The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, and of the amendment.
Madam Speaker, it is my turn to speak to Bill , the second time I am doing so under the pressure of time allocation. I wanted to point that out because, the first time, I had prepared a speech that I wanted to share with my colleagues, but unfortunately, I did not have time, because the government felt it necessary to impose a gag order.
Bill has moved through all kinds of situations since the government introduced it. The official opposition totally agrees that urgent action is needed to address the opioid crisis. I think we share many of the same opinions and that we agree on most aspects of this bill. However, we raised a few concerns, particularly with regard to consulting the communities involved.
We had suggested splitting the bill so that we could act quickly and unanimously pass the most important parts of the bill in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the government refused our proposal. I therefore do not think that we can be blamed for any delays or the many gag orders imposed on consideration of this bill.
I think that my take on Bill will help my colleagues see it in a different light. I believe that the problem we are currently seeing in Canada is an urban one. My riding is in a rural region and in our community we do not have this same need for injection sites. In my speech I will explain why this type of application does not really concern the smaller centres and rural regions as much as the larger centres. This problem must absolutely be addressed in order to improve the lives of Canadians across the country in large centres and rural regions alike.
As I was saying, Bill has some positive aspects, but also some negative aspects. First, the bill erodes the Respect for Communities Act, which was put in place to ensure that communities are consulted before an exemption is granted to a supervised consumption site. Under Bill C-37, a supervised consumption centre can be approved if it meets five criteria. Previously, 26 criteria needed to be met.
Furthermore, the bill changes the discretionary 90-day public consultation period to a discretionary period not to exceed 90 days. This means that a consultation period may not necessarily be obtained, whereas it was previously required.
These are some of the elements that could have been dealt with in a second bill. That would have given members from all parties the opportunity to comment on this possibility.
However, I must say that Bill has many positive aspects. The bill gives the Canada Border Services Agency the power to open any international mail, no matter the weight, should there be reasonable grounds to do so. Previously, the Agency had to have permission to open suspicious packages weighing less than 30 grams. With the spike in parcel post deliveries, I think that this is a necessary and welcome change.
The bill also gives the Canada Border Services Agency the power to seize any unregistered pill presses at the border. These presses allow criminal organizations to manufacture opioid pills that are subsequently distributed on the black market and that are causing considerable harm everywhere in Canada.
Prohibitions and sanctions will now apply to the possession, production, sale, importation, and transportation of anything intended to be used in the production of any controlled substance, including fentanyl. Once again, this is an absolutely essential component that we must absolutely pass. That is why we are not criticizing this provision. We think this needs to become law as soon as possible.
The bill also authorizes the minister to temporarily add to a schedule to the act substances that the minister has reasonable grounds to believe pose a threat to public health or safety.
Of course, public health is of paramount concern to us.
There was a way to pass these measures very quickly that could have helped a lot of Canadians and communities. We have to find a solution because this is not an easy problem to solve. We will not be able to fix the fentanyl problem overnight, nor any other hard drug problem. At least we were on the right track.
Now what about this citizen consultation part? It is clear to us that we must oppose any measure that would limit the people's right to be consulted prior to a supervised injection site being set up.
Bill has serious flaws, and the Senate talked about them. First of all, the bill does not make any mention of prevention. Second, there are omissions regarding the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Finally there is also nothing in the bill about making communities aware of the safe injection sites to be approved.
If we open supervised injection sites and make those sorts of changes in communities, it is important that we tell people about it. They need to know why we are doing that and what advantages and disadvantages such a site will have for their community. Not all of the impacts of these sites are positive. The establishment of supervised injection sites will also have negative consequences for some cities in Canada. It is therefore important that the people affected know about all the potential impacts, both positive and negative.
Personally, what I find quite worrisome is that there is no mention whatsoever of the friends and family of hard drug users. They too endure terrible and terrifying experiences. They see their young or not-so-young children who are addicted to these drugs being left to their own devices in big cities. We have seen examples of this in recent years.
In her question, my colleague from said that these drugs have caused many overdose deaths in her riding. That is terrible. Imagine how the families of these victims must feel. Family members of drug addicts feel so powerless, and they are left completely on their own.
In order to remedy this situation, I do not think it is enough to help people take drugs in a safe way. We also need to help their families because, even though family members try to do whatever they can to help the drug addict, they often feel helpless and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. The people they are trying to help, their loved ones who are addicted to hard drugs, cannot overcome their addiction alone.
There is also nothing on access to legal drugs. In other words, these injection sites are not being required to offer an alternative to the people who go there. I am not saying that these people should be forced to undergo treatment or fill out a 25-page questionnaire before they can use a centre's services. They do not have to write a single word. I just want there to be resources available on the premises to help these people turn things around when they are ready to.
People who are concerned enough about their health to go to a supervised injection site might be the most likely to want to turn their lives around one day. Why insist on not requiring these sites to offer an alternative? It would be on a voluntary basis because, if they are required to jump through all sorts of hoops, people will stop going to the site and the problem will linger.
It would have been a good idea to think about these important issues. The opposition proposed amendments on this, but unfortunately they were rejected.
The Senate also proposed similar amendments, but unfortunately, the government wants to defeat them. We can come back to this later.
Bill is about supervised injection sites. As I said in my introduction, at first glance, many Canadians think this problem affects only big cities. Many people feel less concerned if they come from an area like Thetford Mines or one of Canada's rural regions, because we do not have these kinds of problems in small communities.
However, where do young people from Thetford Mines go? Where do young people from rural areas go when they are desperate and have no job, and where do they become the most vulnerable? For the most part, they go to the big city.
The transition from a rural area, where everyone knows everyone, to a big city, where you become anonymous, is a huge change and it exposes people to all kinds of different influences and experiences. If the life they find in the big city does not live up to their hopes and dreams, it might be easy for some to turn to all kinds of hard or soft drugs for answers. That is how mortality rates have achieved the levels we are seeing now in large urban centres.
