Speech – 2017.02.14 – Bill C-37 – Drug Consumption Sites
Bill C-37 – Drug Consumption Sites
February 14, 2017
Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-37. The bill would amend the minister’s powers and discretion when it comes to approving drug injection sites in communities across Canada. It would remove community safeguards and put these important decisions entirely in the hands of a single minister and not in the hands of the local community.
In an ideal world, we would not have to deal with the issue of drug addicts and where they choose to consume their deadly drugs, but we do. In an ideal world, drug abuse and the crime it causes in our communities would not be something we would have to face, but it is. In an ideal world, every addict would be on the road to recovery and the success rate would be 100%. That is just not the case. In reality, drug abuse has been around as long as anyone can remember, and it is getting worse. Literally, people are dying every day from their addiction and drug abuse.
Many years ago, before I entered politics, I served on the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, or AADAC. I served on it for a number of years. I learned a lot about drug addiction and the incredible pain that it causes. The experience there affirmed to me why we should never deal with drugs in a cavalier manner.
Canada already has good legislation in place to permit drug consumption sites or safe injection sites, whatever we want to call it, but let me stress before I continue that there is no such thing as a safe injection site as there is nothing safe about drug injection and the abuse of drugs.
The Liberals and the NDP claim that this current legislation is so onerous that no organization can succeed in getting the drug consumption site approved, yet we see that the government approved three of them in Montreal earlier this month. This proves the current legislation does strike a good balance.
Referring to the current legislation and its purpose, the Supreme Court of Canada has set out clear criteria that must be met before a drug consumption site can be approved. One pillar of the current Conservative legislation was strong community consultation, which the Supreme Court agreed was essential. These consultations were not meant as a way to prevent sites from opening, but rather to adhere to the advice of experts in the field and to respect the community that would eventually have to support such a facility.
Experts in drug addiction have testified before Parliament that for a drug consumption site to be effective and have any benefit, there must be a buy-in from the local community, a buy-in from the local law enforcement, and a buy-in from the local health officials.
Let us stop for a moment and explain what these sites are. These sites are a designated place where we allow people to cause harm to themselves while immune from the law of the land. They can shoot up with a deadly illegal drug as long as they do it at one of these sites. If they do the same thing a block away, they are breaking the law. We must ask ourselves, how do we allow certain people to break the law multiple times a day, and how do we square that with society’s expectations as laid out in our criminal laws? How do we condone the use of illegal drugs as a society and then tell our kids that they are not good for them?
Very few people who are offered help at these injection sites ever accept an offer for treatment. They do not want to give up their highs and face the reality that awaits them. Of those who do enter treatment, even fewer see the program through. Of those who see the program through, even fewer actually stay clean.
I have had numerous conversations with addictions counsellors in the past, and many have told me that the reality is, finding someone they can take from a drug abuser status to a somebody clean status is like finding a needle in a haystack. They say that in reality, most of these people currently addicted to drugs will die from their addiction. They may die earlier in life. They may develop health-related issues. They may die while engaged in crime to feed their addiction or they may simply overdose.
These addiction counsellors say that these sites do save lives but then they question if they really do. If an addict’s life is saved today or tomorrow or next week, but that individual dies the week after from an overdose, was that life really saved? The counsellors suggested that these consumption sites are therefore not really a conduit to treatment but rather facilities for self-destruction and abuse until the addiction wins the war on its victims. That is a sobering assessment of what we face.
Therefore, we really need to target the source of this problem as it appears rarely fixable after the fact. We need to prevent access to addictive substances before an addict develops. We need to stop the Liberal and NDP attitude of acceptance when it comes to drugs. Instead of campaigning to make drugs legal, those members should be campaigning to make it harder for folks to get introduced to the world of drugs. I along with my Conservative colleagues have been pushing for the Liberal government to tackle the root cause and that is the continuous flow of illegal drugs into our country and onto our streets.
I was appalled when all Liberal members voted down a motion I introduced a few months back in health committee to get the Chinese ambassador to come and tell us what his government is doing to prevent deadly drugs from being shipped into Canada, because 98% of illicit drugs come from China. Voting down that motion was disheartening and disgraceful. The Liberal government is more concerned about being friends with the Chinese government than it is with stopping the flow of deadly drugs on Canadian streets.
The Liberals and the NDP want to make it really easy to open up a drug consumption site by removing the safeguards, removing community consultations, and turning a blind eye to the effect it will have on the community. The NDP wants to remove all of the burden of proof from the applicants when it comes to opening up drug injection sites. It is funny. Those members want a less onerous application process for safe injection sites, yet they want to increase the burden on job-creating applicants when it comes to building pipelines. They argue that safe injection sites will save lives. I say that getting pipelines built will save lives as building them would reduce our escalating suicide rate in Alberta. High unemployment and the despair in our oil patch is also costing lives.
