Expert Task Force on Substance Use: Terms of reference


Canada has had successive drug strategies in place since 1987. In 2016, the Government of Canada announced that the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS) would replace the policy at the time, the National Anti-Drugs Strategy. With a renewed, public health emphasis, the CDSS set out a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based approach, guided by four pillars of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. The Government undertook national consultations in 2018 to inform the next steps in the development of the policy.

Since this time, however, significant events have profoundly altered the landscape in Canada and are critical to reflect in the CDSS. These include, in particular, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the opioid overdose crisis and federal measures to address these harms, focusing on enabling a safer supply and preventing overdose, solidifying the federal regulatory framework, building support with other governments and regulators and supporting the diversion of people who use drugs away from the criminal justice system.

1.0 Mandate and deliverables

1.1 In the context of these significant developments, the Minister of Health (the Minister), in accordance with the Policy on External Advisory Bodies, is creating an Expert Task Force on Substance Use (the Task Force). The Task Force will have a mandate to provide Health Canada with independent, expert advice and recommendations on:

1.2 The Task Force will be provided with Health Canada's draft CDSS and other supporting documents, such as:

1.3 The Task Force will be mindful of federal and provincial/territorial areas of jurisdiction in relation to policies and programs that impact substance use issues (e.g., health and social services, federal drug control legislation, etc).

1.4 The Task Force will report to the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of the Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch, Health Canada. The Task Force will submit a first report with expert advice on alternatives to criminal penalties for simple possession of controlled substances. In addition, the Task Force will submit a final report with recommendations that inform the finalization of the draft CDSS. Timing of these reports will be discussed with the Task Force, with the expectation that the Task Force will complete its work within approximately four months of its first meeting. These reports will be delivered to the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch, Health Canada. The reports (or a summary of the reports) will be made public at the discretion of the Minister.

2.0 Membership

2.1 The Task Force will consist of members from a wide range of sectors, including health, justice/public safety, academia, people who use drugs and people with lived and living experience, and community perspectives.

2.2 Task Force members will be appointed by the Minister. Members will:

2.3 The responsibilities of the members include:

2.4 The individuals identified to provide a leadership function for the Task Force will have additional responsibilities, including:

2.5 The Task Force leadership may also delegate any of the responsibilities described above in this section to any other Task Force member as needed.

3.0 Engagement Process

3.1 Where needed to fulfil its dual, time-limited, mandate, the Task Force may engage with experts and organizations in relevant fields, including, but not limited to: public health, substance use, criminal justice, law enforcement, people with lived and living experience, homelessness, and employment. Presenters can include both federal government officials and external individuals/stakeholder organizations. Invitees may present information to the Task Force and respond to member questions. They do not participate in the development or revisions of reports.

3.2 Meetings will take place in both official languages where required.

4.0 Conduct, Affiliations and Interests

4.1 Task Force members are expected to interact in an unbiased, professional, respectful and fair way, including with the Secretariat, and any other organization or individual they interact with as part of their duties.

4.2 To be considered for appointment, potential Task Force members are required to complete and return an Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form. Task Force members must update a declaration in writing if their situation changes regarding any possible conflict of interest.

4.3 Information in the form will not be made public without permission. A Summary of Affiliations and Interests drafted by the Secretariat will be published, online and in print, based on the completed declaration form provided by the member.

5.0 Confidentiality

5.1 Task Force members may receive confidential information in the course of conducting engagement activities. A Confidentiality Agreement must be signed before participating in the Task Force.

5.2 The Confidentiality Agreement prohibits the disclosure of any confidential information received through participation in the Task Force, including information received orally or in writing, through email correspondence, telephone calls, print materials, meeting discussions, etc. The reports of the Task Force, and any other information about the Task Force, will be made public at the Minister's discretion.

5.3 Documents or information obtained while serving on the Task Force should be used only in the context of fulfilling the duties and mandate of the Task Force. Any documents or information obtained through a meeting of the Task Force will be kept strictly confidential by the member, unless prior approval to disclose is obtained in writing from the Government of Canada representative.

5.4 In dealings with any public forums (e.g., social media) and in inter-personal conversations, members will show sensitivity and discretion regarding the activities of the Task Force. Where there is uncertainty, members should consult with the Health Canada Executive Secretary to receive approval in writing to disclose information.

5.5 The Task Force leadership will ensure that all parties (including non-members) participating in any of the Task Force activities (e.g., meetings, telephone discussions, email exchanges, or in any other form of communication) have received clear instructions on the confidentiality of the proceedings.

