Conservatives' Anti-Safe Injection Site Bill comes back to the House - Zero amendments accepted at Public Safety Committee

 

     Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I feel so disgusted by the parliamentary secretary's completely misleading comments in the House in regard to Bill C-2. We would not be opposing the bill if it actually lived up to the decision that was made by the Supreme Court of Canada. We would welcome the bill if it lived up to that decision, but Bill C-2, now at report stage, is an absolute travesty.

     As I will point out in my remarks, this is so far away from what the Supreme Court of Canada said on safe consumption sites and the right, under the charter, for people to have access to those medical services that were provided in the safe injection sites. It is really quite shocking that the Conservatives have gone to such lengths in Bill C-2 to stack the deck and make it virtually impossible for any applicant, in good faith, who does all the work required to get an application in, to ever be approved by a minister as it is laid out in this bill.

    I wish I was not speaking today at report stage on this bill, but I am afraid we have to because it has come back from the committee. It really bothers me that we have moved so far away from an evidence-based public policy and that this political mantra from the Conservative Party has now taken over.

     As I pointed out, when the Conservatives first introduced this bill, within hours they set up a website called “No heroin in our backyards“ to raise money. It is the politics of fear. It is the politics of division. It is the politics of exploiting people's concerns instead of dealing with something in a rational way and looking at serious issues in various communities across Canada, not all communities, where they feel it is warranted to have a safe consumption site for injection-drug users so they can uphold good public health and stop the spread of HIV-AIDS, stop people from dying and get people into treatment. That is what safe consumption sites do.

    The Canadian Nurses Association summed it up for me, when it said:

    Evidence demonstrates that supervised injection sites and other harm reduction programs bring critical health and social services to vulnerable populations — especially those experiencing poverty, mental illness and homelessness...A government truly committed to public health and safety would work to enhance access to prevention and treatment services — instead of building more barriers.

     I would wholeheartedly agree with that.

    When the bill was at committee, we were only allowed two meetings to hear witnesses on a bill that was so important. The boom was lowered. Censure was brought in and two meetings were held to hear from witnesses. We heard from maybe 13 witnesses overall.

    The NDP brought forward 23 amendments to this bill. These amendments were reasonable, based on trying to ensure that the bill actually did meet the terms set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. Many of our amendments, for example, responded to concerns that had been put forward by provincial and territorial officials and were designed to ensure that during the application process, as laid out in the bill, when officials brought forward information about an application, it would be based on evidence and research and not opinions, as is laid out in the bill.

     Imagine any other health facility being approved in Canada, first with such an incredible number of people who have to weigh in on the matter. I do not know of any other health facility that would require that. However, in this case, not only is there a lengthy list of officials who have to weigh in on it, they are only required to give their opinion, so it is not actually based on evidence or research.

    The other thing we are very concerned about, as has been pointed out earlier in the debate, is that the so-called public process in this bill is absolutely absurd. It is proper to do public consultation. Again, the parliamentary secretary in his comments just now was entirely misleading and incorrect when he said that the opposition did not believe there should be public consultation. Of course we do, but we believe that public consultation should be done in the community where the application intends the site to be.

    Yes, in the little town about which he spoke, of course there should be public consultation. As an MP, he can weigh in on it and say whatever he thinks, but in this bill the public consultation can be right across Canada. It can take place for 90 days. There is absolutely no suggestion in the criteria as to how the minister should weigh that so-called public consultation. If there was an application in Toronto, she could take public consultation or opinions from people who live in Calgary or northern Alberta and say that people are opposed to this, so she had better turn it down. It is an absurdity and a travesty of process.

    I would like to put on the record some of the key witnesses who appeared before the committee.

     For example, Adrienne Smith with Pivot Legal Society, the Health and Drug Policy staff lawyer, said in her testimony that she believed:

    It will likely not withstand constitutional scrutiny, and it invites an expensive and pointless charter challenge.

    As a representative of the Pivot Legal Society, an organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and marginalization... this bill will restrict access to a proven health care service, which will result in needless human suffering for some of the most vulnerable Canadians.

    What a waste. This bill has come all this way. It is now at report stage, it is going to be approved, it is going to go to the Senate, and it is likely going to then go through another expensive course of litigation. Maybe it will go back to the Supreme Court of Canada because it is so flawed. I find that a travesty.

    Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said in his testimony:

    We are very sorry that this legislation is not coming before the Standing Committee on Health. After all, the primary purpose of supervised consumption services is to intervene in urgent public health contexts where vulnerable citizens are at high risk of serious and sometimes deadly consequences of injection drug use. Consumption services can mitigate this risk, including improving the health and safety of the communities where they might appropriately be located.

    I know that commentary from Mr. MacPherson is based on his extensive experience as the city of Vancouver's drug policy coordinator. I know it is based on his review of probably more than 70 studies worldwide now, but at least over 30 in Canada about InSite in Vancouver's downtown eastside. He is entirely correct that these consumption services are about a very urgent public health intervention to save lives and improve the health and safety of the communities in which the facilities are located. In fact, that has very much been the evidence about InSite.

    A third witness who I would like to quote for the record is Dr. David McKeown, Toronto Board of Health, medical health officer. He said:

    My perspective is somewhat different from that of my law enforcement colleagues, because I come at it from a public health point of view. Toronto is one of several cities in Canada looking to implement supervised injection services as part of an evidenced-based, comprehensive approach to health services for people who inject drugs.

    He went on to say that the Toronto Board of Health:

—also feels that the proposed bill is not consistent with the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada... If Bill C-2 is passed...it will be a significant barrier for any community...

    The New Democrats put in amendments at report stage to delete all sections of the bill. We had no other choice. We tried to bring in amendments at committee to improve the bill so it would meet the test of the Supreme Court of Canada. I hope members of the House will oppose this bill. It needs to be shut down, rewritten and it needs to uphold the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.