NDP tries to fast-track bill to make supervised injection sites easier to open

The NDP is trying to fast-track the Liberals' plan to address the opioid crisis. The health minister addressed concerns today in committee about Bill C-37, which would make it easier to open supervised consumption sites and add border controls to restrict fentanyl production and distribution.

Health Minister Jane Philpott says 'fear-mongering' about sites on every corner 'not helpful at all'

Minister of Health Jane Philpott says the current process for communities to get supervised consumption sites to prevent opioid overdoses is "onerous." She has introduced legislation to speed the approval of so-called safe-injection sites and combat trafficking in drugs such as fentanyl. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The NDP failed to get unanimous consent to speed up the passage of a Liberal bill that would make it easier for communities to open supervised consumption sites and prevent overdose deaths caused by opioids — but the party will try again.

Bill C-37 would simplify the criteria required for the federal government to provide legal exemptions to supervised consumption sites. It would also give border guards greater powers to restrict the trafficking of opioids and the tools used to manufacture them in Canada.

Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies raised a motion to send the bill to the Senate.

Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies raised an NDP motion to speed the passage of a bill to make it easier to open supervised consumption sites for opioid users. (CBC)

"All members of this house know that the opioid crisis is a national health emergency that is taking the lives of Canadians on a daily basis. Although it has taken a year, the government has tabled a bil that moves us in the right direction," Davies said. 

"The NDP believes that the critical need to get this bill passed as soon as possible is irrefutable: it will save lives."

Davies' motion failed, but he said he will try to get unanimous support again on Wednesday or try to send it directly to committee at least.

"Anything the NDP can do to expedite the opening of the safe consumption sites, we'll continue working on to save lives."

The government's bill would replace the 26 application criteria for supervised injection sites created under the Conservative's Respect for Communities Act, introduced in 2015 with five benchmarks:

  • Demonstration of the need for such a site to exist.
  • Demonstration of appropriate consultation of the community.
  • Presentation of evidence on whether the site will impact crime in the community.
  • Ensuring regulatory systems are in place.
  • Site proponents will need to prove appropriate resources are in place.

Health Minister Jane Philpott answered questions about the bill at the Commons health committee Tuesday.

"The current process is terribly onerous and has made it very difficult for communities that really want these sites to receive an exemption and it takes a number of months," Philpott said.

She said Health Canada will implement a service standard once the bill is passed, so organizations know how long it will take to review an application. 

Philpott said there are currently nine completed applications for sites — four from Montreal, three from Toronto and two from Vancouver, which already has two existing sites. She said officials are helping other groups put their applications together. 

Don't cause 'undue anxiety,' minister says

Conservative MP Rachael Harder said removing the existing application criteria would amount to "silencing the voice" of communities.

"The need to consult and gain social licence is something the Liberals constantly boast about. However, yesterday the health minister announced they are gutting the community consultation requirements when it comes to heroin injection sites," Harder said in question period.

"Families deserve to have a voice, schools deserve to have a voice, small businesses deserve to have a voice."

Philpott responded that communities will still be heard in accordance with the guidelines set out by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Earlier, Philpott asked the MPs on the committee to "not cause undue anxiety in communities where it's absolutely not appropriate to have supervised consumption sites."

While overdose deaths happen across Canada, she said the crisis is "spotty," with some communities such as southern B.C. experiencing a greater death toll.

She said the bill aims to quickly address communities where the need for supervised injection sites is urgent. 

"But there are all kinds of communities in the country where it's not appropriate," she said. "Where there's no community desire to have one, there's no demonstrated need — and clearly the fear-mongering about supervised consumption sites on every street corner is not helpful at all."

Philpott outlines safe injection site legislation 2:16