6.0 Communications

6.1 The Task Force leadership will serve as spokespersons in all matters relating to the media and public forums (e.g., social media) unless delegated to a member. They may speak to the Task Force mandate and activities, but not the Government of Canada's position or their advice or recommendations.

6.2 The Task Force leadership may respond to media inquiries on the advisory body's membership, mandate, and work. They are also to immediately inform HC Media Relations of any media inquiries received. Any media inquiries on the Department's position will be referred to Health Canada's Media Relations. Health Canada Media Relations will respond to media calls directed to the Department. Health Canada Media Relations will also refer questions about the Task Force to the Task Force leadership. In all communications activities, all Task Force members must abide by the confidentiality rules outlined in the Terms of Reference and Confidentiality Agreement.

6.3 Task Force public communications will be available in both official languages.

6.4 External communications activities, such as publishing web content on, issuing Health Canada news releases, and organizing Government of Canada-led announcements, will be led by Health Canada Communications.

7.0 Intellectual Property

7.1 Intellectual property rights arising out of the work of the Task Force will be owned by Health Canada.

8.0 Indemnification and Compensation

8.1 The Government undertakes to provide Task Force members with protection against civil liability provided the volunteer member acts in good faith, within the scope of the Task Force's mandate, does not act against the interests of the Crown and does not have available to him/her such protection.

8.2 The Task Force members shall give prompt notice to the Government of Canada of any claim, action, suit or proceeding brought against the member. If the member is eligible for protection against civil liability, the member must consent to the legal counsel selected to represent the volunteer member and any associated costs, or the Government of Canada will not provide coverage to defend the claim, action, suit or proceeding. The Government of Canada will, at its own expense, participate in the conduct of the defence of any such claim, action, suit or proceeding, and any negotiations for the settlement of the same. The Government of Canada shall not be liable to indemnify the member for payment of any settlement, unless it has consented to the settlement.

8.3 Members will provide advice based on their own expertise and not on behalf of their respective organizations. They will serve on the Task Force on a volunteer basis however, members with lived and living experience not otherwise compensated through their employment will be offered compensation for their participation.

9.0 Secretariat

9.1 A dedicated Health Canada Secretariat will provide logistical and policy support to the Task Force, including planning and coordinating engagement activities, preparing background and discussion materials and coordinating with HC Web publishing to post biographies, Affidavits, meeting summaries and Interests summaries, etc.

10.0 Executive Secretary

10.1 The Executive Secretary of the Task Force makes decisions about the administration and operation of the Task Force and works closely with the Task Force leadership and Secretariat.

11.0 Task Force operations

11.2 The Task Force will carry out the work using virtual formats.

11.3 The Secretariat will prepare a workplan to outline this work, its timelines, and additional logistical considerations, and will support the overall management of the Task Force.

11.4 It is preferable for a Task Force member to provide 14 days' notice of an intent to resign. The resignation letter must be in writing and be addressed to the Secretariat, with a copy to the Task Force leadership. The letter should state the effective date of the resignation.

11.5 Health Canada may end an appointment by writing to the member stating the reasons the appointment is being concluded and the effective date.

12.0 Transparency

12.1 Health Canada is committed to transparency as an operating principle. Transparency of the Task Force is served by posting Task Force materials on Health Canada's website, including, but not limited to, the terms of reference, the membership list and biographies, and a summary of affiliations and interests.

13.0 Observers

13.1 The Secretariat, or the Task Force leadership, may allow federal officials to observe a meeting or part of a meeting and to respond to questions from Task Force members.

14.0 Requirements for Presenters and Observers

14.1 Presenters and observers may be required to complete:

15.0 Deliberations and Report

15.1 The Task Force is encouraged to reach consensus in providing advice to Health Canada, whenever possible. When a consensus is not possible, the meeting record will reflect the diversity of opinions.

15.2 The Task Force must have quorum when providing advice to Health Canada. Quorum is two-thirds of the members.

15.3 Minutes and/or records of proceedings will summarize the proceedings to effectively reflect the advice being offered. Remarks are not attributed to individuals in the minutes and/or records of proceedings.

15.4 Minutes and/or records of proceedings will be prepared by the Secretariat and circulated to members for review and confirmation.

15.5 Final minutes and/or records of proceedings and reports of the Task Force may be posted on Health Canada's website.

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