This problem is not exclusive, then, to large urban centres. We must all be concerned and do our part to help, whether we live in a town like Thetford Mines, which I must not call a village, because my constituents would not be happy, or in a small village in the Appalaches RCM.
Bill was necessary and must pass as soon as possible, but we cannot proceed without thinking of the people who will be directly affected by these centres. We also cannot proceed without thinking about the prevention, rehabilitation, and support we are going to provide to the people who use these centres and their loved ones. We must also think about the support we should provide to the communities that will have to live with these supervised injection sites.
The first time that I wanted to speak about the opioid problem and Bill , I did a bit of research because, as I mentioned, in Thetford Mines, in the riding of Mégantic—L'Érable, this is not a problem we deal with on a daily basis. We do not find needles on the ground everywhere. This does not seem to be a drug of choice in rural communities, or at least not where I come from.
Last year, I had the opportunity to go to Vancouver for an NDP convention. By mistake, we went through a tough neighbourhood, where we saw people living in misery. I saw them with my own eyes, and I could not understand how this could happen to them and how we could abandon these people without doing anything about it. It hurts when we come face to face with reality for the first time. It was a real wake-up call.
I read up on fentanyl, carfentanyl, and all the opioids we have been talking about for so long to better understand the issues. I found two or three definitions of carfentanyl on greenshield.ca, and I would like to share one of them with the members of the House of Commons because it is important for people to really understand the situation:
|| Carfentanil is adding to the Canadian opioid crisis. Although carfentanil is a synthetic opioid like oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin, it is an animal tranquillizer for livestock and elephants with no safe application for humans. It is considered about 100 times more potent than fentanyl, 10,000 times more potent than morphine, and 4,000 times more potent than heroin.
That is what the mafia is putting in the drugs it sells to the most disadvantaged members of our society so that they become even more addicted and ask for more.
They say that the risk of overdose is very high. Experts warn that inhaling an amount of carfentanil that is smaller than a snowflake could trigger a fatal overdose. Officials suspect that carfentanil has probably been in Canada as long as fentanyl, but only recently have there been successful seizures of carfentanil.
Law enforcement officials suspect that fentanyl and carfentanil are mass-manufactured in China, where sellers easily conceal the drugs inside boxes of things like urine testing strips or generic vitamins. In fact, buying fentanyl online on the international market and having it delivered is just as easy as ordering vitamins.
GSC says that, after making the trip from China to the United States, the drugs make their way north to Canada. Recently, several states and a number of provinces experienced a wave of overdoses and deaths. What is worrisome is that, in June 2015, there was a seizure in Vancouver of a one-kilogram package of carfentanil bound for Calgary. That is enough carfentanil for approximately 50 million fatal doses. This is a very real problem.
Once again, I rise today in the House to help my colleagues who do not represent big cities gain a better understanding of the scope of the problem. I think it is important to talk about this. As I have already said, when our young people leave the regions and head to big cities, they can become vulnerable. They hope to find something better. They might be forced to deal with this situation and this reality and do not always have the tools to do so.
According to the website www.greenshield.ca, getting carfentanil and fentanyl onto the street is pretty easy. They are affordable and yet very powerful drugs. Apparently, they are so powerful that first responders now have to wear gloves and masks to avoid accidentally ingesting even the tiniest amount of the drug.
When we hear figures like the ones cited by my colleague, we cannot remain indifferent or pretend that this is not happening. We must take action on this, and Bill is a good start.
Earlier, I was talking about all the people affected by drug problems: drug users, parents, brothers, sisters, and so on. What resources are out there for them? In my riding, a group called Action toxicomanie serves the RCMs of Arthabaska, l'Érable, and Drummond.
I want to connect this to the marijuana legalization bill. Although not all marijuana users end up using hard drugs, the possibility clearly exists. We know that organized crime will not stop making money just because it will not be making money off marijuana anymore. Organized crime will not go away, and neither will marijuana. How will organized crime make its money? I hope it will not be making money from other drugs, which it has started doing with fentanyl and carfentanil. That is why we have to be so careful.
I want to talk about the work that community groups, such as Action toxicomanie in my riding, are doing in terms of prevention. Even before supervised injection sites become a factor, prevention is super important.
There are many things I would like to talk about, still. However, in closing, I would like to say that I support the amendments proposed by the Senate. I support the work of my colleague, the member for , on the carfentanil issue and his efforts to ensure that people can be consulted and that users of supervised injection sites can have access to resources and pharmaceuticals to prevent the use of these drugs. In my opinion, this is crucial and it is the reason why I support the amendment by my colleague from Oshawa.
Madam Speaker, this is indeed a very serious issue that we are debating today. I would like to maybe look at it from a few different perspectives.
First, I would like to compliment our first responders. There are many individuals involved in combatting this issue, and I want to pay special tribute to the first responders. Whether paramedics, ambulance services, firefighters, police, or law enforcement agents, they are often called to a scene not knowing what they are walking into. There are some fairly horrific circumstances that they can find themselves in. They do such an admirable job of saving lives and making a difference. It is important, as legislators, that we acknowledge the tremendous efforts of our first responders. They are indeed on the front line.
I have pointed out some of them. They are in our hospitals, in our emergency rooms, our social workers, and other individuals, who have carried the ball and operated on the front lines trying to deal with this crisis situation.
That is what it is. Canada is in a national health crisis today. It is happening in communities throughout our country. We have heard a good number of members talk about how serious and large the crisis is. We hear a lot about British Columbia and Alberta. However, we need to recognize that individuals are accidentally dying in all regions as a direct result of overdose.
I believe that all members of the House recognize this, and we all want to contribute in different ways. I know for some members of Parliament it is more of an issue because of the magnitude within their constituencies, while others are concerned because they understand the magnitude of the issue on a nationwide basis.
