January 31, 2017

NDP

Don Davies

New Democratic Party

Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I am glad to hear the minister acknowledge the comprehensive roots and causes of substance use disorders. I agree with her, very much, that addiction is a complex psychosocial disease. I think we all agree in this House that addiction is, first and foremost, a health issue.

Taking all of these facts together, it is clear that we need to provide Canadians with a full range of treatment options if we are really to help people recover, if we are really going to stop overdoses, and if we are really going to reduce the deaths being caused in cities across this country.

However, it is also a fact, and I think the minister knows this, that there is a shocking lack of detox and treatment facilities in this country that are publicly available, affordable, and free. A lot of families want to get help for a family member. It costs $10,000 or $20,000 a month to access treatment. It takes an average of eight days in British Columbia to access detox. We all know that with addiction, if someone does not get into treatment today, they may not be ready tomorrow.

Will the minister assure this House that in the upcoming budget, there will be significant new federal funding to help create detox and treatment facilities for Canadians across this country, which is the only real way to actually deal with this health issue?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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LIB

Jane Philpott

Liberal

Hon. Jane Philpott

Madam Speaker, I am so pleased that the member for Vancouver Kingsway has raised this matter. He is absolutely right that harm reduction alone will not solve the opioid crisis. It requires a range of pillars, and that includes access to treatment.

I would absolutely agree with the member that there is a tragic shortage of treatment facilities in this country. When I speak to mayors of big cities, people who work in emergency departments, and people who are first responders, they decry the fact that people can have their lives saved, but then they go back out onto the streets. They need treatment.

When those people need treatment and are ready for treatment, they should have access to treatment. That is why I am very pleased that we were able to offer to the provinces and territories $5 billion in new money for mental health and addictions. I certainly hope that my colleagues, the ministers of health, particularly in the provinces where this is the greatest challenge, will use some of those resources to expand access to treatment facilities so that people will be able to get, possibly, opioid substitution therapy, for example, and will be able to have their social issues addressed and live healthy lives.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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CPC

Dianne Lynn Watts

Conservative

Ms. Dianne L. Watts (South Surrey—White Rock, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for looking at this issue and understanding the complexities of it.

I have some questions. If we go back to 1996, the treatment for opioid dependency was the methadone program. As the years have gone by, and you have not mentioned that program—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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NDP

Carol Hughes

New Democratic Party

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes)

I would remind the member to address the chair and not the individual member.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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CPC

Dianne Lynn Watts

Conservative

Ms. Dianne L. Watts

Today we see the abuse that program has undergone. We can look at the sale of prescriptions for methadone. We can look at the people using methadone, along with other drugs.

I am just wondering if the minister can speak to the review of that program and the costs it has borne over the years to end up with the results we see today.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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LIB

Jane Philpott

Liberal

Hon. Jane Philpott

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to answer this question, which raises again the issue of treatment, which is clearly an important part of the response to the opioid crisis. The member raises the issue of medication-assisted therapy, and that includes opioid substitution therapy, products like methadone and another product called buprenorphine/naloxone, which is also known as Suboxone. These are absolutely essential parts of the solution to the opioid crisis. People who have been identified as having a severe addiction are in many cases, unfortunately, accessing drugs that are laced with much more powerful drugs, like fentanyl, and that is causing many of the overdose deaths.

We are looking to work with provinces, territories, and communities including indigenous communities, to make sure that treatment options are available. There are challenges in accessing some of these opioid substitution therapies across the country. There are challenges with cost. There are challenges with making sure that prescribers can use them in a proper way. However, we know, and I know from having talked to the parents of people who are suffering with problematic substance use, that they want their children to be able to access these kinds of treatments and to find good health.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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LIB

Chris Bittle

Liberal

Mr. Chris Bittle (St. Catharines, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, during the break I had an opportunity to meet with a friend of mine who is a firefighter in Niagara. I asked him how work was going, and he said that it was terrible. He was going from call to call with the opioid crisis and overdoses.

We hear a lot about the opioid crisis related to British Columbia, but my question for the hon. Minister of Health is how the government is going to address this issue from coast to coast to coast.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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LIB

Jane Philpott

Liberal

Hon. Jane Philpott

Madam Speaker, I am very grateful for this question. It does emphasize the tremendous toll this places on first responders in many of the cities across the country, and even in rural areas. It is heartbreaking for them to see people die of overdoses and to have to try to get to them to respond.

The member also raises the matter that there is a shortage of good data, and that is one of the things I am very concerned about. In fact, it has been raised by the health committee and others.

We have tasked the chief public health officer of this country to work with the medical officers of health across the country, with Stats Canada, and with the Canadian Institute for Health Information to find a way, and I will continue to push on this, to get access to good, rapid, up-to-date data across the country so that we can recognize where there are pockets of substance use challenges that are not adequately being addressed.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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CPC

Colin Carrie

Conservative

Mr. Colin Carrie (Oshawa, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I am happy to finally get the opportunity to rise in the House to debate bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts.

