Hon. Gerry St. Germain: Honourable senators, the crime, disorder and illness associated with substance abuse is gripping the people of Vancouver with a horrible sense of despair, anger, confusion and doubt. The people of Vancouver are in search of solutions. No one doubts the complexity of the problem. The addicted are people whose human dignity has been erased. Many suffer as well from mental illness and from other effects of society's abuse.
Our response to date has failed them. It has been inadequate, unfocused and lacking in compassion. A city as prosperous, modern and beautiful as Vancouver can no longer turn its back on the victims of substance abuse. No longer can we write off an entire neighbourhood, warehousing people in one district with the hope that the problem will be invisible to most. A new strategy is needed urgently.
The federal government can play a new role in implementing a strategy that not only addresses Vancouver's problem but one that is consistent in its approach to the problem across the country. A strategy must have its ultimate goal: a society living free of the harm associated with substance abuse. Achieving that goal must involve a complex, multifaceted approach.
In recent years, some have advocated a four-pillars approach, combining harm reduction with more traditional strategies of prevention, treatment and enforcement. I will not argue the merits of each of those four pillars. Suffice it to say that the ultimate goal is successful treatment of an addict, where, at full recovery, abstinence from substance abuse enhances the lifestyle of the abuser and eliminates the human toll associated with the illness.
Given this kind of logic and practical thinking, honourable senators, how could one support a drug strategy that embraces legal drug substitution as a so-called treatment for drug addiction? The "Inner Change" proposed response to Vancouver's widespread drug problem is at worst, ill-conceived, founded on unsound research and at the least, a risky proposition. This drug substitution program further advances a drug culture, reinforcing the notion of socially acceptable drug use. The program also fails to demonstrate compassion for those suffering from the addiction illness by dismissing abstinence-based treatment as the preferred medical option.
The "Inner Change" proposal is one further step in an insidious campaign to change cultural attitudes and to label those afflicted with substance abuse disease as somehow permanently disabled and incapable of ever making lifestyle changes. Such a policy direction offers no compassion, little hope and huge risk.
Honourable senators, I urge the Minister of Health and the federal government to adopt the national drug strategy that includes increased federal support for abstinence-based residential treatment programs in Vancouver and elsewhere — a strategy that is founded on hope.