If we think of it in terms of the province of Ontario, for example, on average, over two people a day are dying because of accidental overdose of fentanyl or other opioids. That is tragic, but that is not the greatest percentage, as has been pointed out. British Columbia is probably the hardest-hit province. In my own province of Manitoba, I can recall, and it was not that long ago, a situation in a community that I represent, where three people were found at one place who had accidentally overdosed.
This issue is not only affecting inner cities of large cities, it is taking place in our communities, both urban and rural. It is not just the poor areas of our urban centres; it is also our suburbs. This is an issue that has touched all different social and economic stratas in one way or another.
That is why I am very pleased with the government's approach. Virtually since taking office, our has recognized the magnitude of this crisis. She has taken a number of actions that have gone a long way in better educating people about it, and ultimately saving lives.
I want to talk about that in a bit, but, for now, I want to give a little backgrounder. It was not that long ago that I was sitting on the other side of the House and I was talking about the Vancouver Insite injection site. It was established, I believe in 2003 or 2004. Over the years, the site has saved thousands of lives because of its very existence. It is important that we recognize how it came into being.
This Insite location was not just a flash in the pan. In fact, there was a great deal of dialogue that occurred, at all different levels of government. It occurred in terms of the community getting engaged, and by many different professionals who had to deal with accidental overdoses. There was a great deal of brainstorming, a lot of community outreach, and there was a need for different levels of government to co-operate in order to see it happen.
I can recall sitting on the other side a couple of years ago, saying that we have a situation in a community in Canada that wants to develop a safe injection site to assist in preventing accidental overdoses of heroin and other potentially life-threatening drugs. The problem was that there was no legal framework in place that would allow for that injection site to exist. This would have been in the Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien era. In British Columbia, civic politicians worked with community members and developed the idea that Ottawa would give Insite the opportunity to open its doors, recognizing that it was in violation of our laws in terms of the injection of illegal drugs. The exemption was allowed in order for this injection site to be located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
For years, it was operational and doing quite well. It emphasized issues such as harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. It advocated for these things, and it opened its doors to individuals who felt the need to use the facility. Had that facility not been opened in 2003-04, there would have been thousands of lives that would have been lost as a result.
Over the years of its existence, we found that it has been exceptionally well utilized. Research shows that thousands of referrals went to other types of agencies, such as non-profit agencies and government. I believe it assisted in changing the direction of many lives that would not have continued if that site were not in existence. That has been lost in the debate thus far. We talk today about how we can help more, when we have an injection site that has had a profound and positive impact in a community that was in real need.
The Stephen Harper government made a policy decision to discourage safe injection sites.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Madam Speaker, the member across the way clapped, and I would like to challenge the Conservative Party as to why they are adamantly opposed to something that has been so successful for Canadians as whole.
If members did the research and checked with medical practitioners and social workers to get a sense of the results Insite in Vancouver has had, they could not possibly say it is bad thing. Not only has it saved lives, it has also redirected lives. In many ways, it has helped the communities. The Conservative Party wants to overlook or turn a blind eye to the many positive things. I find that unfortunate.
When the Liberals were in opposition, the Conservatives were making it more and more difficult to give any consideration to any new sites being located elsewhere in Canada. Members will recall that they they brought in legislation and the bill was debated at second reading. The government had to bring in time allocation. When it got to committee, we listened to the reports being presented and we got a very clear indication of why this was of such great value to our communities, moving forward not backward on the issue.
True to form, the Conservative Party pushed the issue until the legislation ultimately passed. Then, to no surprise, after the election, there was a pilot project of sorts, Insite, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has been demonstrated to be a huge success. Now we have legislation before us that will enable other communities, where it has been deemed necessary, to establish similar sites.
The Conservatives are preaching fear. They are trying to say that the government is really proposing to have all these injection sites scattered throughout our country in all the different regions and communities. They are saying that there is going to be flood of these injection sites. That has not been our experience to date and the Conservatives know this is not the reality of the situation.
Let there be no doubt that with this legislation, we will enable communities, such as Montreal and others that believe their communities would benefit by having a safe injection site, to have that opportunity.
The Conservatives like to say that it should be community based and community driven. That is a given. That is in fact what does take place. Communities do work together. There are stakeholders in different communities. Where there is a justified need, we could possibly see one appear.
We are not talking about hundreds, which the Conservatives try give the impression. It will be based on the desires and needs of different stakeholders, different communities. I suspect it will be well-thought out before we see an injection site put in place. This is not determined overnight. There are a great many experts who get engaged on issues of this nature.
As I indicated, when we were in opposition, there were lengthy debates on this. Ultimately, it even went to the Senate. The Harper government was able to make it law. However, no one should be surprised that with a new government, we are taking an approach that is based on science and based on what is healthy for our communities. It is not just about what the Liberal Party thinks.
Since day one, the has recognized the very serious nature of this issue. She has worked with caucus colleagues and with members on both sides of the House to come to grips with this problem to see what we can do as a national government. The single biggest thing we could do, beyond the legislation itself, is to demonstrate national leadership on the issue, and we have done that.
We have worked with the provinces and municipalities and have come up with some special funding arrangements where the crisis is so great. There are about $10 million for British Columbia and several million dollars for Alberta. This money will go a long way toward saving lives.
The has had national conferences, many different meetings, whether one on one or with different stakeholders and provincial counterparts. There has been a great deal of dialogue on this issue. Interestingly enough, the only group I am aware of that has taken the position that this is a bad thing is the Conservative Party of Canada. It does not want this legislation to pass. Provinces and their regimes seem to recognize the value of what is being done here.
I would ask my Conservative colleagues across the way to look into the issue in more depth and get a better understanding of what constituents want. I believe my constituents would want a proactive approach in dealing with this health issue. It is best dealt with by working with others to try to make a difference. If we are successful, we will save lives.