I think all members of the House and all Canadians would agree that the ongoing opioid crisis is absolutely tragic. I know that the Premier of British Columbia and a few of our colleagues from B.C. have asked the minister to issue a national public health emergency as the overdose numbers continue to rise in the province.

This is a very complex issue. There is not just one solution.

I was fortunate to have been part of the opioid study recently conducted at the health committee. It allowed me, and I think all my colleagues on the committee, to truly learn and empathize with struggling addicts, communities, first nation health professions, and families that have had to endure an opioid-related death.

We had the opportunity to hear many first-hand stories, something that I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of. We heard from parents who lost their children. We heard from recovered drug addicts, government officials, and the first responders who are reviving these people hourly. We sometimes seem so focused on those battling drug addictions that we forget about the first responders who are working so hard to ensure that our streets and our citizens are safe.

I would like to personally thank everyone who appeared as a witness. I truly believe that their testimony has played a huge role in encouraging all levels of government and Canadians to work together, and of course, to take action.

With that, I would now like to get to the bill itself.

The bill aims to achieve five main things. First, it would grant increased powers to the Canada Border Services Agency. Second, it would regulate the importation of unregistered devices, such as pill presses. Third, it would increase prohibitions against certain actions related to controlled substances. Fourth, it would give the minister authority to temporarily schedule and control new dangerous substances. Fifth, it would streamline the application process for approving and opening supervised injection sites.

We know that there are many factors that have contributed to the opioid crisis. While one cause of the crisis results from illegal substances and organized crime, many are battling addiction because of the over-prescribing of painkillers.

This bill seeks to address one aspect of the crisis: illegal activities and organized crime. I look forward to seeing what measures will be taken to address prescription drugs and over-prescribing, as I think we must acknowledge that it is a key contributor as well.

We know that China has been a primary source of fentanyl, carfentanil, and other dangerous opioids. It has been reported over the last year, and by the CBSA itself, how easy it is to import illicit substances into Canada with the current regulations.

My Conservative colleagues have been pushing the government to finally acknowledge the flaws at our borders and grant officers the authority to search and seize suspicious packages weighing less than 30 grams. While border agents already intercept dozens of these packages, exporters have found a way to hide illegal substances in toys, silica packages, and products that ultimately could not be searched without permission. Removing the “30 grams or less” exemption from the Customs Act is a much-needed step in combatting the opioid crisis facing our country.

Another weakness that has been recognized by many of my colleagues, but most passionately by Senator Vern White, is the need to target devices, specifically pill presses. These devices are capable of turning out thousands of deadly pills per hour, and under the current law, anyone can import one legally. That is not okay.

Abbotsford Police Deputy Chief Mike Serr stated:

Right now, they are not regulated and the importation of them—there really is very little from an intelligence perspective the police can do.... To have these machines registered would be at least one step for us.... We could then have a better sense for ensuring they are for legitimate purposes.

Again, granting the Canada Border Services Agency the authority to detain unregistered pill presses is something that must be done. It is important that all information obtained at the border be available to law enforcement agencies across the country so that they can take the appropriate steps in ensuring the safety of all citizens. Ultimately, that is what we are trying to ensure here: that all Canadians are protected and that access to illicit, dangerous substances is avoided any way possible.

That is what I find quite contradictory. The government is so quick to encourage the approval of supervised injection sites. Injection sites are known to give access to illicit and dangerous drugs, yet the government appears to want more of them. This is where there are some major inconsistencies in the government's policies.

The minister's mandate letter states, “Canadians need to have faith in their government’s honesty and willingness to listen. I expect that our work will be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians”. Yet, the bill would severely weaken the Respect for Communities Act, which was put in place to ensure that feedback from Canadians was taken into consideration before a supervised injection site was approved.

Under the previous Conservative government, we took steps to ensure there was a robust consultation process which included residents, local law enforcement agencies, and elected officials to be on board with an injection site in their community. Bill C-37 proposes to significantly change those requirements. While the expression of community support for opposition is a requirement, the specific requirements have been removed to allow the Liberals to easily change them as they see fit. This is a way to completely avoid parliamentary oversight. The minister's attempt to avoid community approval will fail.

We heard from numerous witnesses in the health committee that an injection site could not be successful without the support of the entire community. I will use the city of Ottawa as an example.

The mayor, the chief of police, and the former chief of police all have openly stated that they are opposed to an injection site in their community. Yet, under this bill, there is no assurance their views would even be taken into consideration. The minister has given herself the power to approve a site, regardless. What the minister does not realize is that not all communities want injection sites. Usually there are a few advocacy groups that are in support of a site, and no other legitimate stakeholder.

The Prime Minister's own parliamentary secretary for justice stated, “They have been doing it in Vancouver for some years and there have been issues that have arisen there. I don’t know of any place in Toronto where that couldn’t have a significant negative impact on the communities.”

The Liberals are using harm reduction strategies as temporary solutions, band-aid solutions, and are refusing to offer any long-term solutions such as treatment and prevention. This is concerning.

