The Harper Government has 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.