From what I understand, more people die from fentanyl and opioids in the province of Ontario than those who die in fatal vehicle accidents. Three or more people will die on average every day in the province of British Columbia from drug overdose. Two people a day will die in the province of Alberta. People are dying all across the country from drug overdoses. Passing this legislation will not prevent people from dying, but it is part of a more comprehensive package that will make a difference.
I will give my NDP colleagues credit for the fact that they have recognized how important it is that we take this action. It is not very often we get co-operation when we try to get legislation passed through the House. However, we saw that at second reading ,when the legislation was in the House for debate for the first time. We are seeing it again today. The leader of the Green Party has also recognized the importance of this issue.
In reflecting on the community which I represent, it is not good enough for us to close our eyes out of fear of taking action. We can do better at fighting the problem of drug abuse that is facing our communities and our country as a whole. No community is exempt from drug abuse. If we can take initiatives that will make a difference, that will save lives, that will possibly put people on another course, then we should be bold enough to take them.
I would ask all members to support Bill , send it back to the Senate, and make this the law of Canada.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I have to admit that speaking to Bill is difficult. I want to try to clear the air. I remember listening to this debate initially when it first came up in the House and certainly sitting through much of the debate today, and one thing I want to address is the misperception that because we are speaking out on this issue as Conservative members, somehow we do not believe that the fentanyl crisis is a crisis and do not think it is an issue.
The numbers are staggering. We are looking at 340 accidental fentanyl overdoses in Alberta last year and 650 in B.C. We heard from the that it could very well be 1,400 in 2017. We are in a crisis when it comes to the opioid abuse that is happening, especially in western Canada, but it is definitely sweeping into other parts of the country as well.
We have spoken today about the numbers, but I think most of us in this House, or many of us, understand this is more than just numbers. My colleague from has obviously been fighting very hard on this issue.
This is something that has hit very close to my home. I have a rural Alberta riding. I know that many people do not assume that such an issue like this is a rural issue, that it is more an urban issue that is affecting our big cities, but that is simply not the case.
Unfortunately, I have attended a couple of funerals over the last few months of friends, acquaintances who have died of fentanyl overdoses, and these are in our small rural Alberta communities. Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta had 18 overdoses over a period of just a month last year. This has hit very close to my community. Unfortunately, my family and our friends have been impacted by the fentanyl crisis.
Unfortunately, some of the members opposite have put it out there that because we are speaking out about this issue and raising some concerns with Bill somehow we are cold-hearted and are not understanding the impact this fentanyl crisis is having on Canadians. That makes me extremely frustrated and angry, because all of us understand what is going on and how serious this issue is.
We are fighting as hard as we possibly can as parliamentarians, as we should, to make sure we are doing the best for Canadians. Our communities across Canada are looking toward us as parliamentarians to stand up and do something about this crisis. We are doing that, but we cannot just do that without also being the voice for our communities.
My rural communities understand that the fentanyl crisis is impacting all of us in southern Alberta, but my communities are also saying that they want us to ensure they have a voice at the table. When it comes to selecting safe injection sites, I have to admit I was really surprised when councils from communities as small as Stavely, Alberta, are writing me letters saying that it is not that they disagree with safe injection sites; their concern is they want to ensure that they have consultation on whether their community wants it or does not, and if it does, they want input on where it goes. I do not think that is out of line.
I think our municipalities and the governments that are closest to the issue understand what is going on in their communities much better than the in Ottawa, and I mean no offence to the health minister. I appreciate the Liberals' taking the effort to get Bill going, because we have to do something. As I said, Canadians are expecting us to do something. I think Canadians are frustrated because they do not think we have done enough, and I have to agree with them. This is not something that is going away.
Unfortunately, we are having this debate here today when in February, this could have been moved that much quicker. We put a motion on the floor to split this bill in half, to give the CBSA additional powers to address the trafficking into Canada—the bulk of fentanyl and carfentanil comes from China—and the tools to better enforce our borders, and also to give the additional tools to address new and dangerous drugs.
Those are the things that we wanted to move quickly. We wanted to try to start saving lives immediately. All we asked was that the portion of Bill that dealt with safe injection sites be split off so that we could have further discussions about that. I was extremely frustrated to see the Liberals and the NDP vote against that motion, not once but twice.
I am a father of three. I have seen what fentanyl does to the kids in my communities. My kids have come home and told me about the issues that they have at their schools and in their friendship groups. We need to do something now, not later.
I appreciate that Bill is a first step, but as parliamentarians, we had an opportunity to do the right thing in February and we failed. Today, when we have an opportunity to further discuss what our communities are asking us to discuss, which is safe injection sites, the Liberals, supported by the NDP, passed a time allocation motion to cut off debate on this issue. Debate has now been cut off in the House of Commons and at committee stage. They are the ones who are telling us, as Conservatives, that we do not care, but really the message is that the Liberals and the NDP do not care about what our communities think about this issue.
My communities have been especially vocal. It is not about whether they believe that fentanyl is an issue and it is not about whether they believe that safe injection sites are one tool to address this; they want to have a say. They want to have input on how this will look, and right now, no matter what the people opposite are saying, they do not feel that this is the case. They do not feel, with the way that Bill looks, that they would have genuine consultation in this process.
It is not just my town councils and village councils, but also my local RCMP members. They also feel that they need a say in how this would work. My feeling is that if we want safe injection sites to be successful, we must have community buy-in. If we do not have community buy-in, they are not going to be successful. They are not going to do what they potentially can do.
The other issue that is not included in Bill , which I think is another area where we have fallen woefully short, is there is nothing in here that stipulates resources for mental health and addictions counselling. That is something that has come up extremely loud and clear in my communities. It is very difficult to access those services in southwest and rural Alberta. I do not want to speak for other urban centres, but people close to Calgary have those opportunities. They are much closer and more accessible. In rural communities, it is extremely difficult.
