Third reading of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, as amendedPublished on 4 May 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Bill C-37, an Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, as amended.
I have to say to you, senators, and you’ve heard me speak many times about this, but I want to thank the government for bringing this bill in front of us.
As I have said many times, and I’m going to repeat it again, when I am on my way home at 11 p.m., the streets will be full of ambulances. On my way home on East Hastings Street, it will be full of fire trucks and police cars like I’ve never seen in all the years I’ve lived in North Vancouver.
It occurred to me the other day to ask: What does that mean? It’s not just that the streets are full of ambulances, but also people who fall. I had a relative who fell a few weeks ago. She sat on the ground for 12 hours because there was no ambulance to take her to the hospital. She was not dying, so they could not go to her first. That’s how it affects the community. So I very much appreciate the government once again bringing this bill in front of us.
Before discussing the substance of the bill, I would like to share the story of a young man from Vancouver who died because of opioids. His story shows just how deadly fentanyl and other opioids can be.
The night before he died, Dylan, a 21-year-old student, went out with his father to have dinner at an Indian restaurant and celebrate his graduation from Capilano University.
Dylan’s mother said her son was “well on the road to recovery” from drug problems that he suffered in the past, and was working closely with a private psychologist to be completely free from addiction.
This all changed when he bought a single pill from a drug dealer after the celebration. His mother describes what she saw when she came home the next day:
The condo was filled with police. They would not let me see him. I waited for four hours for the coroner. I wanted to cover him up. I just wanted to hold my baby.
That was the last time I gave Dylan a kiss. He was in a body bag.
The goal of Bill C-37 is to avert this kind of tragedy. Situations like Dylan’s are played out every day in my province, British Columbia. On April 27, British Columbia set a new record. In a single day, emergency health services responded to 130 overdose calls, so it was a terrible record. As Senator Campbell told us yesterday, there were also 120 deaths in British Columbia in March. That works out to about four deaths a day in a single month.
Every time I go back to Vancouver, I see with my own eyes the toll this crisis is taking. I see ambulances all over the city, especially on Hastings Street East. Hastings Street was the heart of downtown Vancouver, a place for retail stores, restaurants, and hotels. Because of the damage done by drugs, it has become the city’s most beleaguered neighbourhoods. We cannot allow this situation to continue. I strongly believe that Bill C-37 is the answer to this crisis.
Instead of simply tackling one of the elements of this crisis, Bill C-37 adopts a comprehensive approach to deal with this issue. It sets several objectives focusing on harm reduction.
The first objective is dealing with the trafficking, importation and manufacture of controlled substances. In other words, Bill C-37 will be targeting what is known as the precursors of fentanyl and other opioids, the products used to make them. Bill C-37 uses three tools to accomplish this goal.
The first tool is the expansion of section 7.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which deals with the offence of possession, production, sale or importation of anything knowing that it will be used to produce or traffic in methamphetamine.
Under Bill C-37, this offence will now apply to anything that is intended to be used to produce or traffic in any controlled substance. This includes the pill-press machines that criminals have been importing into Canada so that they can create bootleg fentanyl. It also includes substances that are used to create drugs and opioids. It is no understatement to say that these precursors are the issue at the heart of the opioid crisis.
At the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Acting Chief Superintendent Andris Zarins of the RCMP told us that nearly all of the organized crime groups in Canada are involved in one or more aspects of the illicit drug market involving precursors. So long as these precursors are allowed to travel across Canada because of organized crime, this crisis will never end and our communities will never be safe from these opioids. By tackling this part of the drug trade, Bill C-37 will block fentanyl and other opioids before they are even created.
The second tool involves removing the exemption in the Customs Act that prevents officers at the border from inspecting mail weighing 30 grams or less.
Fentanyl is far more potent than the drugs that we have seen until this point — 100 times more powerful than heroin. Even milligrams of fentanyl can kill a person. With 30 grams of the substance, you could kill as many as 15,000 people. With this change, officers in the CBSA can take action to deal with this new and hard-to-track threat.
