Don, Murray Rankin, MP for Victoria (NDP Justice Critic) and Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East (NDP Immigration Critic) tour Insite. (March 2016.)
By Peter O’Neil
OTTAWA — The federal government said Wednesday it is prepared to amend Conservative legislation that critics say was intended to prevent the national proliferation of supervised injection sites modelled after Vancouver’s Insite facility.
The pledge from Health Minister Jane Philpott came after B.C. New Democrat MP Don Davies, who earlier Wednesday pushed through a motion to hold an emergency parliamentary study into the opioid crisis, said Canada needs more facilities like the Downtown Eastside’s.
“Mr. Speaker, there is an overdose epidemic gripping our nation,” said the MP for Vancouver Kingsway, citing one projection that an estimated 2,000 Canadians could die in overdoses this year.
That death toll includes the 488 in B.C. in the first eight months of 2016, compared to 505 for the entire 2015 calendar year, according to statistics released earlier this week.
Davies pointed out in his question that in 2013, Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry, a former family physician and at the time her party’s health critic, said the Tory law on supervised sites was intended to create hurdles too onerous to overcome.
“If it becomes clear to us that we need to make some further amendments to that Act to … ensure that there are no barriers, then we will certainly do that,” she told reporters.
“We believe that supervised consumption sites are a deeply evidence-based mechanism that we know helps Canadians to access care, helps to save lives and helps to prevent infections,” she said.
Davies said he was pleased with the minister’s response, noting that even cooperation from supportive bureaucrats doesn’t offset the hurdles set up by the tough-on-drugs government of Stephen Harper.
The former government’s law, passed after a Supreme Court of Canada decision allowed Insite to stay open, included “26 separate, discrete requirements … that make groups that want to open a supervised injection site have to go through all sorts of administrative hoops,” Davies said.
“They have to do immense consultations with a wide variety of groups. They have to fulfil a lot of paperwork that is very onerous, and any group will tell you it takes months and months and months and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to get the application in.
“In the meantime, people die.”
Philpott has already announced a federal-provincial meeting in November to seek solutions to the crisis, and has taken several interim steps to, for instance, restrict access to six chemicals used to make fentanyl, the potent opioid at the centre of the crisis.
The MP also tried unsuccessfully earlier this week to get Liberals to expand the breadth of a “Good Samaritan” bill being advanced by B.C. Liberal MP Ron McKinnon, who represents Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam.
The bill would give anyone immunity from prosecution for drug possession charges to anyone who contacts authorities to assist someone suffering from a drug overdose.
Davies said that bill should be expanded to include other drug-related offences, like trafficking, so a broader range of people would be encouraged to dial 911 in order to save the life of someone in their midst.
But Liberals on the committee rejected his amendment, saying it was not within the legislative scope of McKinnon’s legislation.