As I stated before, the experts are telling us that we need community buy-in for these facilities to be successful. Why do the Liberals and the NDP want to sneak these facilities into our communities without proper consultation?
Drug consumption sites do have some benefits. They allow us to hide our problems away from the streets and they do save addicts so that they can fuel their addiction for another day. In very few cases they also facilitate a path for recovery. Let us not kid ourselves and believe that there is a lot of light at the end of this tunnel. These sites do help keep things like dirty needles out of our parks. They do make it cheaper for the health care system to monitor and save some addicts. They do not reduce the drug problem in Canada. They do not stop people from becoming addicts. They very seldom get addicts off drugs. These sites do not curtail the profits for organized crime. They are not a silver bullet. They are one very weak tool in our fight against addiction and its deadly toll.
If we want these sites to have some positive benefit and improve outcomes then we need community buy-in and this is done through open, transparent, and exclusive consultations. Sadly, this is not what this bill would do. It would weaken the existing legislation. Therefore I must vote against it.
Mr. Joël Lightbound (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that community support as stated by the Supreme Court was not meant as a way to prevent safe consumption sites from opening. It was not meant to prevent the opening of safe consumption sites. We have taken the exact language that is in the Supreme Court judgment, which states that one of the factors to be taken into account is the expression of community support or opposition.
What was meant to prevent these sites from opening were the 26 criteria in Bill C-2 that the previous government put forward.
The member mentioned that three sites have opened in Montreal. Does he know how long it took for those sites to open even though we are facing a health crisis in Canada when it comes to opioids? I will answer my own question. It took nearly two years for those sites to open even though the community, the mayor, the provincial actors, as well as health professionals in Montreal wanted them. Is the member at least aware of the time it took for these sites to be approved under the previous legislation?
While I have the floor, I must say that I am a bit challenged by the comparison that the member made between pipelines and these safe consumption sites. Addicts are people. The government has a responsibility to protect people sometimes from themselves and that is what these safe consumption sites are all about.
Mr. Speaker, I will address the member’s second point first with regard to the comparison of pipelines with safe injection sites.
The point that I was trying to make in committee was simple, although maybe difficult to express. I firmly believe that when applying for a pipeline or a drug injection site, the burden of proof should rest with the applicant and not the taxpayer. I know that New Democrats believe that those applying for a pipeline must prove that it is in the public interest, that it is safe, and that strict operating conditions would be applied. I expect the same of those who want to open drug injection sites in communities. That was my point with regard to pipelines.
With regard to community consultation and how long it took to get these facilities in Montreal, it may take time, but we also know that there is a lot of Nimbyism in our communities, and I do not blame them. These facilities are magnets for the types of people and activities that we work hard to shield our children from. That said, these facilities will have to go somewhere else, on somebody else’s street.
The key thing, hon. member, is that communities be properly consulted and this legislation would not allow that. This is what the experts are telling us, hon. member, and why the Liberal government is so determined to move ahead without hearing from key stakeholders.
I want to remind hon. members to speak through the Speaker and not directly to members across the aisle, even if it is very politely, as was done.
The hon. member for Courtenay—Alberni.
Mr. Gord Johns (Courtenay—Alberni, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank my hon. colleague for raising his concern about drugs in our communities. I wish we did not have drugs in our communities. I share his concern.
The war on drugs has not worked. That approach has not worked. People are using hard drugs in our communities, people we know. I saw a man in downtown Vancouver, who came from a good family, who is struggling with addiction. He went to Insite, a safe place to do drugs. He ended up getting treatment and went home. It is really important to know that we can save lives.
I hope it is not the Conservative position that those who are not ready or able to seek treatment today are not worth saving. The Conservative government cut addiction facilities by 15%. Maybe the member can explain this to the House, We know that we have to take a multi-faceted approach. We have to do what we can to stop drugs coming into our communities, to provide safe places for people to do drugs, and for people to get the therapy and addiction services they need. Does the member agree with me that we need to take a multi-faceted approach?
No one has died at Insite. It is important that we take a holistic approach to tackling this problem. We have tried with education. Children are now doing drugs in Vancouver. I hope the member will come to the Downtown Eastside. He will meet people from my rural community who have ended up there and see the benefits of this facility.
Mr. Speaker, I will tell the hon. member that I have been to Insite. I toured it over the summer. It was a disturbing and sad sight. Of course, I agree with the work that is being done at Insite, but my main point tonight was that we need community consultation when we implement other facilities like Insite into other communities across Canada. The tour that I was allowed to partake in with a number of colleagues was disturbing. The police accompanied us and we went into the back alleys on East Hastings.
I can say that the work it is doing is good work. Needles are being put away safely, people are provided with safe needles, people are monitored, and naloxone is available if it is required, which is a good thing. However, my point tonight was that we need community consultation before opening safe injection sites across Canada.