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'Lives are at stake': Move Bill C-37 to committee, says Sen. Harder

Speech before the Senate

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts. This is urgent legislation designed to save lives in the context of the ongoing opioid crisis in Canada, including addressing the issue of supervised consumption sites. It contains measures needed right away to protect our communities and our kids from death by overdose, and to prevent further tragedies.

For too long we have been reading almost daily headlines about heartbreaking losses across the country, including so many of our young people. The rise in deaths by overdose is due in large part to the spread of deadly opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil. 

I submit that we have an obligation to the public, including parents across Canada, to move Bill C-37 forward as quickly as possible. Lives are at stake. Without C-37’s legal changes in place, each day carries an additional and unnecessary risk to Canadians – especially young people, and the marginalized members of society who are at the greatest risk of death by overdose.

I thank Senator Campbell for sponsoring this legislation and for his powerful speech last week. I would also sincerely thank Senator Dagenais, the Conservative critic on this bill, for speaking very quickly thereafter. His speech demonstrated that vigorous debate can be timely debate, and he demonstrated that this chamber has the capacity to act thoughtfully and with a sense of urgency.

This sense of urgency must inform the pace of our deliberations on Bill C-37. We need to review this bill carefully, as we must all legislation, but we also need to complete that review as quickly as possible. For that reason, I will conclude my remarks today by asking this Chamber to move Bill C-37 to committee by the end of Thursday, before we rise for two weeks. Any senator wishing to join debate at second reading still has time, but for those who have not spoken by the end of deliberations Thursday, I would ask you to reserve your remarks for third reading, so that Bill C-37 may move to committee.

I also take this opportunity to remind the Chamber that second reading is the stage of debate where senators must determine if they agree with the principle pursued by the bill.

Honourable senators, with lives at stake, I believe this Chamber is ready to endorse the principle of this bill. Let us use the two-week break to prepare for the bill’s study at committee. Senators who wish to speak to particular aspects of Bill C-37 will have ample opportunity to do so at Third Reading.

I will not repeat the remarks of Senator Campbell, who along with Senator White, has shown tremendous leadership in combatting the deadly harms of opioid abuse.

I will, however, briefly outline the proposals contained in Bill C-37 and explain why they will have the immediate effect of saving lives in Canada.

Specifically, C-37 will allow border officers to open international mail weighing under 30 grams, which they cannot currently do. In the context of this change, consider that one standard size mail envelope – 30 grams – can contain enough fentanyl to cause 15,000 overdoses.

I will repeat that fact. One envelope can contain enough fentanyl to cause 15,000 overdoses. This legislation would allow the search of such envelopes, which cannot currently occur. Taking even one of these packages off the streets can prevent numerous overdose deaths in Canada.

In addition, Bill C-37 will prohibit the unregistered importation of pill presses and encapsulators, which can be used to make counterfeit drugs.

I am a senator designated for Ottawa. This is my community, and I feel a special responsibility to the people of this city. So in this context, I would be remiss not to mention the heart wrenching loss of Chloe Kotval in Kanata last month. Chloe was 14 years old, a grade 9 student. She overdosed on counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl. So it is not surprising that hundreds of parents packed a pair of meetings in February in Kanata to learn how to administer naloxone, an opioid antidote.   

Chloe’s story is becoming all too common and parents across Canada are afraid. If my son and his friends were in high school with these pills going around, I would be scared too. No community, no demographic, is safe from this scourge, and I will repeat for emphasis that the stakes could not be higher.

Bill C-37 contains other important measures to prevent the deaths and harms associated with the opioid crisis. The bill creates administrative penalties for the over 600 licenced dealers who manufacture, sell and distribute controlled substances, to reduce the risk of diversion of controlled substances.

Bill C-37 also streamlines the approval process for establishing supervised consumption sites by reducing 26 application criteria with five factors outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 2011 ruling on Insite. Evidence shows that these sites save lives and improve health without harming surrounding communities. This too is a vitally important change. Last year in British Columbia alone, more than 900 people died from a drug overdose – an 80 % increase from 2015. The people using these sites are among society’s most marginalized and vulnerable persons.

Because C-37 will help save them from death by overdose, the bill is also a strong moral statement that in Canada, everyone matters.

Honourable senators, again I would thank Senator Dagenais for having spoken to Bill C-37 so quickly. And again I would state that we must not adjourn second reading on this legislation beyond this week. We must send C-37 to committee this Thursday at the very latest. In doing so, we must adopt this bill on principle, and allow the next two weeks as time to prepare for committee study. Senators and their staff may also use that time to prepare for any remarks at third reading. To delay any further with adjournments would be indefensible to Canadians. Opioid overdoses are a crisis, and every day matters. Lives are at stake. The Senate must act quickly. Thank you.