2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 149

Tuesday, June 9, 2015
The Honourable Leo Housakos, Speaker

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Motion in Amendment—Vote Deferred

Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, I too rise to speak to Bill C-2 and the amendments proposed by Senator Campbell.

Before I proceed, I want to thank Senator Campbell not only for being the critic on the bill but also for his special knowledge of these issues. When he speaks, I know he speaks from a base of having worked on these issues for many years. I appreciate his continued work on these issues because what he is doing is keeping my city safe.

Honourable senators, you have heard today from people who have been the mayors of Vancouver and Toronto and now the mayor of Montreal, who said that he is going to proceed with a safe injection site. Honourable senators, these are three very responsible people, and they are not making these allegations lightly. So I ask that when you vote on this bill you think of what Mayors Campbell, Eggleton and Coderre are saying: We need safe injection sites to keep our cities safe and to save lives.

In Canada, every life is valuable. We care for every life, and so it does not matter whose life — every life. If we care for every life, then we should heed what these three mayors are saying.

As I rise to speak on Bill C-2, safe injection sites, I want to speak to you about my home in Vancouver. Those of us who live in Vancouver know what a safe injection site has done both for the people who live in the city and for the most vulnerable people, those who have no resources.

I want to share with you a question that my then eight-year-old daughter Farzana asked me on my way to work once before the safe injection site was established. She said, “Mum, why it that gentleman cleaning his arm with dirty puddle water?” I turned around and saw a man cleaning his arm with dirty puddle water, and then he injected something in his arm. For a very long time, my daughter asked questions about what that gentleman was doing. She was puzzled and confused as to what she saw. I never was able to explain to my daughter exactly what she saw because I did not want to go into the details of what was happening. So when Insite was established, I kept thinking how many little girls would be spared what my daughter saw, because it had really affected her. For me, besides my daughter’s trauma, I just kept thinking, “This is not my Canada.” How can a Canadian man be in such a desperate situation? We Canadians have to look after not only those who are sick and have access to hospitals, but also those who are most vulnerable and have very few resources at their disposal.

Honourable senators, I can vouch for the fact that Insite, a safe injection site, has played a very important role in my city.

Bill C-2 sets out that it is the controlled drugs act of Canada’s federal drug control statute. Its purpose is to protect public health and maintain public safety. Activities with controlled substances are prohibited unless they are allowed under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations or authorized under the section 56 exception.

Honourable senators, I understand that approximately 10,000 section 56 exemption applications are received every year, most which are routine activities using controlled substances, such as clinical trials, methadone treatment and university research.

In September 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision regarding Insite, a supervised injection site in Vancouver. The court affirmed the discretionary power of the minister to grant exemptions but stated that decisions must be made in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and must balance public health and public safety concerns. The court specified factors the minister must consider when assessing an application for a supervised injection site. The five factors that the court considered and that are part of Senator Campbell’s amendment are as follows: one, evidence, if any, of the impact of the site on crime rates; two, the local conditions indicating a need for the site; three, the regulatory structure in place to support the site; four, the resources available to support the maintenance of the site; and five, expressions of community support for or opposition to the site.

Honourable senators, I am not as knowledgeable on these issues as Senator Campbell is, but I am a member of the Legal and Constitutional Committee, and I would like to share with you some of the things that we discussed in the committee.

I asked Minister Blaney, the security minister, the following question:

Minister, I’ve been looking at this bill and scratching my head because I have all my working life worked in downtown Vancouver. When my children were younger, we had injection needles, everything on the ground. When I went to work, they would pick them up and I was just petrified. When this bill comes into place, I’ll have the same issues with my granddaughter because when Insite is in place, there is a safe place for people to have their injections. I believe this bill will take that safe environment away.

The Supreme Court of Canada clearly said that your discretion was not absolute; you had to look at section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it came to life, liberty and security of person. I believe that this bill does not address the section 7 issues that the Supreme Court of Canada set out. Can you show me where that is set out?

This was Minister Blaney’s answer:

Senator Jaffer, I thank you for your question. First, I would . . . reassure you that any legislation presented by the government is reviewed by our Department of Justice. While we cannot give it 100 per cent assurance, we are fully confident that this is constitutional and fully meets the decision that was rendered by the Supreme Court. . . .

The second question you’ve asked . . . I would ask you. You have children. I have children. What this bill is doing is saying: Do you think you should be consulted if we were to open a consumption site just in front of your house? That is what this bill is doing.

I responded to the minister to say that I have no issue with being consulted, but I want us to make sure that we are Charter- compliant.

Honourable senators, I further asked, and I won’t read it — it’s part of the committee’s record — but I asked Minister Ambrose what it will do to the hospitals in my area if Insite is closed. I asked:

Minister, where I live, we have one the hospital, St. Paul’s, that looks after heart patients for all of the Lower Mainland. If Insite does not exist, the people who will suffer will go to St. Paul’s Hospital. It’s an issue of resources. Insite has saved [the provincial government] $17 million. My concern is this: If Insite does not exist, then we will again have a great strain on St. Paul’s Hospital.

Minister Ambrose’s response was that these are not mutually exclusive, and if I remember correctly, she also reminded me that these were provincial issues.

Honourable senators, I don’t care if they’re provincial or federal issues. Those are hospitals that we use, and if the resources are strained, then all Lower Mainland people suffer.