To me, Bill is a good first step, but the big focus of this bill is on dealing with the consequences of the fentanyl crisis. I think our focus has to be on the root cause of the fentanyl crisis, and that is the addiction to these opioids and the ability of traffickers to get easy access to these drugs. It is ridiculously easy to buy these drugs.
Some of my communities are not near any urban centre, but many of my rural communities in the southern most part of Alberta are feeling this the most. They are nowhere near Calgary. We cannot just assume that this is an urban Canada problem.
I am not saying that my colleagues are making that assumption, but this is something that we have to be extremely aware of.
That is the focus of my disappointment. We are arguing about something that we could have addressed months ago, but we did not. This is not partisanship. From my own personal experience, I can say that this has nothing to do with political parties; it is about doing the right thing for Canadians. They are looking to us as parliamentarians to do the right thing, to step up and take action on a crisis that is killing our communities. I do not think we can understate that. They are looking to us, as their elected officials, to take action. I think we have failed them, and we need to take a more active approach in doing something about the fentanyl crisis.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am pleased to rise again to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
As a member of Parliament from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I certainly can say that we have seen this crisis for a very long time. I am glad that the has come forward to look at this issue. I would say that the community does want more to be done. This is an epidemic and I feel very strongly that we as legislators must do something. We must to anything we can to protect our kids, to protect our communities, and to protect the life of these individuals who are affected by this public health emergency. When there are close to 1,000 people dying from opioid overdoses in a single province in a single year, we need everyone involved to assist in mitigating that crisis.
When Bill came before the House in December 2016, it was tabled two days before the House rose for Christmas. I remember thinking that this piece of legislation should have been tabled months earlier, because there were some extremely important tools and changes in the bill that needed to be implemented immediately. Those had to do with the banning of the importation of unregistered pill presses, providing CBSA officers with more powers to open suspicious packages to stop the flow of fentanyl and carfentanil into Canada from China, and broadening the penalties to apply to the production, sale, importation, or transportation of anything intended to be used in the production of a controlled substance, including fentanyl.
There were other parts of this legislation that were more problematic and needed to be given more time for debate and more time for the opportunity for some amendments to come forward. I am talking about the legislative changes included in Bill that facilitated easier access to opening the injection and consumption sites in communities. In particular, there was the lack of community, police, and municipal consultation or notice in the legislation. That is why we as the Conservative opposition put forward a motion to separate the bill into two bills. One bill would have addressed all of the urgently needed measures and had unanimous support of the House and the other bill would allow parliamentarians and Canadians to have a bit more time to gather data and have a look at our communities to determine what we need to do and to look at the legislation and amendments.
It was absolutely astonishing that unfortunately, politics came into play and that motion was voted down. We could have had all of those measures in place right now.
We also wanted to hear from some expert witnesses on this issue at committee. Again, the Liberals opted not to hear from any witnesses whatsoever on the legislation and proceeded straight through to clause-by-clause study. Again, the Conservative opposition put forward amendments to the bill. They were common sense amendments, such as, obtaining letters indicating support or opposition from a municipality or a local police force, that all households within a two kilometre radius of a proposed site be notified and given the ability to offer up opinions whether they are in support or opposition, and information to be provided regarding schools, hospitals, day care centres, recreation facilities within that two kilometre radius. A defined period of time for public input and consultation, a minimum of 40 days and maximum of 90 days, would be given. Again, all of those amendments were voted down by the Liberal-dominated health committee.
The bill passed and went to the upper chamber, where amendments were made and the legislation was sent back to this House. It is now May 2017. It has been six months since the Liberals tabled this legislation and here we are debating the legislation that could have been passed through the Senate.
What part of the bill did the Senate take issue with? It was the lack of community consultation regarding injection site rule changes. That means none of the measures that had received unanimous consent from all sides of this House and the Senate have been passed.
I want to highlight the fact that had the Liberals put politics aside earlier and voted in favour of splitting the bill, those proposed pieces of legislation would be in place now, and CBSA would have the additional powers to stop fentanyl and carfentanil from coming into Canada. As well the ban on the importation of unregulated pill presses would be in place. However, these measures are still not in place and because of the importation of pills and powders, dozens of Canadian lives are being taken each and every day.
Today we are talking about three amendments made by the Senate to Bill , after the Senate held five committee meetings and heard from 22 expert witnesses on this legislation.
The first amendment would ensure that there is a minimum community consultation period of 45 days prior to the approval of an injection site.
The second one would set up a citizens advisory committee of five to 10 volunteers who would be responsible for advising the approved injection site of any public concerns, including public health and safety. This is something that every community would want to support. The committee would also provide the minister with yearly updates on these matters.
The third amendment would direct those working at the site to offer users alternative pharmaceutical therapy rather than their consuming street drugs.
I was very pleased to see these amendments come from the Senate. Clearly it showed the upper chamber listened to the concerns around the issues and the lack of community consultation regarding the injection site and attempted to address some of these concerns yet again.
I am glad to hear that the Liberal government is supporting the first amendment from the Senate. I was a mayor for almost a decade, and I can say that if we do not consult with the community and do not have community buy-in on these very difficult issues, then it is doomed to fail. There must be a minimum amount of time for consultation, the gathering of information, and for input.
I am, however, very disappointed that the Liberals oppose the second amendment from the Senate. We have to look at the community as a whole and support those in need, as well as ensure that the community has a voice. Establishing an advisory committee, such as the one proposed by the Senate, would ensure that the community is engaged in an ongoing way, that it has a mechanism to voice its concerns, its support, any developing issues, and whether the site is actually working in that particular area of the community or not. It is not clear why the Liberals are so against giving communities a voice that would no doubt be very significant in any community, whether it is a large community or a small community.
