Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand to speak to this bill. The bill really touches the tip of the iceberg with respect to these drugs.
I heard my colleague talk about how other parties were opposed to mandatory minimum sentences. From past experience, I know we have had mandatory minimums on a lot of crimes. Impaired driving is the most frequently charged Criminal Code offence, and has had mandatory minimums for a long time. This offence is equal to impaired driving.
This bill would address those people who bring drugs into the country for no purpose other than to provide them to younger people, typically, who perhaps do not realize what they are ingesting. Many times the drugs are a real danger to the first responders who attend: the police, the firefighters, and the ambulance and hospital staff.
Increasing the offences for people importing and exporting these controlled drugs and substances should just be the beginning. Everybody in here should be supportive of that. We face a rising tide of crime in relation to the public health crisis we are facing with opioids. Codeine, fentanyl, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and morphine have become household names as Canadians learn of the extent of this crisis and families suffer losses of their loved ones.
I truly wish that those people who are opposed to having mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who break this law, bring the drugs into the country and distribute them across the country could see how families are torn apart by these drugs.
Diverted pharmaceuticals, fentanyl purchased from China, and stolen horse tranquillizers are finding their way onto Canadian streets with fatal consequences. Most worrying of all is the speed with which illegal opioid sales have grown and the number of overdoses. To put things into perspective, the chief coroner for British Columbia told us at the health committee that the percentage of illicit drug deaths involving fentanyl increased from 5% in 2012 to 60% in 2016. If that is not enough to wake up everybody in the House to the fact that we need to do something to get mandatory minimums in place, I do not know what will wake them up.
It is not just a crisis that affects those who find themselves living without a home, but one that affects Canadians of all ages. Fifty-five thousand Canadian high school students indicated that they had abused opioid pain relievers in the past year. That is a tremendous number.
In Ontario, one in eight deaths of individuals aged 25 to 34 years was found to be opioid-related in 2010. That number will not go down; it will simply go up. Families are being destroyed, communities are being invaded, and all Canadians are experiencing reduced access to health and social services because of the resources required to fight this epidemic. This is a public emergency that hits close to home.
Organized crime has now found a foothold in places and at levels never seen before. When the other side wants to legalize marijuana and when we see what this has done, we can only project what the future will be for organized crime. Even for those people who live in areas free of dealers and opioid users, the effects of this drug in drug crime are still felt in people's access to services.
First responders have had to divert significant resources to address this crisis. Ambulance services, firefighters, police, and hospital emergency rooms are all having resources diverted to address this crisis. This means other crimes committed against local residents are not being investigated. It means ambulances resources are increasingly overworked as they respond to a spike in drug overdoses. It means firefighters now have to additionally consider the chance that what appears to be a simple residential fire may in fact be an illicit and contaminated drug lab, a danger to both their immediate safety and their long-term health.
This says nothing about the increased burden on social services that are already stretched due to the Liberal government's lack of support to local communities.
Mental health workers are already facing an uphill battle against criminal gangs continually pushing all kinds of harmful drugs into the community. If we are to help those most in need, then we also need to fight this crisis at its source and punish those who would wish to continue it. This would bring justice not only to those caught in addiction, but to the sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters already lost to these lethal street drugs.
I recognize that the opioid crisis is multi-faceted, but Bill C-338 is one key step in cutting off the source. I support the bill because criminal enterprises are not facing harsh enough sentences for diverting legitimate pharmaceuticals to illicit street drugs. Those pushing opioids into our streets and communities need to know that their actions will incur serious penalties.
The House is currently debating Bill C-307, which, through tamper-proof safeguards, would deny illegal manufacturers the easy ability to use legal prescriptions to create illicit substances. Cracking down on this prescription loophole would deter many Canadians from selling their prescriptions for easy profits. If we can increase the possibility of serious jail time for dealing illegal opioids, we can send a message to all criminal enterprises that Canada is a place they should not risk operating in.
I would be the first to admit that this one change would not solve the entire problem. A whole host of changes are required to stop opioids from ending up on our streets. Canada's physicians need to overhaul prescribing practices for opioids. Too many prescriptions are being exploited for criminal profit and manufacturing. We must ensure the quick implementation of measures to allow Canada Border Services Agency employees to check packages smaller than 30 grams, and we must ensure they are properly enforced, as called for by Conservative members. Enforcing this measure would ensure an end to the previously unlimited supply of fentanyl mailed in small packages from China.
The government must also ensure that once we have removed these opioids from the streets and placed the criminals behind bars, these same drugs do not end up infecting our prison populations as well. Canadian prisons are currently facing great problems in keeping these dangerous narcotics out. Correctional Service Canada has reported that now even fentanyl has found its way behind bars, as well as the overdoses connected with it. The government needs to ensure that Correctional Service officers have the proper equipment to deal with this rise in overdoses and do more to keep these drugs out of our prisons.
In conclusion, I would say that we need to tackle the source of this problem, which is the lack of treatment options for those with mental health issues, who, as a result, are left most susceptible to dealers and other criminals. If the ongoing mental health crisis is allowed to continue in our streets, on our reserves, and in our schools and universities, the drug crisis and the criminal enterprises that go with it will only continue to grow.
A national strategy for dealing with this is an absolute priority. Whether it is fentanyl, crystal meth, or the next street drug that is easy to produce and cheap to buy at the heart of this drug epidemic, it is the people who are emotionally hurting. This is why the human face of this epidemic is so heartbreaking to acknowledge. These are vulnerable people who have chosen drugs because they do not have the support and the necessary tools to take on life.
Those who would wish to exploit them for illicit gain must know that they will face the full force of the law and serious jail time. This is why I am asking all members of this House to understand the further pain that opioids are causing to Canadian families and to support this very important piece of legislation, Bill C-338.