In the minister's mandate letter, the Prime Minister states, “When Canadians are in good physical and mental health, they are able to work better, be more productive, and contribute more fully to our economy while living healthier, happier lives”. I agree with this statement, which is why injection sites should not become the norm. These sites are not helping people become productive. They are not encouraging good physical and mental health; in fact, they are doing the complete opposite. All injection sites are doing is providing a safe place for addicts to get their fix and if they overdose, someone will revive them. This is not a life. Injection sites do not save lives. They revive people who, from what I have heard from meeting with many recovered addicts over the year, do not want to be alive if drugs, crime, and overdosing is all they have to look forward to.

The parliamentary secretary for justice also said, “the ambiguous messaging that comes out from a society that says you can’t use these drugs, they’re against the law — but if you do, we’ll provide a place [for you] to do it in.” This is exactly the type of conflicting message Canadians do not want children to be raised with. Drugs are dangerous. They are illegal because they ruin lives.

The Prime Minister and the Liberal Party are simply building a co-dependent relationship with drug addicts. To elaborate on what I mean, a co-dependent relationship is a dysfunctional relationship in which one party enables and supports another's addiction such as drugs. That is what the Liberals want society to become: an enabler as opposed to a preventer.

The president of the Canadian Police Association, Tom Stamatakis, said, “We should be treating addiction as a health issue and if harm reduction is part of a holistic approach to dealing with this issue, there should be a treatment pillar that focuses ultimately on how we get people away from engaging in harmful activities.”

Injection sites simply provide a place for drug users to get high, but offer no treatment. I will use Insite as an example.

In 2015, 6,531 people visited the injection site and only 464 were referred to Insite, the site's apparent detox treatment centre. Only seven per cent were referred to or offered detox treatment at Insite. To elaborate on the statistics, when I went for a visit, I was basically told by an employee that it was not in the business of treating these people. The site was there to provide them with needles and ensure that they would wake up. These sites are not saving lives; they are enabling and giving up on people whose lives have taken a bad turn.

The government's desire to quickly approve these sites without community support, especially law enforcement, is absolutely outrageous.

We cannot support the government's attempt to improve these dangerous enabling sites without knowing and being assured that residents, law enforcement, and elected officials are 100% on board.

Once the minister approves the site, the responsibility to ensure the safety of all residents rests in the hands of local police. Crime rates do not drop as the government keeps stating. Addicts are still illegally obtaining these drugs through break-ins, robberies, prostitution, etc. As Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said, “They’re (VPD) seeing more of what we’d call street disorder—more people using drugs on the street, smoking drugs, congregating, minor thefts.”

I worry about my community of Oshawa. Oshawa is an up-and-coming area with many new businesses and new residential areas for families to settle into. Oshawa and Durham region continue to work to improve the crime rates, and we have seen a drastic decline in assault, robberies, and drug crimes since 2009. This is thanks to the community as a whole working together to make it a better and safer place to raise our families. I worry that the approval of an injection site in my riding would lead to people looking for somewhere else to live, which ultimately would negatively affect these thriving businesses. It would cause alarm if local residents, the mayor, and local police were not consulted prior to an approval. This is something my local community would not be in favour of, and that is why I cannot support this portion of the bill.

Another issue we heard quite a bit about throughout the opioid study was the fact that new dangerous and deadly substances were constantly being made. This causes serious concerns. As the current rules stand, new psychoactive substances that are designed to mimic illegal drugs are chemically different enough not to be considered illegal.

I was happy to see that that the bill proposed to grant the Minister of Health the authority to temporarily and quickly schedule and control a new and dangerous substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This will allow the minister to take immediate action for the public good, while launching a thorough review of the new substance. This means action is being taken while a decision on whether to permanently schedule the substance is warranted.

I think all members agree that the opioid crisis must be addressed. I also think that all members are in agreement on the severity of the issue.

The right steps are being taken to address security concerns at the border. Acknowledging that an international source is massively contributing to the opioid crisis is the first beneficial step the Liberals have taken to combat the issue.

Ensuring that the Canada Border Services Agency can now open any suspicious package under 30 grams will stop the inflow of illegal substances dramatically.

Unregulated devices such as pill presses are another massive contributor to the opioid crisis, and that is acknowledged in the bill. These devices are allowing organized crime to produce mass amounts of deadly drugs. Giving the CBSA authority to share information with law enforcement agencies will allow police forces to do their jobs and shut down these illegal activities.

The bill also acknowledges the notion that new dangerous substances are constantly being manufactured. In order to control the quick turnaround of newly designed psychoactive substances, under new regulations, the minister would be able to temporarily and quickly schedule control of a dangerous substance.

These are public safety measures that look out for the best interests of all Canadians. These measures look to negatively affect organized crime and make it harder for organized crime to produce and sell dangerous drugs.

However, severely weakening the consultation process with Canadians before the approval of an injection site is the exact opposite of these other measures. Approving these sites all around the country will normalize substance abuse. Drug addicts will still be committing extreme numbers of crimes to obtain these drugs. They will still be contributing to organized crime, and they are all to use freely in a government-sanctioned facility.

I acknowledge that every province has different needs. What is happening in British Columbia is not the same as what is happening in Prince Edward Island. However, I cannot acknowledge that injection sites save lives. I heard the analogies from a medical addiction specialist who said that, “If I was a lifeguard and saw someone drowning, I would run in and pull them out of the water. Once they started breathing again, I would not throw them back into the water”. That is exactly what injection sites do.