On the third amendment, I find the Liberals' position somewhat baffling, because any injection or consumption site absolutely must offer an alternative to those who are using its services. Again, it is helping the individual. However, the Liberal government has changed the wording in this amendment. This has to be about saving lives.
These amendments would save lives. They would help the communities come together. This is an issue affecting all of us.
The motion put forward by the member for to accept these amendments would provide legislation that really could have assisted, but again, the Liberals continue to refuse to allow communities a voice.
Thousands of Canadians have died from opioid overdoses. The families are affected, as are the schools, the friends, the children, the first responders, and the community at large. I look at this list. There is a mother who lost her two children within 20 minutes of each other. They were both in their twenties. Jordan was 21. Ryan was 23. Kelsey was 24. David was 21. Danny was 25. Scott was 21. Tyler was 23. These are young kids. There have to be alternatives. There has to be a community coming together and looking at this in a very holistic way. On this side of the House, that is all we want.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address the House today with respect to amendments adopted in the Senate to Bill , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts. I will take this opportunity to thank the Senate, the House, and their committees for their hard work in studying this bill.
I will never forget last summer, when over one weekend in July, the city of Surrey had more than 60 fentanyl overdoses within a 48-hour stretch. This was a wake-up call for residents of Surrey—Newton and many across all of Surrey, as it shed light on how bad the opiate addiction crisis had become.
Following that horrible 48-hour stretch, my office called for an immediate emergency summit. The summit was attended by representatives of all three levels of government, including Surrey-based members of Parliament and members of the Legislative Assembly, irrespective of their political stripes. We gathered together front-line workers, such as Darlene Bowyer of the Surrey Association of Sustainable Communities, Shayne Williams of Lookout Emergency Aid Society, and Brenda Locke and Mike Musgrove of Surrey Urban Mission.
We had health care officials, such as Dr. Mark Tyndall of the UBC Centre for Disease Control; Shovita Padhi representing Fraser Health authority; and Clayton Pecknold, director of police services, representing the law enforcement community; and Tonia Enger, B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
We listened that day to the stories of those who were dealing with this crisis first-hand, every day of the week. We heard about how fentanyl is an opiate narcotic that is prescribed for cancer patients to treat their pain. I learned about how it is 100 times more toxic than morphine and how it was responsible for more than half of the overdoses that occurred in British Columbia in 2015.
There is an ongoing crisis of opioid-related overdose deaths and the devastating impact that this is having on individuals and their families. Canadians are dying from drug overdoses in record numbers, with the majority of those overdoses associated with opioids. In a number of provinces, including my own British Columbia, opioid overdoses are surpassing motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death. It is evident that Canadians across the country are feeling the impact of this crisis. People from all walks of life are affected.
Substance use is an extremely complex issue, and effectively responding to it requires a comprehensive, coordinated approach. On that note, this bill was introduced in the House of Commons on December 12, 2016 by the . It is aligned with one of our government's key priorities, which is protecting the health and safety of Canadians. The legislation is driven by our government's goal of adopting a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy.
Bill would improve our government's ability to support the establishment of supervised consumption sites, a key harm reduction measure; address the illegal supply, production, and distribution of drugs; and reduce the use of controlled substances to the illicit market by improving compliance and enforcement tools.
Today, we are here to discuss amendments proposed by the Senate in three areas of the bill, to address the following issues: the period of time dedicated to public consultation as part of an application for a new supervised consumption site, the creation of a citizen advisory committee for supervised consumption sites, and the requirement that users of supervised consumption sites be offered alternative pharmaceutical therapy.
All aspects of this legislation are important, and we must act to pass Bill without delay. My comments today will focus on key legislative proposals to modernize the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act through a strengthening of law enforcement, and the government's ability to monitor, promote, and enforce compliance. These measures would reduce the risk of diversion of controlled substances used for legitimate purposes, such as prescription opioids, to the illegal market, which contributes to problematic substance use in Canada.
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act has been amended over the years since it came into force in 1997. However, it has not kept pace with changes seen in both the controlled substances industry and the illicit drug market.
A specific measure that this bill would employ to modernize compliance and enforcement is the alignment of inspection authorities with other federal legislation. More than 600 licensed dealers are regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, conducting activities with controlled substances for legitimate purposes.
Health Canada inspectors are currently only able to inspect sites where authorized activities with controlled substances or precursors take place. This legislation would allow Health Canada inspectors to enter places where they have reasonable grounds to believe there are activities with controlled substances. With these new powers, inspectors will also have the power to conduct follow-up visits with establishments whose licences have been suspended or revoked. These changes would not allow inspectors to enter private residences without consent of the occupant or a warrant. Cases would continue to be referred to law enforcement officers if Health Canada's inspectors believe that illicit activities are taking place.
Bill would further improve compliance and enforcement by providing the with the power to compel regulated parties to provide information regarding their activities with controlled substances. This authority could only be used to verify compliance with the act, to prevent non-compliance, and to address a public health or safety threat. Access to timely information would be of great benefit to the decision-making process when responding to public health or safety risks. This is the approach in other modernized legislation, for example, the Food and Drugs Act.
The bill would also provide the with the ability to establish an administrative monetary penalties scheme as a way of addressing non-compliance with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. For example, the department would be in a position to issue fines in cases where regulated parties do not follow required protocol, which would be a valuable addition to the tool kit at Health Canada's disposal in compliance promotion. These amendments would place the act in line with other Canadian regulatory frameworks, like the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, and the Pest Control Products Act.
Currently, Health Canada's options for compliance promotion include the sending of a warning letter, which is often ineffective, or the suspension or revocation of a licence, which may be too severe a penalty, since it could lead to a shortage of drugs used for legitimate medical purposes.
In addition, not all regulated parties are issued licences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Some are simply subject to requirements established in regulations under the act. While this legislation would allow an administrative monetary penalty scheme to be put in place, regulations would be required to exercise this power.
