Libby on Bill C-475 an Act to Amend the Controlled Drug and Substances Act

MARCH 9, 2010
House of Commons

Debate on Bill C-475 an Act to Amend the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (Methamphetamines and Ecstasy)

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-475. I would like to thank the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country for introducing the bill. It is very similar to a bill that was introduced awhile ago. I spoke to that bill and it went to committee. The fact that it is back before the House is evidence of the hon. member’s serious intent to bring forward this issue. We certainly appreciate that.

I want to make a few general points about the bill as it relates to the larger issue of drug policy and what we have seen from the government. While on the one hand the bill deals very specifically with substances that are involved in the selling, production or import of amphetamines and ecstasy, as it relates to the larger issue, we have to be aware that reliance on an enforcement strategy and an approach that is focused on the Criminal Code is not going to solve the very major issues we are facing with drug addiction and substance use in our society.

Because the hon. member is from the metro Vancouver area, I am sure he is familiar with what the city of Vancouver is calling the four pillar approach. It is an approach that is more comprehensive. It focuses on prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.

One thing that really concerns us is that we have seen from the current government an overemphasis on enforcement. This bill would very much be a part of that. For example, we know that Canada spends about 73% of its drug policy budget on enforcement; only about 14% goes to treatment, 7% to research, 2.6% to prevention and 2.6% to harm reduction.

When we look at the real picture of what is going on in Canadian society, based on reports that have been produced, we know that in 1994, 28% of Canadians reported to have used illicit drugs, but by 2004 that number had gone up to 45%. That is pretty staggering. I would say that even the United Nations now recognizes that a broader approach including harm reduction is a very important component in a comprehensive drug policy.

While on the one hand there is this bill which has a very narrow spectrum, I would hope that the hon. member would also advocate for a broader approach and that we would not see the kind of penalization on things around harm reduction. I am sure the hon. member is familiar with Insite in Vancouver, the only safe injection facility in North America. To me the real issue is about prevention and about approaching this as a health issue.

We see that the Conservative government relies heavily on the enforcement mechanism. In fact, in 2007 the government dropped harm reduction from Canada’s drug strategy. I really feel that the statistics are only going to get worse.

One real problem we are facing is this illusion, this political stance being put forward of continually seeking tougher laws on enforcement. Of course, there was Bill C-15 in the last session of Parliament, which called for mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. The political stance that somehow this is going to solve very complex issues in our society is an illusion. It is just a political stance because the reality, research, and scientific work that is being done shows us that only when all of the components are present do we begin to actually make changes.

For example, I would point to the National Framework for Action to Reduce the Harms Associated with Alcohol and Other Drugs and Substances in Canada 2008 working group. The working group is made up of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, first nations, the Canadian Executive Council on Addictions, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and BC Mental Health and Addiction Services. It is a very professional body. It points out in its national framework for action that research findings suggest that providing appropriate services and supports across a range of systems not only reduces substance use problems, but also improves a wide range of outcomes related to health, social functioning and criminal justice.

I use this information because it is further evidence that unless we have some kind of equilibrium and common sense approach to drug policy in this country, we are actually not going to change anything. If we continue along a path of criminalizing drug users, which is what Bill C-15 would do, an over-emphasis on an enforcement strategy, and somehow fooling people into believing that we are going to deal with this issue by having more cops or tougher enforcement, the evidence in this country shows us that is not the case. I wanted to paint that slightly bigger picture because it is very relevant in this debate.

As my hon. colleague from the Bloc has pointed out, the fact that the bill does not name the products and that the various substances that go into making these drugs are so readily available makes enforcement very challenging. That is all the more reason, particularly when talking about drug use by young people, it is very critical to emphasize the prevention and education, particularly realistic education about drug use.

I have had a lot of concerns and qualms about sending police officers into schools regarding drug education. I ask myself whether we would send police officers into schools to provide sex education. No, we would not, so why would we do it for drug use? It is because these substances are illegal and I do not think kids get a very realistic and honest education about what these substances are, that they need to be aware of their own health and what they need to take care of.

I hope the member and other members of the Conservative caucus would focus on some of those issues and bring them forward in bills as well. We in the NDP will certainly support the bill going to committee because it requires examination, but I want to emphasize that this is just a tiny piece of a much bigger issue that is not being dealt with in any kind of appropriate way by the Conservative government, and that is what we need to focus on.

We will certainly support it going to committee. We want witnesses to be heard. We would like to look at the details of the bill and examine some of the issues about what the products are and why it is that the existing Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is not adequate to deal with this issue that the member has brought forward.

Let us not lose sight of the bigger picture. Let us not get so caught up in the spin, political manoeuvring, and the stance that takes place that we have seen with the Conservatives, that they see this as somehow the be-all and end-all because it is not. It is quite shameful that in this country we would have a drug policy that is now so unbalanced, over-focused on enforcement, and under-supported in terms of treatment, research, prevention and harm reduction. Those are very critical elements.

If we are really genuine about supporting local communities and helping the kids who need to go into treatment, then federal dollars have to go there, too. I appreciate the member reading some of the comments by people who are involved in treatment, but let us listen to what they are really saying. One of the things they are really saying is that there is not enough treatment available. We do not have treatment on demand in this country and we need to have it.

We in the NDP will support the bill going to committee, but let us also focus on the much bigger picture.