Streamlining the application process for approving injection sites is irresponsible. It would put communities at risk and it would put individuals with severe drug dependencies at risk. Drug addiction should be seen as a treatable illness. Until I see the government take appropriate steps to help these people get off these dangerous and deadly drugs, I cannot, and will not, support this harm reduction band-aid solution.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, although I appreciate the member speaking to the legislation, I do not necessarily agree with a number of the points and conclusions that he has brought to the chamber.

The Vancouver Insite injection site has received overwhelmingly positive feedback since its creation. Its creation was based on consultation and had a federal minister working with the provincial entities and different stakeholders, including first responders and the community as a whole. I recall when the Conservatives brought in legislation to try to expand the area. There was a great deal of concern and scepticism toward the Conservatives back then because they did not support these injection-type sites, even though science and statistics clearly indicated that society benefits from these sites.

I take it from the member's statements that we will no doubt have to agree to disagree on the validity of the injection sites, but that we do agree on the crisis of opioids. This legislation will assist in dealing with that crisis. Given the urgency of the opioid crisis in Canada, at the very least, would the member not agree that we should attempt to get this to committee as soon as possible?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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CPC

Colin Carrie

Conservative

Mr. Colin Carrie

Madam Speaker, I think everyone in the House agrees this is urgent. When we look at addiction as a health problem, it is clear we would treat no other health condition like this. Even if we were to define the harm in the term “harm reduction” as an addict putting heroin into his or her arm, I think the approach would be to try to help that addict so he or she would not do that.

We have seen statistics. I remember talking to Vernon White. He said that the average addict committed four to eight illegal crimes every day to get his or her fix. Therefore, by allowing addicts to go into one of these injection sites to inject an illicit substance, which as far as we know could be filled with kerosene, and then giving them a little shake and letting them go back out again saying that we have saved their life, we are enabling them to go out in that community and commit four to eight crimes again. Whether it is break and enter or prostitution, let us imagine that happening four to eight times per day and all we are saying is, “Come back in again. We'll see what we can do to help you.”

My colleague from Vancouver was adamant and passionate. This was a band-aid solution. We need to work on long-term detox programs. I find it uncomfortable that the minister just finished renegotiating the health accord and did not get a firm commitment from the provinces and territories to open up these detox centres. That is what really saves lives.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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NDP

Linda Duncan

New Democratic Party

Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona, NDP)

Madam Speaker, what is stunning to me is that the member appears to be saying that he agrees that we are facing an opioid epidemic.

We have been told by the minister that there has been an 80% increase in deaths from overdose since 2015. There have been huge increases in deaths from overdose in my city alone.

More than 87 organizations that work with the homeless, the HIV-infected, and the addicted came forward to oppose the legislation of the member's government. They said that safe injection sites were proven to decrease overdose, death, injury and risk behaviour, that access to health care for the marginalized increased, that it saved health care costs, and that it decreased open drug use and publicly discarded equipment.

Therefore, given the member supports the fact that there is an opioid epidemic, will he support our call for a national public emergency to be declared so federal resources will be made available immediately, and at least temporary safe injection sites?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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CPC

Colin Carrie

Conservative

Mr. Colin Carrie

Madam Speaker, what my colleague says is quite true. The crisis is getting worse. Sometimes people get caught up in thinking they need to do something. However, as I said in my speech, if only 7% of the people who attended what some people call this “safe” injection site were offered treatment, why would we be repeating that around the country?

As the minister said herself, there are no good statistics being collected to determine the proper way of to move forward. Is it injection sites or needle exchanges? Therefore, before we move forward, it is important that we maintain the rights of communities to provide their input where these injection sites have been proposed. That is the most disturbing thing I find with the bill. It would remove a lot of the safeguards we had put in place as a government. The basic fact is this. We should not be normalizing these injection sites. They should be rare and should not be made the go-to way of treating these addictions. Rather, it should be detoxification treatment.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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NDP

Don Davies

New Democratic Party

Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP)

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to work with my hon. colleague on the health committee. I very much respect his contributions to that committee, but with the greatest of respect, I must vehemently disagree with a number of the theses he is advocating here today.

If health policy is to be based on evidence and not on ideology, then we must look to the best evidence we have. The validity and accomplishments of safe injection sites was exhaustively examined by the Supreme Court of Canada when it ruled on the Insite case back in 2011. In that case, mountains of evidence were placed before the court, including from The Lancet, which is one of the world's most respected medical journals. Evidence gathered around Insite itself showed that it results in fewer overdoses, and in fact, no deaths. There has not been a single death at a supervised injection site in this country ever. As my colleague from Edmonton Strathcona said, it results in there being less open drug use in the streets, less crime, and fewer discarded needles in our communities as well.