Another aspect of Bill would be to modernize the disposal process for seized controlled substances or any property related to a chemical offence. Current handling and disposition rules are cumbersome and complex. Law enforcement agencies are required to follow the time-consuming process of obtaining a court order and Health Canada approval before disposal can take place, which results in longer storage times. The storage and handling of seized materials of this type poses a risk to the health and safety of Canadians and is very costly. With the increase in seizures of dangerous, illicit opioids, these changes are more important now than ever before. To reduce the burden on courts, government, and law enforcement agencies, this bill introduces an expedited process for the disposal of seized materials. The proposed improvement would eliminate the need for a court order or Health Canada authorization.
Bill would also allow military police to be designated a police force under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This amendment would provide military police with a greater set of tools when investigating drug-related crimes on military bases.
Military police currently have the authority to enforce offences of a criminal nature within the jurisdiction of the Department of National Defence. However, they are not covered by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Police Enforcement) Regulations. The regulations allow the use of a full set of techniques, such as the possession and trafficking of drugs as part of an investigation. Without that authority, tools and techniques at the disposal of military police in the course of an active investigation are limited. RCMP support currently fills this gap, which is both inefficient and costly.
All these legislative proposals would contribute to the modernization of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, aiming to better balance the key objectives of protecting public health and maintaining public safety. This would be accomplished by better equipping health and law enforcement officials with the tools and authority needed to reduce the risk and harm linked to substance use in Canada.
The ultimate goal of Bill is to decrease the diversion of controlled substances to the illicit market, which is a significant contributor to Canada's opioid crisis. The problematic substance use situation we are facing as a country is an immense concern, and I stress the urgent need for the passage of this bill to help address it. I therefore urge all members of Parliament to support Bill C-37 and the amendments as a step towards ensuring the continued protection of the health and safety of Canadians.
I have been out on the ground talking to people, health professionals, and first responders. I want to thank all of them for the input they have provided over the past many months. People say that knowledge is power, and my knowledge comes from the grassroots that have brought this issue to this level.
All parliamentarians feel, whether they sit on this side or the other side of the House, that the opioid crisis a health crisis, and we have to deal with it immediately. I ask all members in the House to support the bill, and let us do it on a non-political basis.
Madam Speaker, last month brought with it a grim reminder for those struggling on the front lines of Canada's opioid crisis. April 14 was the one year anniversary of British Columba provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall's decision to declare the overdose epidemic a public health emergency in British Columbia. Unfortunately, despite a year of amplified efforts from municipalities, health professionals, and community volunteers, the overdose epidemic is getting worse across Canada, not better.
The first week of May marked the second time in less than a month that Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services reported more than 150 overdose calls in a week, responding to 168 calls. Vancouver police reported seven suspected overdose deaths for the same period.
That brings Vancouver's total to 148 lives lost to overdose so far in 2017, with 41 alone in April. Only January, with 47 suspected overdose fatalities, was deadlier in the history of British Columbia. The city is on pace to reach 400 overdose deaths this year, double the 2016 number, which was in itself a record. Overall, the province of British of Columbia is on pace for 1,400 overdose deaths in 2017; that again would be a 50% increase over last year.
In April, B.C.'s first responders once again broke the record for suspected overdose calls in a single day. BC Emergency Health Services says it responded to 130 suspected overdoses in the province on Wednesday, April 26, mere weeks ago. The previous record was 121, and that was on November 20, 2016.
Early in 2015, Downtown Eastside fire Hall No. 2 answered about 50 overdose calls a month. By December 2016, that had jumped to 438 as the opioid crisis deepened, according to data released by the city of Vancouver.
In total, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services reported 688 overdose calls in April, the highest on record this year and a 22% increase from March. Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services has now capped the time spent by firefighters at Hall No. 2 at one year to limit their emotional and physical burnout.
Vancouver's mayor Gregor Robertson has said he feels “incredible frustration and anger” at the preventable loss of life, and directed his comments at the federal and provincial governments. He said, “This crisis is B.C.’s most tragic public health emergency in decades, and yet urgent health-care interventions that could immediately save lives are not being facilitated.” City councillor Raymond Louie has described the situation as a disaster.
As the death toll increasingly mounts, it is difficult to understand exactly what the federal government is waiting for or how it can claim progress is being made. It is time for Ottawa to stop overstating this progress and start responding to this crisis with the urgency and resources that it deserves.
Despite repeated NDP attempts to fast-track Bill , the Senate delayed this critical life-saving legislation for three months. That is unacceptable in the midst of a national public health emergency.
In Canada, we had over 2,000 overdose deaths last year. That is an average of six Canadian lives lost every day. This means that in the past three months, while this bill has languished in the Senate, we should expect that at least 500 Canadians have died, perhaps preventable deaths, due to overdoses. However, given the escalation in fatal overdose rates so far in 2017, that number is likely even higher.
On the first day that the Vancouver-based facility Insite opened, it reversed 15 overdoses. Not all of those people would have died of course, but odds are that some of them would have if those overdoses had happened out on the street. Indeed, we have over a decade of clear and overwhelming evidence that supervised consumption sites save lives. There is not a shred of credible evidence to substantiate the baseless fearmongering that has shrouded this debate for too long.
Today, there will be 600 supervised injections at Insite and not one of them will result in a fatal overdose. No one has ever died of an overdose at Insite since it opened in 2003. In the immediate area around Insite, the 40 block area surrounding the facility, there has been a 35% decline in overdose deaths. People who use Insite on a regular basis are 30% more likely to enter addiction treatment.
The three months this bill unnecessarily was held up in the Senate has cost lives in our country, and that should be condemned.
In the end, I cannot imagine a more irresponsible way to respond to a health crisis than by wasting our time rehashing a settled debate on the efficacy of supervised consumption sites, when every day we delay their approval means more overdoses and more lives lost, yet after three months of delay, the Senate has now returned the bill to the House with three problematic amendments, motivated by those who, based on a narrow ideology, are opposed to supervised consumption sites, reject the clear evidence they save lives, and really want to obstruct or delay their opening.
