Today, at the Canadian Senate in Ottawa, I watched the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs discuss possible changes to Canada’s prospective drug laws. These amendments included a number of recommendations submitted by Pivot.
Canada’s New Drug Strategy: Bill C-37
Last December, Parliament introduced Bill C-37: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts as part of its new Drugs and Substances Strategy. In part, the Bill aims to simplify the onerous process of applying for an exemption to operate a supervised injection site. It is a significant departure from Canada’s old Anti-Drug Strategy, which ineffectively prioritized prohibition over prevention, harm reduction, and treatment—an approach that left a legacy of 922 fatal overdoses last year alone in British Columbia.
Bill C-37 is an important step in the right direction, but given the public health emergency facing communities across the country, it does not go far enough. We can do better.
Planting the Seeds of Change: Pivot’s Recommendations
Improving timely access to health and safety services for people who use drugs is critical. Unnecessary barriers to supervised injection cost real lives and reinforce stigma against drug using populations. Pivot’s recommendations take aim at those barriers and approach supervised injection as exactly what it is: an evidence-based health service that saves lives.
- Further streamline the federal exemption process by narrowing the information applicants must submit in their application to operate a supervised consumption site. Applicants should only be required to submit evidence of need for a site.
- Empower provinces to temporarily authorize emergency supervised consumption sites in the context of health crises.
We must protect the rights of people who use drugs
If adopted, these recommendations would save lives and remove some of the burden from service providers and volunteers currently channeling all available resources into life-saving efforts.
If Bill C-37 passes without them, an opportunity will be lost. The legislation, in its proposed form, leaves in place several unreasonable barriers to supervised injection services. Applying for an exemption to operate a site will continue to be onerous and time-consuming, and communities will still be tasked with gathering unnecessary information to ‘prove’ that a site is needed. Furthermore, provinces still won’t have the latitude they need to deal with health crises quickly and effectively in the absence of a mechanism that allows for emergency supervised injection services.
In the coming days, the Senate committee will continue to hear from panels of leading experts on drug policy in Canada. If no amendments are adopted, it is likely that Bill C-37 will pass quickly through the Senate into formal law. By accepting our proposed recommendations, the federal government has an opportunity to make good on its commitment to approach drug use as a public health issue rather than a matter of criminal law and to support some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
My hope is that the calls for change advocated by Pivot and communities across the country do not go unheard, as they have all too often in the past. These changes are more than just ‘legislative amendments’: For many people who use drugs, they are the difference between life and death.
Pivot needs your help. You can support this call for change by making a gift today. With your assistance, we can continue to push for progress and change in Canadian drug policy and expand harm reduction services. Please support the effort by donating today.