop doing everything the Conservatives say is so dangerous when it comes to these centres.
The fact that the Conservatives would use this issue to raise money is ludicrous, but it does not surprise me.
Mr. Speaker, we are here to talk about Bill , formerly Bill . After prorogation, the bill was reintroduced with a different number.
This bill is a direct attack on supervised injection sites. Once again, we are faced with a government that uses every possible means to impose its political ideology at the expense of the broad social consensus and the positive effects of supervised injection sites.
We must remember that the Conservative government's bill challenges the Supreme Court decision and is just another way for the government to get what it wants and to put its moral values ahead of the lives of the most vulnerable Canadians.
We feel that all new legislation on supervised injection sites must respect the spirit of the Supreme Court decision. The 2011 decision reminds us, among other things, that Vancouver's InSite—the only safe injection site in Canada—has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area. It is also important to note that the police, local businesses and the chamber of commerce support those types of projects.
Evidence has shown that supervised injection sites effectively reduce the risk of contracting and spreading blood-borne infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C, and reduce deaths from overdoses. Evidence has also shown that these sites do not negatively affect public safety and that, in certain cases, they promote it by reducing the injection of drugs in public, the violence associated with such behaviour, and drug-related waste.
Supervised injection sites make it possible to strike the appropriate balance between public health and public safety. They also connect people in urgent need of health care with the services they need, such as primary health care and drug treatment services. Those are quantitative and qualitative facts that describe a reality, not an ideology.
We believe that harm reduction programs, including supervised injection sites, must be granted exemptions based on the evidence that they will improve public health and save lives, not based on ideology. Pragmatism and humanitarianism must be the two principles underlying the reality of drug use, a reality that goes against our moral values. It is unfortunate that the Conservatives do not feel that this debate in the House is useful and that they prefer to have the conversation by themselves.
In order to clearly understand the purpose of supervised injection sites, one has to take an interest in the people who need the service and remember that they have rights and that we have responsibilities toward them. Drug consumption has significant effects on people's lives, including debt, a breakdown in communication with friends and family, isolation, crime, medical problems and stigmatization. We need to support these people, not send them to prison. We must support them, not exclude them. They need to be given an anchor so that they can regain control of their lives, not left adrift without a purpose while we turn a blind eye to their problems.
Supervised injection sites are an innovative response to the expectations of an advanced and enlightened society. The philosophy of harm reduction gives priority to the personal and social management of drugs and high-risk behaviours and their negative consequences.
It is therefore important to have a pragmatic dialogue and approach. In other words, we need to look at the situation with a critical eye and assess the social costs and benefits of our laws and practices for humanism, which places human development at the heart of economic, environmental, political and social decisions.
What is more, the Supreme Court's 2011 ruling warned the government against any law that would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The discretion vested in the Minister of Health is not absolute: as with all exercises of discretion, the Minister’s decisions must conform to the Charter. If the Minister’s decision results in an application of the CDSA that limits the s. 7 rights of individuals in a manner that is not in accordance with the Charter, then the Minister’s discretion has been exercised unconstitutionally. In the special circumstances of this case, the Court should go on to consider whether the Minister’s decision violated the claimants’ Charter rights. The issue is properly before the Court and justice requires that it be considered.
What is more, in this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the charter guarantees Canadians the right to access supervised injection sites and that such services should generally exist when the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
A 2004 study by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction indicated that supervised injection sites reach out to vulnerable groups and are accepted by communities. That is what social acceptance is. The study also showed that these sites improve the health of their users, reduce high-risk behaviour, and reduce fatal overdoses and the consumption of drugs in public places.
Canadians do not understand the Conservative government's lack of empathy towards citizens living with this difficult reality, and the dearth of recognition and support it shows towards organizations working day after day to improve the well-being of those citizens.
Canadians see a government that imposes a course opposite to that recommended by various qualified stakeholders working with safe injection sites.
Bill will establish a process that is so burdensome that it may well deter applicants from even trying to open a safe injection site.
What would happen if an applicant should accidentally forget to include something? Could the application be turned down automatically? Even if an applicant had all the required documents and the full support of the community, it would still be possible for the minister to deny the application.
It is important to remember that a number of projects are on hold in major Canadian cities and that Bill is an obstacle to their implementation.
Speaking about safe injection sites, on June 7, Dr. Richard Massé, the director of public health for Montreal, said in Le Devoir:
…These services save lives. It is too early to say what will happen, but… [this bill] appears to me to create significant barriers, even though the Supreme Court clearly said that not providing these services was a violation of human rights.