His own government brought in legislation that did permit safe injection sites to open, albeit it made it extremely difficult to open them. His own government must have acknowledged that there was some value to this, or perhaps it was just forced to do so by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Why did his government do nothing about the CBSA's prohibition on opening envelopes under 30 grams, which it took the present government to fix, so that we could stop the flow of fentanyl into this country? Why did his government not catch that and do something about it?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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CPC

Colin Carrie

Conservative

Mr. Colin Carrie

Madam Speaker, I want to acknowledge my colleague for the good work he has done on committee. I think we agree on most things, except the injection site issue.

If he looks at the community where Insite is, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, I think he would agree with me that it is an exceptional neighbourhood. Before Insite was put into that neighbourhood, it was a horrible situation. The injection site was put there basically as an experiment. We had to do something. In that particular community, there was a lot of support for it. I think he is very aware of the strong support among all stakeholders.

That is one exceptional neighbourhood. I do not see any neighbourhood in Canada as bad as that one is or was in the past. If we look at the evidence, and he was there in health committee, unless communities are actually supportive and on side with these facilities, they do not have a chance of being successful. There is not a lot of evidence to support taking this template and just moving it across the country. As he said, there has only been one. To duplicate that based on that one experience is not the responsible thing to do.

Some things have been brought up over and over again, such as saving lives. I would suggest that if someone is injecting in front of them, that is to be expected, but to send them back out without proper treatment and moving them into a treatment program, as we would with any other disease in Canada, is that the best we can do? If that was our child or our friend, is that really the best we could do?

I look forward to working with my colleague on seeing what we can do to move that agenda forward, because I think that is something all Canadians in all communities can agree on.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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NDP

Don Davies

New Democratic Party

Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP)

Madam Speaker, Canada is currently in the grips of an unprecedented opioid overdose crisis. According to David Juurlink, one of Canada's leading drug safety experts:

This is the greatest drug safety crisis of our time, and it's not hyperbole to say that every one of you knows somebody with an opioid use disorder. Whether you realize it or not, you do, and it's quite possible that you know someone who's lost a loved one to these drugs.

He went on to say:

The scope of the problem in Canada is completely unknown. We know that in the U.S., the CDC estimates that over the last 20 years, about a quarter of a million people have died from opioids, more than half of them from prescription opioids.... We have no corresponding numbers in Canada. I speculate that somewhere in the order of 20,000 Canadians have died over the last 20 years from these drugs. The fact that no federal politician can tell you that number is a national embarrassment.

In my home province of British Columbia, illicit drug overdoses claimed the lives of at least 914 people last year, making it the deadliest on record for overdoses. This places it at the same level as Alabama, the worst state in the United States in terms of overdose rates.

Last year two Ontarians died every single day from drug overdoses, with one of every eight deaths of young adults due to opioids, and 338 Albertans died last year. Quebec overdose deaths have increased by 140% over the last 10 years.

Although Canada does not track overdose deaths at the national level, which again is an inexcusable deficiency in national health policy, it is estimated that in 2015 alone, 2,000 Canadians died from overdoses. That number is certainly much higher for 2016 due to the rapid proliferation of extremely potent illicit opioids throughout Canada.

It is patently clear that drug overdoses and deaths are increasing in every region of the country and will continue to do so without extraordinary and effective action. The significant increase in overdoses in 2016 prompted B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, to declare a public health emergency last April for the first time in the province's history. Notwithstanding this extraordinary step, the crisis has deepened.

December saw another record spike in deaths in B.C., with Vancouver alone now registering 15 overdose deaths per week. This is truly a crisis of epidemic proportions.

Fentanyl, an opioid 100 times more potent than heroin, has been called a game-changer for drug overdose deaths in Canada, and now we are seeing overdoses caused by carfentanil, an opioid so powerful that it poses overdose risks to those exposed to it simply through inhalation or contact with their skin. These drugs are so dangerous that a dose the size of a grain of salt can cause overdose or death.

I think we can all acknowledge that there are many aspects to this complex crisis. Fentanyl is strong, cheap, easy to transport, and small amounts can be made into thousands of doses. For $10,000 or $20,000, manufacturers can obtain a kilogram of fentanyl, an amount so compact it can fit in a shoebox, and turn it into $20 million in profit.

Many overdoses are being caused by inexperienced young people experimenting with non-opioid recreational drugs, unaware that they are contaminated with fentanyl. For example, this past fall in Vancouver, there were nine overdoses recorded within 20 minutes in people who were using cocaine that was unknowingly laced with fentanyl.

Opioids have been overused and over-prescribed by doctors for pain management, leading to many patients becoming dependent and addicted. Canada has among the highest per capita volume of opioids dispensed in the world, totalling 19.1 million prescriptions in Canada in 2015, up from 18.7 million the year before. That is about one opioid prescription written for every two Canadians.

Even though there are no credible peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate that opioids afford more benefit than harm for chronic pain, opioid use has been marketed beyond palliative and cancer patients for regular use for people experiencing back pain and other common ailments. Prescribers were incorrectly taught that addiction was a rare consequence of using prescription opioids long term, that less than 1% of patients would become addicted.