I have thought about how I can explain to you about Insite. After a lot of reflection, I thought the way for me to do it was to share with you what Mr. Russell Maynard, Program Director of Insite, said:

I would like . . . to share with you information that doesn’t get across very often. Insite is so much more than a supervised injection site. It sees about 800 visits a day from probably a core group of about 300 users. It’s not a large number of people. In fact, it’s quite a small number of people and we’re talking about a project that is very local and community based. It is actually in its very mandate trying to address, with everything it has, making safer the communities that are struggling with addiction, which tend to be in every single urban centre in the developed world. They always end up being in the low-income areas.

I work closely — I want to emphasize closely — with the Vancouver Police Department. I meet with them regularly. I go to meetings all the time. I get invited to come and speak to new officers before they are asked to walk the beat in Downtown Eastside, so that they understand the context of the injection site and of the people who come to it.

It really isn’t straightforward to understand who the people are that come to the sites. Yet the people who come to the sites are incredibly homogeneous around the world, whether you are talking about the sites in Spain, Denmark, Vancouver or Sydney, Australia. They tend to be, on average, the folks who go through our foster systems. They are children who come from disadvantaged beginnings and end up going to school and not being able to pay attention because of their life style. Then they just fall through the cracks for the rest of their lives. They end up as low-income people, who are self-medicating or using drugs for all the wrong reasons. All we try to do at Insite is (a) keep them alive, so we can get them to treatment; and (b) address any services that they need — housing, health care, and mental health.

I want to make sure that the Senate committee understands, and again, it’s an emphatic number: there are 450 people a year who go straight from the floor at Insite, one project, into recovery. I’m speaking as an addictions expert — there is no other project that I’m aware of in the world that comes close to that number. Four hundred fifty people a year go from the floor of Insite into treatment.

What that translates to, in the most common vernacular is that we don’t know of another model that is as successful at connecting people to treatment as the drug consumption route. Imagine, if you can, that you are hiding in doorways and alleys to hide your use. Then, all of a sudden, a project opens up in your community that says, “All right. We acknowledge this is an ugly and chaotic problem. Come inside and let’s see what we can do.” All of a sudden, on a daily basis, you are interacting with people like those who are sitting around this table. That’s a profound change in your lifestyle. You are going from only interacting with addicts and other people in chaos to being in a room with people who live functional lives and whose job it is to connect you with mental health and clinical services. That’s what we do, day in and day out, 365 days a year, 18 hours a day.

He went on to say:

I want to win over the perspectives that aren’t convinced, and that is why I want to make sure that everyone in the room recognizes: There is no more powerful model in the developed world than the supervised consumption site in Vancouver the way it is designed, which is a Canadian design. Insite is unique in the realm of injection sites in that it has, for instance, a detox centre and a recovery program right above it. It’s like having a walk-in clinic and then specialized services above that — like eye surgery, et cetera — where there is a continuum of care.

Honourable senators, I asked Mr. Maynard a question about the area and the worry I had before that there were needles all over. Mr. Maynard replied:

It’s a bit of a grey area. . . . The bill is laid out clearly, so that’s not grey. What brings the opaqueness to the answer to that question is that there have been three Supreme Court hearings on Insite. It’s hard to imagine that were Insite to not meet this criteria, it wouldn’t go back to court. We’d be going back in time. It’s hard to imagine that we would not again see successes in the courts.

Honourable senators, I was floored when he said to us: “A total of 13 judges have looked at this, and all 13 have sided with Insite after listening to evidence for days at a time.”

Clause 5 of the new bill lays out 26 obligations. These 26 obligations are going to be very onerous.

Honourable senators, we had many witnesses come to our committee and speak about this bill not being compliant with the Charter. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition said why Bill C-2 is harmful in An Injection of Reason: One, “Bill C-2 fuels misinformation about supervised consumption services”; two, it “completely contradicts the spirit of the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2011 decision”; three, “Bill C-2 imposes an excessive application process that would not be imposed on other health services”; four, “Bill C-2 disproportionately considers ‘opinions’ around access to critical health services”; and five, “Bill C-2 effectively gives certain authorities unilateral veto power to the implementation of supervised consumption services.”

Can I have five minutes?

The Hon. the Speaker: Will honourable senators grant five more minutes to Senator Jaffer?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, they go on talking about all the reasons why C-2 is not meeting the test that the Supreme Court of Canada has set out.

We heard from a person who is using the services and now working with the services. He pled with us to make sure that we do not close this site, because that’s how he got out of the problem.

But the last thing I want to leave with you is when we heard from Ms. Donna May, a mother of an addict, and she said:

. . . my daughter passed away. . . .

I think a very important first step would be for our politicians to recognize it as a disease, listen to their constituents in the community. I know that I have knocked on many doors of our MPs, our MPPs and my councillors, and they seem to treat it as this horrid thing . . . . But the reality is it could be anybody’s child. It doesn’t have to start with a street drug. My daughter’s addiction did not. It started with a prescription for Oxy when she fell down the basement stairs. What she found was that it quieted the voices in her head and she had an undiagnosed mental illness problem.

Honourable senators, this is a mother’s plea that we have to protect the most needy in our society.

I went to see Insite with my husband. Getting into Insite is quite a challenge. When I was inside, I saw people enter in a dignified way. They were able to deal with their issues, go into detox, and they were even able to deal with eye surgery.

The day my husband and I left Insite, we were very humbled that there were Canadians who cared for the most vulnerable. I ask you today when I stand in front of you: Are we going to be counted as people who care for the most vulnerable?

Thank you.