Also in Le Devoir, the Canadian Medical Association said it sees a bill that is built on ideology. As to the objection that establishing a place where drugs obtained from illegal sources are consumed could cause a lot of harm in the community, Quebec's health minister says that the studies that have been conducted on the subject do not bear that out. He said that the bill should be studied further, specifically with the justice minister of Quebec.
Many groups are concerned about this bill that challenges the Supreme Court decision. It is designed as a way to undermine the court's decision and to find another way to close safe injection sites because they go counter to this government's ideology.
Why do the Conservatives not simply admit what this bill is about? What are the real reasons behind the bill? How far are the Conservatives prepared to go to jeopardize health, safety and the dignity of human life and when are they going to admit that this bill really is based on ideology?
Mr. Speaker, as you know, I absolutely always respect what we are debating on the floor of the House of Commons, but the debate on why Bill , which is deeply flawed legislation, has been brought forward is very much related to the circumstance in which the government finds itself right now. Criminal inquiries into Conservative activities are taking place.
Even though the government knows this bill is bad, even though the bill certainly does not have the support of the population of my area and is primarily concerned with a 15-page document that wants to shut down InSite, and even though the government is attempting to change the channel, the reality is that this bill is on the floor of the House of Commons as a result of the criminal inquiries into Conservatives and the corruption we are seeing in the Conservative Party.
In my area, in Burnaby—New Westminster, I get half the vote. The other half of the population, which I support, have their rights, and many of them chose to vote Conservative in the last election, but I meet Conservatives every day who say that they did not vote for the criminal activities that we are seeing in the Conservative Party with the police inquiries. They did not vote for the corruption that they are seeing.
Rather than putting forward flawed legislation like Bill , it would be much better for the government to work to lower the crime level in its caucus and in its party. I think that would be a very positive step.
When we look at the overall criminal justice system, what we see is mistake after mistake by the government. With all the police inquiries taking place right now, a limited number of police officers across the country are spending their time inquiring into criminal activity in the Conservative Party. That is worsened by the fact that the Conservatives never kept their key commitment in the last election and previous elections to actually put more police officers on the line.
We see the corruption and the criminal activity, and we see police officers having to spend their time inquiring into criminal activities of Conservatives rather than doing what they should do, which is protecting our communities. One would argue that they are protecting their communities from Conservatives, and perhaps that is a valid point, but I can say that the NDP will be protecting Canadians from Conservatives by booting them out of office in the 2015 election. That will be our objective.
It is not just the fact that what we are seeing is a lack of commitment to add more front-line police officers. It is not just the fact that police officers are now having to spend all of their time inquiring into the criminal activity of Conservatives. It is the disrespect with which police officers are being treated by the Conservative government that also concerns me.
That is why, rather than presenting Bill , it would have been good for the government to actually put into place the NDP motion that was adopted just before the government came into power back in 2005. It was for a public safety officer compensation fund, and it was an NDP initiative. The Conservative MPs actually voted for it. That was back in 2005.
Every year since then, police officers and firefighters from across the country have come to Parliament Hill on an annual basis to ask one thing. They want to know when the government is going to put into place a public safety officer compensation fund so that when they die in the line of duty, their families will actually be taken care of.
I have spoken to police officers' families. I have spoken to firefighters' families. I have seen the devastation that happens when a member of their family who was a police officer or firefighter died in the line of duty. There is no compensation in so many cases. I have heard of families having to sell their homes. I have heard of families giving up thoughts of their children going off to school. That is all because Conservatives steadfastly and stubbornly refuse to bring in the public safety officer compensation fund.
We are not talking about a lot of money. It is a small payout for families who have lost a loved one, someone who has given their life for the country. Conservatives have really slapped the faces of police officers and firefighters by refusing to bring that in.
The NDP has always supported a public safety officer compensation fund similar to the one in the United States. In 2015, when we replace the government, we will be bringing in a public safety officer compensation fund so that those families will be taken care of. Canadians can be sure of that.
At the same time, there are crime prevention programs. That is another bill that we could have seen instead of Bill . No government has cut back as much on crime prevention as the Conservative government.
We have seen the closure of crime prevention programs across the country because the government has refused to adequately fund crime prevention. It is a no-brainer. The reality is that for every $1 we put into crime prevention programs, we save $6 in policing costs, court costs and prison costs later on, yet the government has cut back on crime prevention programs. It is absurd.
Here are three of the things we could have seen instead of Bill .
We could have seen actual enhancement of the number of front-line officers--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Peter Julian: That is okay, Mr. Speaker. I do not mind Conservatives heckling. It just shows how sensitive they are to the corruption and the criminal activity that the public is denouncing across the country.
