Declare emergency now on opioid crisis, Ottawa told

Peter O’Neil

January 31, 2017

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government has to stop foot-dragging on the opioid overdose crisis and immediately enact emergency powers to reduce the death toll, opposition MPs said Tuesday.

B.C. New Democrat health critic Don Davies made the call in a blistering speech in the House of Commons during debate on Bill C-37, the Liberal government’s legislative response to the crisis.

The bill would, among other things, remove barriers in a law passed by the Conservatives in 2015 that critics said made it difficult to open supervised opioid-consumption sites in Canada.

It would also give the Canada Border Services Agency more powers to inspect suspicious mail and allow Ottawa to limit the importation of devices such as pill presses.

The visibly angry Vancouver Kingsway MP said the Liberals, who in opposition criticized the 2015 Tory law on injection sites, waited far too long before finally tabling C-37 in December in order to remove those barriers.

That means the legislation will “take months” to become law even though the B.C. death toll soared to a record-shattering 914 in 2016, he noted.

Instead, Davies said the government should invoke the 1985 Emergencies Act, a never-used law that replaced the controversial War Measures Act. It gives the government extraordinary powers in the event of national emergencies.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott reiterated on Tuesday her recent challenge to the B.C. government, asking her B.C. counterpart, Terry Lake, what would the Emergencies Act allow her to do that she isn’t already able to do.

“But to this date, everything that they have requested in terms of making sure that we expand access to treatment possibilities for them, that we make sure that they get the resources that they need, that we change legislation as it relates to harm reduction, we’re moving forward on all of those,” Philpott said.

Davies said that the emergencies law would allow Canada’s chief public health officer (a post held on an interim basis by Dr. Theresa Tam) “to take extraordinary measures to coordinate a national response” to the crisis.

“This could include an allocation of emergency funding on the scale required to actually address the mounting death toll, as well as sanctioning the operation of temporary supervised consumption sites on an emergency basis.”

The B.C. Health Ministry, in response to Philpott’s challenge, issued a statement to Postmedia saying the emergencies act could, among other things, allow Ottawa to fund “mobile medical units for overdose hot spots” and open more consumption sites.

In his speech, Davies also blasted Philpott for stating in a recent interview that her government’s numerous steps taken in response to the crisis — among them C-37, an agreement with China to fight fentanyl smuggling and the banning of fentanyl precursor drugs — represent “progress” by the federal government.

“When Canadians are dying at unprecedented rates, when month after month we see increased death tolls from opioid overdoses, there can be no legitimate talk of progress,” Davies said.

Philpott defended her government’s record since taking office in late 2015, and urged MPs to pass the bill that would make it easier to set up injection sites.

“We have heard desperate cries for help from communities most affected by the opioid crisis,” she said.

“They have indicated that the current requirements are burdensome and hinder their ability to offer services needed to reduce harm and to save lives.”

B.C. Conservative MPs Dianne Watts (South Surrey-White Rock) and Cathy McLeod (Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo) announced in mid-January that they support the B.C. government’s call on Ottawa to use the Emergencies Act.

But the official Opposition made clear Tuesday it will oppose C-37’s attempt to weaken the ability of local communities to block injection sites.

The two B.C. Tories are instead pushing for a “national education campaign” so “moms and dads” can be engaged in the debate.

“I think there is a lot of good things (in the bill), but to not have communities engaged is really problematic when we look at consumption sites,” Watts said Tuesday.

McLeod said a “state of emergency” should be invoked “so we raise the elevation so people know about what is happening, because it is happening in B.C. now and it will be going across the country.”

Davies lit into the Conservative party, which while in office took its unsuccessful fight to shut down Vancouver’s Insite injection site to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In December, when Davies moved a motion calling for unanimous consent for MPs to pass C-37 and send it immediately that day to the Senate, Tory MPs blocked the motion.

Davies slammed the Tory party’s 2015 effort to raise money by inciting fear among Canadians that, if Stephen Harper lost power, “heroin injection houses” would be imposed on their communities.

That was “a move so vile it would impress Donald Trump” and an attempt “to campaign on the backs of the most vulnerable Canadians, sick Canadians,” he told MPs.

Declare emergency now on opioid crisis, Ottawa told

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