I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts. This Bill is part of the Government of Canada’s comprehensive approach to drug policy; one that strikes a balance between public health and public safety.
Last year in my province of British Columbia, over 900 people died of drug overdoses. This was an 80% increase from 2015 and we now know that the opioid “fentanyl” was disproportionately responsible for these deaths. As the medical community has known for some time, and as the general public is becoming increasingly aware of, fentanyl is a difficult drug to combat. When used legitimately, it is a powerful pain suppressor which can help people suffering acute and chronic ailments. However when used inappropriately, incredibly small doses can be fatal.
What has become evident in my community is that illicit fentanyl has become both widely available and far too easy to obtain. So today I stand in this House not only for my riding of Cloverdale-Langley City or as a British Columbian, but for all Canadians who have been, or may be affected by the opioid crisis.
Central to the Government of Canada’s efforts to help individuals and communities affected by the current drug emergency is the reintroduction of harm reduction as an integral part of our country’s narcotic strategy. This Bill includes changes to streamline the application process for new supervised consumption sites, which I believe is not simply a compassionate course of action, but a responsible and evidence-based decision which has been proven to save lives.
This important public health initiative will be partnered with the recently announced “Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy.” The Strategy is built on four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement, which will be grounded in a strong evidence base to bring about a decrease in both the manufacturing and consumption of illicit opioids, and the tragic instance of overdose deaths across our country.
The Government knows that while we must address the public health perspective in dealing with the crisis at hand, we must also deal with the illicit drug supply issue. That is why Bill C-37 addresses problematic drug use from all sides and includes proposals to respond to controlled substances obtained through illicit sources.
Canada’s drug control laws are centred on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, also known as “the CDSA”. This Act serves a dual purpose of protecting public health and maintaining public safety.
The CDSA provides controls over drugs that can alter mental processes and that may result in harm to one’s health… and to society when misused. This is done by regulating the legitimate use of controlled substances and prohibiting unlawful activities such as import, export and trafficking of controlled substances and precursors.
As I discussed earlier, problematic and illegal substance use, coupled with an illicit drug supply that has become increasingly more dangerous has led to a spike in overdoses and deaths. This risk is especially pertinent to fentanyl, given its extreme potency and difficulty to detect in other so-called “recreational drugs.”
Our Government is committed to protecting public health and safety by curbing production and trafficking of banned substances. Bill C-37 would amend the CDSA to provide the necessary tools to do so.
At the end of 2016, the Government of Canada added six fentanyl precursors to the list of controlled substances under the CDSA to help address the illegal production of fentanyl and related drugs. If passed, Bill C-37 would provide a wider array of effective tools to fight the illegal production and trafficking of all dangerous narcotics, including fentanyl and carfentanil.
In addition, many overdoses have come as a result of ingesting drugs that appear identical to legitimately produced pharmaceuticals. These drugs are made without adequate controls and often contain unpredictable amounts of high potency, and potentially lethal, substances such as fentanyl and carfentanil. Essential to making these illegal drugs are pill presses and encapsulator devices and illegal producers can turn out thousands of counterfeit pills or capsules in a very short time. This presents a significant risk to public health and safety.
That being said, pill presses and encapsulators are also used in legitimate manufacturing processes in the pharmaceutical, food and consumer product industries. This is why a registration system is being proposed, whose new requirement would impose minimal burden on legitimate manufacturers.
Importers of pill presses and encapsulators devices would simply have to register with Health Canada prior to bringing these devices into this country. Importation of these devices without proof of registration would be prohibited, and border officials could detain those arriving without proper registration.
Changes are also being proposed to help information sharing between Health Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, about the importation of pill presses and encapsulators, and also with law enforcement agencies in the course of an investigation.
In addition to the registration of imported pill press and encapsulator equipment, C-37 would broaden the scope of “pre-production activities” associated with the production of illegal drugs. Pre-production activities include buying and assembling chemical ingredients or industrial equipment with the intention of using it to make illicit narcotics. The offences and punishments would be extended to capture equipment and chemicals not currently listed in the CDSA Schedules.
Bill C-37’s proposed amendments to the Customs Act would also allow border officials to open incoming international mail weighing 30 grams or less, if there are grounds to suspect it contains goods which are prohibited, controlled or regulated under another Act of Parliament. This would allow border officials to open packages that are suspected to contain substances intended for use in the production of illicit drugs, and is in response to substantial evidence that illicit drugs such as fentanyl are being brought into Canada through the postal system. While 30 grams may seem like a small amount, it is equivalent to approximately 15 thousand lethal doses of fentanyl.
The changes proposed in Bill C-37 are an important part of the Government’s multi-faceted plan to address the growing opioid crisis in Canada. The Bill would provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to take early action against suspected drug production operations and to respond to the ever-changing illicit drug market.
At the end of 2016, news of over ten overdose deaths in one night in British Columbia highlighted an already alarming, and tragic situation and the opioid crisis has not gone away with the beginning of the New Year. Instead, it gets worse as hard-working emergency responders and public health officials struggle to keep up with the increasing number of those afflicted. Unfortunately, I witness this challenge in my own riding of Cloverdale-Langley City, one of Canada’s communities most affected by the opioid crisis. Sadly, my constituents are not alone in facing this issue.
As we in this House study legislation from day-to-day, we must often ask ourselves: “what will be the direct result of this legislation, this action?” With Bill C-37, we have an opportunity to pass legislation that will directly save lives. There is currently tremendous work being done to combat this issue, such as the RCMP’s Surrey Outreach Team, who have been effective in addressing addiction and homelessness issues in our local community. This task force responded to 55 overdoses in just two weeks, and have continued saving lives in the City of Surrey. While the individual efforts of police detachments and public health officials has resulted in positive results at the local level, these front-line responders need federal assistance, and a national framework to tackle the issue.
The sooner Bill C-37 becomes law in Canada, the sooner it can help those most afflicted by this ongoing public health emergency. I trust that all Members of this House understand the importance of this Bill and hope that they will support it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.