British Columbia

Health Minister open to removing 'undue barriers' to harm reduction

Health Minister Jane Philpott drew criticism earlier this week when she said the federal Liberal government did not have immediate plans to repeal Bill C-2. Philpott spoke with CBC's On The Coast to clarify the government's position on the controversial bill.

The Health Minister clarified the government's position after stating she had no plans to repeal Bill C-2

Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, spoke with CBC Radio on Friday to clarify the federal Liberal government's position on Bill C-2. Comments made by Philpott earlier this week that her department had no plans to repeal the bill raised concerns from health experts and advocates. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Some health experts and advocates were upset Wednesday when Health Minister Jane Philpott said the federal Liberal government had no immediate plans to repeal Bill C-2.

The Harper government's controversial bill, known as the Respect for Communities Act, has been criticized for making it exceedingly difficult to open new supervised consumption sites.

Philpott has made it clear that the Liberal government supports harm reduction and supervised consumption sites. It came as a surprise to learn that they planned to leave in place legislation that can impede this. 

Philpott spoke with Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast on Friday to clarify her position.

Q: Are you not contradicting yourself by saying that you support harm reduction sites, but are leaving legislation in place that impedes their expansion?

We are supportive of harm reduction sites, including access to supervised consumption sites.

In terms of the legislation, this is an ongoing assessment and we have made strong indications to municipalities across the country to encourage them to undergo the application process if they feel in their community it is appropriate to have a supervised consumption site. 

We have heard the concerns about the legislation and the possibility that it may put up undue barriers. 

If we decide that there needs to be either change in the legislation or a repeal, then certainly we would be open to doing that.

Q: Patricia Daly, chief medical officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said the application process for supervised consumption sites is onerous and she would prefer the province handle applications. What is your response to this?

To be able to operate a supervised consumption site it requires an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which is a federal act, so it does require federal participation. I have indicated that I want my department to work collaboratively with the communities that have already expressed their interest. 

Making sure harm reduction facilities are available is something we need to work on. If it is deemed that the legislation needs to be changed then we are open to that.

Q: Can you give us a timeline...

The House of Commons is not sitting at the moment, so even if the decision is made that the legislation needs to be changed or repealed it is not something I can do in the next number of weeks. In the meantime, my department is working with communities who have made applications to get sites open as quickly as we can.

Q: Metro Vancouver is on track for 743 overdose deaths this year, a 47 per cent increase from last year. 
How can your government take a 'wait and see' approach on this issue?

We are not taking a wait and see approach at all. In fact, we are working very, very actively on this file. 

This interview with Jane Philpott has been edited for length and clarity. 

With files from On The Coast.

To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott on Bill C-2