In a major blow to the Harper government’s tough-on-drugs mentality, a BC judge ruled May 27 that Vancouver’s safe injection site can remain open.
BC Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield ruled that the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act cannot be used to deny people the benefits of a health facility such as Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection facility. He ruled that parts of the act violate section 7 of the Charter, which guarantees the “security of the person.”
“I cannot agree with the submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative,” wrote Pitfield in his ruling.
Pitfield gave the federal government until June 30, 2009 to rework the drug laws so that they do not interfere with the Charter. His ruling gives Insite an exemption from Canada’s drug laws until then.
The case was launched in 2007 against the Harper government by the Portland Hotel Society, the non-profit group that operates Insite. The group welcomed yesterday’s decision.
“The BC Supreme Court has now confirmed what doctors and nurses have known for many years, that addiction is a health care issue, and that Insite is a vital part of how our health care system treats this tragic disease,” says Liz Evans, the executive director of the PHS.
Insite provides a place for addicts to safely inject their own drugs using a sterile needle, while under a nurse’s supervision. The program began as a pilot project in 2003, operating under a special exemption from Canada’s drug laws.
Health Minister Tony Clement released a statement yesterday that said the department is “studying the decision.”
Clement has refused to support the project, despite heaps of research supporting safe injection sites. He told media earlier this month that the government is keeping an “open mind,” but has so far refused to grant the site a permanent exemption from federal drug laws.
Before yesterday’s court ruling, Insite’s exemption was set to expire in June.
A government-commissioned report released early May found that the injection site has saved lives, had no impact on crime rates in Vancouver’s downtown east side and has saved taxpayer’s money. Neil Boyd, the Simon Fraser University criminology professor behind the study, recommended that safe injection sites be opened across Canada.
But even with a growing pile of research, critics say the Conservative government has refused to put “evidence over ideology.” They are calling on the feds to commit to the health facility.
“It’s time to end the waffling and misdirection that we’ve seen so far,” says Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “The evidence is extensive and shows the benefits of such health facilities, including reducing injecting behaviour that risks transmitting HIV and hepatitis C. Ideology cannot be allowed to block the delivery of health services and perpetuate a public health crisis.”