Bill C-2: Let’s get serious about respecting our communities

Ian Culbert
Ian Culbert
Executive Director

Bill C-2, otherwise known as the Respect for Communities Act, was introduced to the House of Commons on October 18, 2013 and quickly passed through first and second readings. The Bill is in response to the September 2011 Supreme Court ruling that ordered the federal Minister of Health to continue to provide an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, Insite, to operate. The Court’s decision was based on Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as closure of the facility was viewed as discrimination against its clients on the basis of disability. Addiction is considered a disability under Canadian law.

The title of the Bill suggests that the Government wants the concerns of the affected communities to be paramount and to form the basis for Ministerial decision-making regarding the provision of exemptions for any newly-proposed supervised injection facilities.

While the intent of the Bill may be to stimulate a legitimate community consultation process, the list of information requirements contained in the current text (27 in total) places an emphasis on the opinions of non-local governments and stakeholders, as opposed to those of the community. As such, it is CPHA’s opinion that, if enacted, the Bill will subvert the interests of the community, in contradiction to its stated title.

While CPHA supports a legal framework to address the production, importation, possession and distribution of illegal drugs, we also recognize that people who use these substances are best served through public health approaches that respect their human rights. One such approach is the establishment of supervised injection facilities in communities where such a need exists. We further recognize that the communities in which such facilities might be located should be the focus of consultation and decision-making processes.

The Bill has now been sent to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (interesting, since the Bill is sponsored by the Minister of Health) and CPHA has requested to appear as a witness.

Based on a review of the evidence, it is CPHA’s recommendation to the Standing Committee that Bill C-2 be withdrawn. If enacted in its current form, Bill C-2 will:

  • impede development of supervised consumption facilities in communities where they are needed;
  • prevent the continuing operation of the only supervised consumption facility in Canada (Insite); and
  • fail to honour the spirit of the unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society.

In anticipation that the Committee will not be inclined to recommend the withdrawal of the Bill, CPHA has formulated a series of amendments to the Bill that, if enacted, might better reflect the spirit of the Supreme Court of Canada’s September 2011 decision.

We will keep our members and the broader public health community apprised of any new developments and will circulate a copy of our Brief to the Standing Committee when it is complete. We encourage all who are interested to contact your Member of Parliament to express your concerns about Bill C-2.