Bill to make it easier to create supervised drug-consumption sites becomes law

Liberal government legislation that includes measures to remove 26 strict requirements for new supervised injection sites has received royal assent to become law.

Jane Philpott says the country is facing an opioid crisis of 'unprecedented proportions'

Health Minister Jane Philipott says the bill will improve the government's ability to offer harm-reduction services. (Fred Chartrand/Fred Chartrand)

Canada is dealing with an opioid crisis of "unprecedented proportions", Health Minister Jane Philpott said Thursday as she spoke in defence of a new law that removes 26 strict requirements for new supervised injection sites.

Under the former law, new sites had to provide medical and scientific evidence of benefit and letters of support from provincial health ministers, local police and regional health officials — criteria established by the previous Conservative government that advocates argued created far too many barriers for harm-reduction facilities.

The government said Thursday the new law streamlines the application process to align it with five factors set out by the Supreme Court of Canada, adding that evidence of a site's intended public health benefit will be required for applications.

One letter of support from a provincial or territorial minister will still be required and if the federal government refuses a site application, it will be required to make the rationale public.

"The evidence on supervised consumption sites is absolutely clear," Philpott said outside the House of Commons.

"In communities where they have been well-established and maintained, including of course Insite in Vancouver, . . . it has been shown to, of course, save lives and reduce infections but it has shown to have no negative impacts on crime rates in the community."

The new law also includes measures to restrict the import of pill presses and encapsulators — two machines commonly used in the production of illicit drugs, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said.

It also lifts a restriction that prevented border guards from inspecting packages under 30 grams in weight even if they had reason to believe the packages held illegal drugs, he added.

"Bear in mind that a 30-gram package can include enough opioids to kill . . . 15,000 people," Goodale said. "That is a reasonable measure to put in the law to allow (the Canada Border Services Agency) to have the authority, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence, they will have the authority to inspect the package."

Health officials and political leaders have been sounding the alarm about a dramatic spike in opioid deaths across Canada — the focus of a national summit in Ottawa last fall that pulled together experts from across the country.