In reality, the addiction rate is estimated to be 10%, with 30% suffering from opioid use disorder. This misuse of opioids reveals the absence of broad and effective treatment for chronic pain in Canada. Critically, there is an alarming lack of public detox and treatment facilities available across Canada, caused by underinvestment for decades at both provincial and federal levels, and even less resources dedicated to education and prevention.

Bluntly, our health care system has an appalling lack of publicly covered treatment options for Canadians suffering from substance use disorder, a pox on both Liberal and Conservative governments over the last number of decades.

In indigenous communities, inconsistent federal support for community governed and culturally based treatment has made addressing the opioid crisis a particular challenge. Nurses employed by Health Canada do not possess the scope of practice to support indigenous people in addressing opioid addiction in their own communities beyond 30 days by federal edict.

As Dr. Claudette Chase, a family physician at the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority recently told our health committee:

I tear up every time I think about this, because our workers are putting themselves on the line to hear the stories of incredible trauma. We have little funding to train them. These are community members who, because Health Canada has refused to step up, have stepped up themselves. They do this and they get traumatized daily, and I have little or no means to support them other than being their family doctor. It's not acceptable.

Addiction is a complex psychosocial disease with genetic, environmental, and social determinant influences of every type. Although this crisis has been garnering increased media attention in recent months, make no mistake that it has been allowed to escalate for years, recently under a Conservative government blinded by superficial ideology and now under a Liberal government paralyzed by timid expediency.

What both Conservative and Liberal governments have in common, however, is a refusal to act on evidence in a timely fashion, and decades of history of failure to make the investments necessary to provide Canadians with essential health options to treat substance use disorder.

Over the last 10 years, the previous Conservative government slashed Health Canada's addiction treatment budget, removed harm reduction as one of the four pillars of Canadian drug policy, and spent nearly a decade trying to discredit the clear and overwhelming evidence that supervised consumption sites save lives.

Indeed, this crisis has undeniably been exasperated by barriers erected by a Conservative government that prevented supervised consumption sites from opening across Canada. Despite an abundance of research that conclusively established that Vancouver's supervised consumption facility, Insite,significantly reduced overdose deaths, the Conservative government obstinately refused to accept that evidence.

In 2011, it took the Supreme Court of Canada to rule that Insite and other supervised consumption sites must be granted a section 56 exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act because they “decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety”.

In response, in 2015, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-2, which sets out a lengthy and arduous list of criteria that supervised consumption site applicants must meet before the minister would grant them an exemption. In practice and by design, these criteria made it effectively impossible for organizations to open new supervised consumption sites in Canada.

For example, Montreal has had applications pending Health Canada approval since May 2015, almost two years, for three fixed services in three neighbourhoods and one mobile service. Indeed, not a single supervised consumption site has opened in Canada since Bill C-2 was passed. Of course, that was exactly the Conservatives' intention.

Only an hour after Bill C-2 was initially introduced, in a move so vile it would impress Donald Trump, Conservative campaign director Jenni Byrne issued a fundraising letter stating that the Liberals and NDP wanted addicts to shoot up in the backyards of communities all across the country. This went beyond a juvenile refusal to accept evidence that ran contrary to their moralizing ideology. It was a clear and utterly disgraceful attempt to campaign on the backs of the most vulnerable Canadians, sick Canadians.

For those Conservative MPs who now claim to have found religion on the issue, who have recently echoed the NDP's long-standing call to declare a national public health emergency, I must remind them that it was Conservatives who blocked my attempt to move this bill swiftly through the House in December, to save lives faster.

Though the Liberals claim to support the expansion of supervised consumption sites, their government has not approved a single new facility since coming to office. In fact, the Minister of Health initially and stubbornly argued that legislative changes to Bill C-2 were not even necessary, since she had directed Health Canada officials to facilitate the application process under the existing law. She refused to acknowledge that the problem was the act itself with its 26 separate requirements acting as effective barriers to any new sites, as had been consistently pointed out by stakeholders, the NDP, and even some of her own colleagues. This tepid response stood in stark contrast to the view espoused by the member for Vancouver Centre, the Liberal member for Vancouver Centre, when she was the Liberal health critic in opposition.

When Bill C-2 was introduced, the member for Vancouver Centre publicly stated that the bill was deliberately written in a way that would ensure no supervised consumption sites were approved in Canada. She also questioned the constitutionality of the bill. It has frequently been observed that Liberals campaign from the left and govern from the right, that they talk progressively in opposition, but act conservatively when in power. I am afraid their conduct on the opioid crisis is yet one more example of this unfortunate truism.

Unacceptably, it took a mounting death toll and universal pressure from medical experts, public health officials, provincial governments, municipal leaders, and the federal NDP before the Minister of Health finally relented and outlined legislative changes she was willing to make to Bill C-2, on December 12, 2016. This came on the heels of an announcement from the B.C. government that it was no longer willing to wait for federal approval and would take the extraordinary measure of signing a ministerial order making the provincial operation of temporary overdose prevention sites legal. This was in turn a response to the unsanctioned, makeshift supervised consumption sites that were being established throughout B.C. by activists like Ann Livingston and Sarah Blyth, who founded the Overdose Prevention Society last September with crowdfunding, due to the severity of the crisis.

