Election 2015: Bill C-2 and supervised consumption services — Canada’s major federal parties respond

This is the sixth and last in a series of blog posts being published by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network ahead of Election Day on October 19, 2015.

Recently, we sent a questionnaire to the five major federal parties, asking their position on key questions related to HIV and human rights. Four out of five parties responded. Their responses are shared here, along with our comments. See www.aidslaw.ca/election2015 for more information.

October 13, 2015

Earlier this year, the federal government passed Bill C-2, the so-called Respect for Communities Act, establishing excessive and unreasonable requirements for health authorities and community agencies who wish to open or continue operating supervised consumption services for people who use drugs, including directing the federal health minister to grant exceptions only in “exceptional circumstances” — in flagrant disregard for the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2011 decision affirming the life-saving benefits of Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site.

Supervised consumption services (SCS) are health services that provide a safe, hygienic environment where people can use pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff. SCS are part of a broader harm reduction approach to substance use and have numerous health and social benefits. Among other health benefits, SCS have proven to be effective in reducing deaths from overdose and decreasing the sharing of drug injection equipment, thus reducing the risk of spreading blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

Yet the clients and staff of such health services risk criminal prosecution for drug possession unless the premises receive an exemption from the federal health minister — now, thanks to Bill C-2, a complicated and onerous process that creates an unacceptable barrier to access. We asked major political parties whether they would repeal Bill C-2 and facilitate access to SCS in Canada. Here is what they said.

All four of the parties who responded indicated they support supervised consumption services as effective harm reduction tools.

  • The Liberal Party said it is committed to “replacing this flawed Conservative legislation with an evidence-based drug policy,” adding that SCS are “an integral part of a broader, evidence-based national drug policy.” 
  • The New Democratic Party noted that its MPs fought Bill C-2 in Parliament, and stated that it is committed to “reversing the negative impact of a range of Harper legislation that is lacking a scientific evidence base.” As a follow-up to its original response, the NDP later sent an update, stressing that it would “restore the voices of scientists in Canada.” Namely, the NDP promised to create a Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, restore the mandatory long-form census, and establish the Office of the Parliamentary Science Officer “to ensure parliamentarians have the best possible access to science-based analysis.” 
  • The Green Party similarly mentioned their opposition to Bill C-2 in the House of Commons, and declared that “[t]he scientific evidence, social policy research, and public health results prove unequivocally that supervised consumption sites save lives and make all Canadians safer.” It stated clearly its intention to immediately repeal Bill C-2 and to “boost funding for safe injection sites and treatment facilities.” 
  • The Bloc Québécois responded by sharing an August 2015 news release expressing its support for a Montreal organization’s plan to open a SCS. It made no mention specifically of Bill C-2.

The Conservative Party of Canada did not respond to the questionnaire.

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