These amendments, and the concepts behind them, were specifically raised, debated and rejected at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. They are not evidence based, they represent poor public health policy, and they are contrary to the very intent of the legislation.
I will deal with amendment 1.
Before it was amended, the bill set out a maximum 90-day consultation period with the public in order to allow the public to have its say on the site and location of the supervised consumption site. The amendment by the senators proposes to put in a minimum 45-day public consultation for these applications. There is only one reason someone would want to put in a minimum time for public consultations, and that is to slow down an application for a supervised injection site.
There is no doubt that this amendment, were it to pass, will slow down the approval process and hinder quick action in the case of emergency where we may have to open supervised consumption sites very quickly, as have volunteers and activists on the ground in Vancouver as we speak. Some people in Vancouver have opened what are called “overdose prevention clinics”, right now operating courageously outside the law because they know they are saving lives. They are risking their professional credentials. They are risking being arrested. They are risking running afoul of the law. However, they are not waiting around for an application to be approved by the minister. We have had none approved over the last several years, other than this weekend when finally two were approved in Montreal. They are opening these sites to save lives now, yet this amendment, which the Conservatives have put in, would delay the opening of a site even in an emergency basis. I will get to this in a moment, but to their everlasting disgrace, the Liberal government will support that.
Amendment 2 proposes that the minister may appoint a citizen advisory committee for each supervised consumption site. This is unnecessary and redundant because community consultation is already a core criterion in the main part of the bill. The amendment is an attempt to delay supervised consumption sites and try to create public opposition to them. Last, site decisions should be health based. Community input, as I have already stated, is already provided for in the body of the bill.
Finally, amendment 3 would require a person who is operating a safe injection site to offer what is called “alternative pharmaceutical therapy” to each person entering that facility before the person consumes a controlled substance. First, that provision is very likely unconstitutional and outside the power of the federal government. Second, it is unnecessary because treatment options are already part of harm reduction facilities. Had any of those senators bothered to go to Insite and tour that facility, they would have been told that all over that facility anyone entering it is exposed to treatment modalities of all types. Third, such an amendment would be counterproductive because it could have the effect of discouraging some clients from entering and using supervised consumption sites.
Do not take my word for it. When Bill was being debated before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, the Liberal members of that committee said what I just said.
The Liberal member for cautioned the committee. He said:
||...it's really important that we remember what we're doing here. This isn't designing the treatment programs and the whole care model around people with drug addictions. That's the province's responsibility.... What we're doing here is deciding who would be exempted from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act because of medical conditions.
On the 45-day minimum consultation, the Liberal member for told the committee:
|| I have a very quick point to the question that was asked about what the harm would be in 45 days [as a minimum consultation period] and whether it would matter.
|| The question I would ask in return is if there's an urgent enough need....the day that Insite opened, they reversed 15 overdoses. Multiply that by 45 potential deaths. Does that matter? I would say it does.
The Liberal member for reminded the committee of this. He said:
|| Time is of the essence when we are setting up these clinics. This amendment will constrain or tie the minister's hands for 45 days in terms of taking any action. Look at all the lives that may be lost in that delay.
It will be interesting to see if those members of the health committee, who sat with me when we heard from witnesses about the opioid overdose crisis due to a New Democrat amendment to study that very issue, will stand and vote with the New Democrats in opposing these three amendments that are contrary to the intent of the bill and actually make opening supervised consumption sites more difficult or more difficult for clients to access.
Those on the front lines of this crisis are unanimously opposed to these amendments because they know that they will delay the opening of critical public health facilities. Canada's New Democrats will stand with them, because we support sound, evidence-based health policy. We support these critical public health facilities that save lives. We therefore oppose these ill-advised amendments and we are deeply disappointed that the Liberal government would ignore evidence-based decision-making by agreeing to support any of them.
There is no reason to believe that this crisis is over, under control, or indeed will not continue to get worse with the proliferation of carfentanil in our communities. We need to fast-track the opening of supervised consumption sites and expand opioid substitution programs. We need better pain management regimens and substantial investments in addictions treatment across the board. These are needed to start the tectonic shift to transform how we think about addiction and to create better policies to address it after a decade of moralizing and criminalizing what is a public health issue.
First we must make long-term investments in mental health programs and addictions research. Canadian mental health experts, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, do not yet have an explicit understanding of the relationship between drug and mental health issues. Research identifying these associations will aid in defining the upstream mental health factors contributing to substance misuse. These factors can form the foundation of targeted and proactive mental health strategies, including community-based treatment and support programs for youth, indigenous people, women, and any other group that requires special support. Research shows that 70% of mental illness begins in childhood or adolescence, and those suffering are twice as likely to have a substance use problem.
In addition, national tracking of co-morbidity of mental illness and drug-related fatalities, similar to what is done in the U.S. and Australia, would enable faster access and a better understanding of trends for use in the development of targeted solutions.
In short, we need to know more, we need to invest more, and we need to devote more efforts to acquire the science and knowledge to address this public health crisis.
Second, we need substantial investments in addictions treatment across the board, and by that I mean significant new funding by all levels of government, in a myriad of modalities, for all distinct populations.
I will stop and point out that my Liberal colleague mentioned the $10 million given by the to British Columbia. That was in 2016. The current 2017 budget tabled in this House devotes zero dollars to address the emergency opioid overdose crisis in this country.
There is currently an unacceptably narrow portal for access to detox services and an appalling lack of publicly funded longer-term treatment beds. In Vancouver, where I have the privilege of representing a riding, it takes an average of eight days to access detox services. That is directly contrary to everything we know about addiction. If someone is willing to get treatment, we have to get them into treatment right away. If we wait even a day, that mom