While the current government was waiting, while people were dying, people in British Columbia and on the street were acting. Thus, the bill is an overdue acknowledgement that this is, in fact, a crisis and contains some important steps to address it.

I do want to credit the government for taking some positive measures.

The Liberals hosted an opioid summit, where they committed to better informing Canadians about the risks of opioids, supporting better prescribing practices, and improving the evidence base. They made naloxone available in a non-prescription status. They reversed the federal prohibition on the use of pharmaceutical heroin for treatment. They scheduled fentanyl precursors. They reinstated harm reduction as one of the four pillars of drug policy. Now the government has introduced amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and other acts, to streamline supervised consumption site applications.

These changes are all welcome, if overdue, and New Democrats are in agreement with all of them. However, they do not go nearly far enough, fast enough. There is much more that we can and must do. That is why I must take serious exception to comments made by the Minister of Health in a recent interview. The minister said:

I would argue with the fact as to whether or not there's been progress made. I know that the number of deaths are rising, but we have been extremely active on this file....

I do not know how the minister measures progress, but I do know one thing. When Canadians are dying at unprecedented rates, when month after month we see increased death tolls from opioid overdoses, there can be no legitimate talk of progress. We in the New Democratic Party will measure progress by one factor and one factor only: when the death toll of Canadians goes down, not up. However by that standard, the crisis is getting dramatically worse, not better. Annually since 2012, the number of fatal overdoses in B.C. has increased significantly: 273 deaths in 2012, 330 in 2013, 366 in 2014, 510 in 2015, and now 914 in 2016.

Last month alone, we recorded the highest number of overdose deaths in B.C.'s history, with 142 lives lost. That is more than double the monthly average of overdose deaths since 2015 and a sharp increase from the fall. There were 57 overdose deaths in B.C. in September, 67 in October, and 128 in November. That is not progress.

To understand the scale of this epidemic, I would remind the House that during the SARS crisis in 2003, 44 people died in an outbreak of the disease across all of Canada. We are losing that many people every week to opioid overdoses.

I would suggest to members of the House that if 40 to 50 Canadians were dying every week from SARS, Ebola, or any other infectious disease, the House would not rest until it saw a response from the federal government that matched the severity of the crisis. Every life lost to overdose is a heart-wrenching tragedy that leaves devastated loved ones in its wake. The lives cut short by overdose matter just as much as anyone's, and this epidemic deserves the same attention and urgency as any other disease.

Moreover, we must remember that the consequences of inaction are felt severely by those on the front lines of this crisis. As Chris Coleman, a firefighter who works on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, told the health committee:

...it takes a toll on an individual's mental health to see such helplessness and suffering up close on a daily basis; to work extremely hard but to feel that you are having little or no impact on a problem that is growing exponentially, like a tidal wave, on the streets of your city. There is mental strain in watching a population repeatedly harming itself and in ultimately witnessing death and deceased persons who have succumbed to this human tragedy....

I must stress that our brothers and sisters who work in the Downtown Eastside are in trouble.... In conversations with these firefighters, I hear a lot of “It's driving me nuts” and “I can't take it”. I'm told stories of their being in an alley with 20 or 30 drug users. They're unprepared and untrained for that. Part of their hopelessness comes from having to deal with the same particular overdose patient who has a needle in their neck, who's rolling around in urine and feces, more than once on the same shift. They feel abandoned and they feel hopeless

We must not condemn our courageous first responders to the fate of Sisyphus, rolling an immense boulder up a hill over and over again for eternity. They need the Government of Canada to have their backs.

Indeed, the federal government's failure of leadership on the opioid crisis has led to renewed pleas for help from public officials from all across Canada. These include the mayors of Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver, B.C.'s health minister, and health professionals from every discipline.

I know that the Minister of Health has repeatedly stated in public that the federal government is doing everything it can. Of course, that is utter nonsense. There are literally dozens of measures and recommendations made by health experts and stakeholders across Canada that remain unimplemented by the government.

Recently, the City of Vancouver sent a list of nine recommendations to the federal government to help address this crisis, including calling for a central command structure, daily meetings with Health Canada, and improved treatment services. A coroner's jury in British Columbia recently issued a list of 21 recommendations for action, and the Standing Committee on Health in December issued a report detailing 38 recommendations for the government alone, most of which remain unimplemented.

To demonstrate this leadership and illustrate the federal government's understanding of the scope of this crisis, the New Democrats have been calling on the federal Minister of Health to declare a national public health emergency for months. We are now joined in this call by municipal, provincial, and federal politicians of all stripes, including, recently, the Conservatives.

A declaration of a national public welfare emergency under the Emergencies Act would empower Canada's top doctor with the authority to take extraordinary measures to coordinate a national response to the crisis. This could include an allocation of emergency funding on the scale required to actually address the mounting death toll, as well as sanctioning the operation of temporary supervised consumption sites on an emergency basis.

Inexplicably, the minister continues to claim that a national public welfare declaration is unnecessary and untimely. With respect, she is utterly and demonstrably wrong. For example, such a declaration would allow overdose prevention sites across the country to open and operate legally, something they cannot do now. Not only are such sites needed desperately in every major city in Canada, but they would start saving lives today.

