Health Canada

Health Canada

June 06, 2013 11:08 ET

Harper Government Respects Community Concerns With New Legislation for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 6, 2013) - The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, accompanied by the Honourable Minister Steven Blaney, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister for La Francophonie, announced the Harper Government has introduced the Respect for Communities Act, which would require any potential applications for supervised drug consumption sites in Canada to meet clear criteria before such applications can be considered.

"Our Government believes that creating a location for sanctioned use of drugs obtained from illicit sources has the potential for great harm in a community," said Minister Aglukkaq. "Accordingly, we believe that the application process needs to be changed to create formal opportunities for local voices to be heard, and their views considered before an exemption would be considered."

"The illicit drugs covered by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act pose serious risks to the health of Canadians," said Minister Blaney. "Substances obtained from illegal sources affect public safety and may fuel organized crime, and exemptions for illicit substances must be carefully assessed."

Supervised drug consumption sites require an exemption from Health Canada under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to legally operate.

This same section of the Act is used to give researchers permission to use controlled substances in scientific research like clinical trials, allow doctors to treat patients with methadone, make it possible for researchers to legally use controlled drugs to euthanize certain animals and allow law enforcement agencies to train police dogs to detect illicit drugs.

Currently, the same review process is in place for all these circumstances, meaning that Health Canada treats a law enforcement agency's application for the purposes of training police dogs in the same way that it would treat an application to open a site in which drug addicts would use street heroin.

The Respect for Communities Act would raise the bar for applications to establish supervised drug consumption sites that would allow for the use of what would otherwise be illegal drugs. It will not affect any type of Section 56 exemptions for substances obtained from licit sources, which will follow the current process.

Under the proposed new system, applicants for supervised drug consumptions sites would need to provide information outlining the views of a number of stakeholders including:

  • Local law enforcement;
  • Municipal leaders;
  • Public health officials; and
  • Provincial and territorial ministers responsible for health, which would include documentation showing what treatment options are available for those dealing with addiction.

An applicant would also be required to provide documentation that shows the site's expected impact on crime rates, the public health reasons for needing such a site, and evidence that there are adequate resources to sustain the site's operations.

These criteria are consistent with those laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in its 2011 ruling on Insite.

"Front-line law enforcement strongly believes that it is important for there to be a high threshold for applicants to meet before any supervised consumption site can be considered," said Tom Stamatakis, President of the Canadian Police Association. "While treating drug addiction is an important goal, my experience in Vancouver is that these sites also lead to an increase in criminal behaviour and disorder in the surrounding community and have a significant impact on police resources, and that's why it will be vital for the views of local police to be taken into account."

The proposed legislation also provides authority for the Minister of Health to publicly post a Notice of Application regarding proposed supervised drug consumption sites, and seek input directly from members of the general public.

Exemption applications for a supervised drug consumption site will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, according to the factors outlined by the SCC.

These actions demonstrate how the Harper Government is acting to protect public health and maintain public safety in Canadian communities.

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New Legislation for Supervised Consumption Sites

The Harper Government today introduced the Respect for Communities Act that would create a distinct legislative regime for exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) involving activities with illicit substances.

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is Canada's federal drug control statute. Its purpose is to protect public health and maintain public safety. Activities with controlled substances are prohibited unless these are allowed under the CDSA, its regulations, or authorized under a section 56 (s.56) exemption. Although the CDSA is prohibitive, its regulations allow access to substances for legitimate purposes, such as to allow health care practitioners to prescribe medications that contain narcotics.

Currently, under s.56 of the CDSA, the Minister has the authority to grant an exemption to undertake activities using controlled substances for a medical or scientific purpose, or in the public interest. Approximately 10,000 s.56 exemption applications are received every year, most of which are for routine activities using controlled substances from licit sources, including clinical trials, methadone treatment and university research.

In September 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) issued a decision specifying factors the Minister must consider when assessing an application for a s.56 exemption under the CDSA to authorize the conduct of activities with controlled substances at a SCS.

Clients of a SCS use substances obtained through illicit sources (i.e., the street). These substances may pose serious risks to the health of individuals, and their use often affects public safety and may support organized crime. That is why the new legislation would require any potential applications for activities involving illicit substances at a supervised drug consumption site in Canada to address clear criteria before such applications can be considered.

Information the Minister would consider when assessing an application to undertake activities with illicit substances at a SCS include:

  • stakeholder views including letters from provincial ministers responsible for health and safety, local government, head of police force for the area, and the lead health professional for the province;
  • a report of consultations with licensing authorities for physicians and nurses as well as a broad range of community groups;
  • indication of financial sustainability;
  • staff information including criminal record checks;
  • describing the need for a SCS including scientific evidence of a medical benefit, relevant data on drug use, infectious diseases, overdose deaths and drug-related loitering as well as any relevant official reports;
  • potential impacts of the site on public safety;
  • description of measures and procedures to protect the health, safety and security of staff and the local community including measures to mitigate the risk of diversion;
  • description of available drug treatment services, if any; and
  • description of other procedures, such as record keeping for the disposal, loss, theft and transfer of controlled substances left at the site.

For applicants wishing to continue activities with controlled substances at an existing site whose current exemption is set to expire, the applicant must also submit:

  • information to address all criteria listed in the legislation;
  • information on any variation in crime rates in the vicinity of the site since the first exemption was issued; and,
  • information on any impacts of the activities of the site on individual and public health since the first exemption was issued.

The criteria included in the legislation are consistent with those indicated by the SCC in its 2011 decision regarding Insite.

Contact Information

  • Media Inquiries:
    Health Canada
    (613) 957-2983

    Cailin Rodgers
    Office of the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq
    Federal Minister of Health
    (613) 957-0200

    Public Enquiries:
    (613) 957-2991
    1-866 225-0709