The final tool this bill introduces to fight precursors also realizes that the threat that drugs present is always evolving. To deal with this fact, Bill C-37 allows for the minister to temporarily add more substances to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Without this tool, our officials would never be able to keep up with the new tools that criminals in Canada develop to avoid being detected by the law. Acting Superintendent Zarins described the importance of this provision well when he stated:
Sophisticated organized crime groups and criminal facilitators are exploiting Canada’s drug control efforts by producing and trafficking new substances that have yet to be captured in our laws and, as such, are not illegal. For instance, in order to circumvent current drug control laws, some of these groups make slight modifications to the chemical structure of a controlled substance and are thereby able to produce and traffic them with relative impunity.
If our system is not able to become flexible and react to these new drugs as they come into existence, we will simply be faced with another crisis as criminals adapt.
We must be ready to deal with the evolution of drugs, or criminals will simply continue to exploit our system.
As I mentioned earlier, this bill is important because it understands that there is no one solution that can completely solve the opioid crisis. It employs multiple strategies.
In addition to tackling the precursors, the bill also makes it easier to create supervised injection sites, which have been some of our most important resources in fighting the battle against opioids.
According to Health Minister Philpott:
Many cities and communities across the country desperately want to be able to open supervised consumption sites.
The evidence is abundant that when properly established and maintained supervised consumption sites save lives without increasing drug use and crime in the surrounding area.
These facilities are one of our best ways of saving lives as this crisis continues.
Dr. Perry Kendall, the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, summarized the importance of these sites well when she stated:
It actually pains me to think that had the conditions of Bill C-37 been in place years ago, we in B.C. would have had more consumption sites and would have been better prepared to respond to this onslaught.
Supervised consumption sites do save lives, prevent the spread of communicable diseases, reduce public disorder and, perhaps most importantly, they initiate care and refer individuals with mental health and substance use disorders into community-based systems of care.
Unfortunately, it has been incredibly difficult for many of these supervised injection sites to actually gain the approval that they need to operate.
Honourable senators, currently there are 26 different requirements that our laws impose on these facilities before they can actually start helping our communities.
The process that the government currently uses to verify whether or not these places can operate can take as long as a year and nine months.
Under Bill C-37, this process will be greatly simplified. Instead of having to satisfy 26 different requirements, facilities will only have to go through five. Further, it makes the application process itself far simpler, making it easier for facilities to apply to become safe injection sites.
These changes will ensure that they can start saving lives as soon as possible.
Before concluding, I would like to share one last story with you. I still think of the haunting story of a mother from my province, Petra Schulz, who told me about the death of her son Danny. She said:
At 25 years old, Danny had been clear for a year, until I walked into the bathroom to discover his body on the floor. We called 911, but it was too late. According to experts, Danny dissolved one single fentanyl pill in water, and took it the following night, after coming home from work. Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent. There are many, many parents who suffer in silence.
Honourable Senators, with so many parents suffering because they have lost their children to this crisis, it is time for us to come together and support Bill C-37.
The bill recognizes two realities. On one hand, it recognizes that this crisis will never end until we can prevent opioids from coming into Canada in the first place. This is why Bill C-37 is also adopting several measures to target the precursors of fentanyl.
On the other, it recognizes that the threat of fentanyl is already here in Canada, and is doing immeasurable harm to our people, especially our children. To address that fact, it is empowering supervised drug consumption sites across Canada.
This is why I support Bill C-37. It understands that there is not one solution that can completely solve the opioid crisis. We must, therefore, approach this issue from as many angles as possible to ensure that we have truly dealt with it.
Every day we wait to pass this bill means another four people will have died in my province in British Columbia. Honourable senators, I ask that we pass this bill as soon as possible so that the four people who are dying in my province every day get help, their families get help, and we stop this crisis. Thank you very much.