The Conservatives could have put in place a public safety officer compensation fund. That would have been a good bill to see. As well, they could have restored the cuts they made on the crime prevention program. Instead of that, what they did was present this flawed bill. This, as well, flies in the face of the legal system. The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that programs like InSite should exist.
Why was InSite put into place in the first place? It was put into place because of the escalating number of overdose deaths in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, skyrocketing up to several hundreds. The community responded by putting in place InSite, with the support of the city, the province, the health authority and the community. I mentioned earlier in speaking to my colleague from that it was with the support of over 80% of the public in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
The Supreme Court, tested by this, as the government wanted to shut the thing down, said yes, that there was definitely a place for this, not only because it was good for crime reduction, not only because it had reduced overdose deaths by 35%, but because it made good policy sense. That is what the Supreme Court ruled.
Again, we have a government that likes to slap the law in the face. It is not just police officers who receive its bad treatment, and not just Parliament, where we see regularly the disrespect for democratic institutions, but it is also a Supreme Court judgment that clearly stated that a program like InSite was beneficial for the community.
Instead of responding to that, the government brought forward Bill . It would allow the minister to shut the whole thing down. Does that make sense when there has been a 35% reduction in overdose deaths? Does that make sense when we have actually seen an overall reduction in crime? Does that make sense when we talk about thousands of referrals to the whole issue around addiction programs?
This has also not been treated well by the government, but when thousands of people have been referred to addiction program to be weaned off drugs, how the government has approached this issue does not make sense, not at all. Here we have a community that is in support of a program, that has reduced the crime rate and reduced overdose deaths and increased referrals to addiction treatment programs, but the government says that it will shut the damned thing down. It does not make sense from our point of view. It does not make sense from the public's point of view.
We are debating this bad bill now, but I, like so many others across the country, can hardly wait for 2015 when we finally get the chance to throw this corrupt, tired, criminal government out of office and put in place an NDP government in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, I am proud to carry on the debate on the important discussion of InSite and injection sites.
Although I was born in Holland, I was raised in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. I understand all too well what the east end of Vancouver was like in the 1960s and 1970s. It was not the greatest thing, because one saw a tremendous amount of people, for a variety of reasons, with severe drug or alcohol addictions. There were folks down there from all walks of life. It was an extremely unfortunate circumstance as a young man to witness the tragedy of what happened to these people's lives.
Fast forward to years later, and we have InSite.
I am the first person, along with everybody else in the House, who would encourage every Canadian not to use illicit drugs whatsoever. That is the main principle, but it is very difficult to get people off illicit drugs if they are in the back alleys, street corners, throughways, under bridges, or anywhere else.
The best way to get to these people is to show them compassion and the dignity of their lives. They may be on the bottom rung of the ladder, in a deep hole where they keeping digging it deeper and see no way out with the exception of an overdose or possible suicide. It is the Canadian people, the good people of Vancouver, east end Vancouver, and former municipal and provincial politicians who had the insight to come up with InSite. They were able to get these people off the streets and into a shelter. Even though they were still using drugs, there was an ability to work and consult with them to get them off the drugs and allow them to become productive members of our society.
On the other hand, we can just ignore the problem. They will be back on the streets, under bridges and in vacant lots, but then we will have the paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and social caseworkers going in when the situation has gone too far.
I know everybody in the NDP, Conservative Party, Liberal Party and other parties here are very clear that we do not want young people or anyone resorting to illicit drugs of any kind. However, when that situation arises, it is best to get them off the street to a place where they can be safe and get counselling. They can then understand that there is hope and a possibility that life can be better for them.
InSite is all about that. Injection sites are all about that. It is to show the compassion and love that we have for these individuals who are going through a very severe and difficult time.
Some of these folks may have come from the aboriginal community, some may have gone through a divorce, some may have psychological or physical problems, and some may have come from our police, firefighter, or veteran community. We do not know where these people have come from, and to be honest, I really do not care. All I see is a human being.
A lot of my Conservative colleagues over there profess to be of the Christian faith. I ask them this: what is the Christian thing to do in this regard? It is to reach out with an open hand and show the compassion and love that these people deserve in order to turn their lives around, and there is a lot of evidence of where this has happened.
My great colleague, the representative for for the past sixreen and a half years, has been in the forefront of this struggle. She has represented Vancouver East with great pride and honour and with great distinction. We are very proud to have her, one day in cabinet, but right now in our caucus. She is an outstanding human being who understands the situation probably better than anybody else in the country or in Parliament.
With that, I will resume this most vital discussion shortly after question period.