New Democrats have worked in good faith with successive federal governments to address the crisis with the urgency it deserves. We led the fight against the Conservatives' Bill C-2 from the day it was introduced, and then pressed the Liberal government to repeal or amend it. Last fall, we moved a motion at the standing committee to conduct an emergency study on the crisis. We tried to expedite this bill through the House in December; and we were the first to call for a declaration of a national public health emergency to address the crisis.

The New Democratic Party will support this bill and work in committee to improve it. We will continue to press the government to take every action it can to address this national public health crisis.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I support many of the comments the member made in reference to Bill C-2, especially his reflections on the Conservative government at the time. I was here, like him, and I like to think it was not only the NDP. The Liberals were also in great opposition to Bill C-2 and made commitments to look at making changes. What we are talking about today addresses some of the issues that were raised during the debate on Bill C-2 by both opposition parties.

I agree, in good part, with the beginning of the member's comments. Where I take some exception, and where the member needs to get a better appreciation, is on the statement that the national government has not demonstrated leadership. The Minister of Health and the Prime Minister have demonstrated leadership on the opioid crisis here in Canada.

The Minister of Health has been very proactive. The member himself made reference to a series of things the Minister of Health has done. We have to take into consideration an enormous amount of work with the different stakeholders, whether they are provincial administrations, indigenous people, first responders, and so forth. It has to be a coordinated approach.

My question for the member is this. Does he not recognize the importance of working with others, since it will not be just Ottawa that resolves this particular problem? Maybe he could comment further on how the House today can assist in expediting the passage of this legislation.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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NDP

Don Davies

New Democratic Party

Mr. Don Davies

Madam Speaker, sometimes Liberals say that the New Democrats are Liberals in a hurry. The corollary to that is that Liberals are New Democrats who will not take action.

My hon. colleague brings up something that I made a central point of my speech, which is that when Liberals were in opposition, they stood in the House and told Canadians that they opposed Bill C-2, that they believed that supervised consumption sites save lives, and that Bill C-2 was deliberately designed to prevent the opening of supervised injection sites in this country. In fact, the member for Vancouver Centre, the senior Liberal in British Columbia and the Liberal critic for health at the time, called the bill unconstitutional.

That is why New Democrats, as soon as the Parliament changed back in October of 2015, at first opportunity, called on the government to introduce legislation to amend or repeal Bill C-2. New Democrats started the call in February of last year. Why? It was because we saw that there was a crisis. People were dying every week.

What did the Liberals do? They told the NDP they did not think, while in government, that there was any problem with the legislation, that they just thought it was an administrative problem. Every month, New Democrats stood in the House and told Liberals they had to act to change it because supervised consumption sites save lives and the bill was a barrier. Month after month, Liberals stalled and did nothing while Canadians died. It took them until December, after over a year in office, before they actually introduced legislation, which will now take months to pass.

I am going to give the Liberal government no credit for its inaction and delay on introducing legislation that is so critical to saving lives in this country, and New Democrats will continue to push the government to take the dozens of recommendations that are necessary to continue to do so.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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CPC

Dianne Lynn Watts

Conservative

Ms. Dianne L. Watts (South Surrey—White Rock, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I am looking at some of the embedded criteria regarding injection sites. I was not here at the time, but as I go through this, I see they include support from local government with respect to health and safety, a letter from the head of the police, a letter from health professionals in relation to public health, information on the vicinity of the site, information on the inappropriate discarding of drug-related paraphernalia, a number of issues on data gathering, drug treatment, and trends. All of those things were embedded, and I am wondering which piece was a roadblock to establishing a consumption site. Insite has been there for 13 years and was established under the Conservative government.

I am wondering what piece of the consultation he is not supporting.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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NDP

Don Davies

New Democratic Party

Mr. Don Davies

Madam Speaker, the legislation that the Conservative Party brought in was forced upon that government after fighting Insite in the Supreme Court of Canada. Instead of listening to the evidence and working with health professionals, a decision by that member's government forced Insite to spend millions of dollars going to the Supreme Court of Canada to establish that supervised consumption sites save lives. In that decision, the Supreme Court identified five factors that ought to be met before a community permitted the opening of a supervised consumption site. The Conservatives took that Supreme Court decision and they exploded those five factors to 26, and a number of those factors have absolutely nothing to do with health.

For those of us who view addiction as a health issue, for those of use who view the operation of these clinics as being pivotal to saving lives, I will point out that not a single person has died in a supervised consumption site facility in this country. As my former colleague Libby Davies used to say, “dead addicts don't get recovery”.

From a health point of view, when a community wishes to have such a site we should focus on criteria that would help to address the health issues there.

It is not a question of finger-pointing; it is a question of establishing facts. The previous Conservative government slashed Health Canada's budget for addictions treatment by 15%. It did nothing about the CBSA's problem in being unable to open 30-gram or under envelopes. The Conservative government fought supervised consumption sites in this country right to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I will take no lectures from the Conservative Party about how to save lives in the opioid crisis.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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January 31, 2017