Gateway Gazette

John Barlow: Saving a Life: C-37 and the Opioid Crisis

It is clear we are facing an opioid crisis in western Canada. On a daily basis we hear of a friend, a neighbour, or even a family member dying of a drug overdose, usually fentanyl.

It is heartbreaking, and I know Alberta communities are hurting. There were 338 accidental opioid deaths in Alberta, and 662 in British Columbia in 2016, and experts are predicting 2017 will be even worse.

We must do something to stop the illegal importation of drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil, provide our mental health services the resources they need to provide counselling and care, and ensure those selling these drugs are punished severely.

As a first step to address this crisis, the Liberal government tabled Bill C-37. The Bill seeks to allow the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) the authority to cease the importation of unregistered pill presses and allows them to open suspicious packages weighing less than 30g. The Bill also seeks to grant the Minister of Health more powers to quickly and temporarily class and schedule new synthetic and dangerous drugs. However, the Bill also seeks to severely weaken the Respect for Communities Act, which oversees the approval of safe injection sites.

As a result of this Bill, we have heard from communities who are concerned they will not have input on the location of these sites or whether they want them at all. Knowing how critical it is to proceed with providing CBSA the resources to combat the trafficking of these deadly drugs, the Official Opposition put forward a motion to push the Bill through all three readings.

Saving lives is our primary goal, but knowing many Canadians are worried an injection site will appear in their neighbourhood without the community’s support our motion on February 1 proposed splitting the Bill. This would have allowed the majority of the Bill to pass unanimously through the House and likely through the Senate.

This would have granted the CBSA the authority and powers they have been seeking to combat the inflow of illegal substances and cease unregistered devices. This would have granted the Minister of Health the powers she is seeking when classing new substances.

Splitting the Bill would have also given members more opportunity to debate the importance of community engagement in the consultation process when applying and approving injection sites. Instead, with the support of the NDP, the Liberals voted down our motion.

Instead of fast-tracking this Bill, it will now go through months of additional bureaucracy while more Canadians die as a result of fentanyl overdoes every day.

We were stunned the Liberals and New Democrats voted down this motion, we tried a second time, thinking they would reconsider. Again, they denied the motion to spit the Bill. Frustrated, we then proposed two amendments in committee. The first would ensure there was at least a 45 day consultation period when considering a safe injection site. The second would give the mayor and the head of police the right to be a part of the application process by including their opposition or support for an injection site in their community. These reasonable amendments were denied by the Liberal and NDP members of the committee, meaning there is no chance for meaningful engagement with community stakeholders.

As the Bill stands today, injection sites could be forced on communities that don’t want or need them.

The Minister will tell Canadians these sites will save lives, and perhaps that is true, but I will argue saving a life is offering an alternative to committing crimes, getting high, and potentially overdosing.  Saving a life is ensuring the option to get proper treatment is available the moment it is requested.

I have spoken to residents of Foothills about the difficulty in accessing detox and addiction treatment, and not all those who have overdosed are struggling addicts. Some are recreational users. This is a critical issue, and I know the profound impact fentanyl has had on the constituents in my riding from every walk of life.

We are not trying to play politics or be insensitive.  On the contrary, I think all members are working hard to protect Canadians. I know I speak for my riding when I say we must take action against the opioid crisis enveloping Western Canada.

Therefore, I am asking the residents of Foothills to contact the Minister of Health and ask her to reconsider the motion to split Bill C-37 in two so we can ensure the CBSA has the powers they’ve been asking for, while injection sites are further debated.

We are facing an emergency, fentanyl does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what age you are, what gender you are, how much money you make. It can kill you.

We can, and must, move quickly to protect the lives of Canadians.


Jane Philpott, Minister of Health

6060 Main Street (Main Office)

Stouffville, Ontario

L4A 1B8


John Barlow is the Member of Parliament for the Foothills Riding of Southern Alberta.

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