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Clement to appeal BC court’s Insite decision

MPs frustrated by Health Minister's apparent ignorance of harm reduction programs

FRUSTRATION. NDP MP Libby Davies blasted Health Minister Tony Clement at the May 29 Health Committee meeting. 'You are the only barrier to Insite's continuation,' she said. Credit: (Brent Creelman photo)

Health Minister Tony Clement plans to appeal yesterday’s BC court decision on supervised injection sites.

The ruling, which came from BC Supreme Court judge Justice Ian Pitfield, struck down laws prohibiting the possession of illegal drugs, as long as those addicts were seeking help from health facilities such as Vancouver’s Insite.

The court also decided that Insite would be allowed to continue operating until at least Jun 30, 2009.

Clement told the House of Commons Health Committee on May 29 that he disagreed with Judge Pitfield’s decision. He said he would ask Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to appeal it at the earliest possible opportunity.

“We have been offering drug maintenance rather than drug treatment,” said Clement. “We have been sending a message [to addicts] that says we have given up on them, and that we do not expect them to recover.”

Clement said that Insite only saves about one life per year, and that up to 97 percent of injections occur outside of Insite. But he refused to answer whether or not the research he was presenting had been peer-reviewed.

Thomas Kerr, a research scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and the chief researcher for Insite, has actually conducted a series of peer-reviewed studies on supervised injection sites.

In his studies, Kerr concluded that Insite does in fact lead to a reduction of syringe sharing and the number of overdoses resulting in deaths.

“How many peer-reviewed papers does the government need before they believe us?” said Donald MacPherson, the City of Vancouver’s drug policy coordinator.

“The only negative result we’ve found from these safe injections sites is that there aren’t enough of them to really make a big impact.”

Clement argued that a decision about harm reduction should be based on public policy, and referred to the scientific evidence around the facility as “mixed.”

He said that he instead wanted to focus government spending on treatment and prevention programs, as well as increasing the number of beds available to sex workers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside.

“Injection drug users are not dying — there is still hope for them,” said Clement. “Even if they fail treatment the first time, we can help them to get up and try again.”

Many MPs were frustrated with the fact that Clement did not seem to understand the importance of harm reduction programs for drug addicts.

Few drug addicts will move to abstinence overnight, they argued. This is why harm reduction programs are essential in terms of getting those addicts in the door first, and then gradually moving them towards treatment.

“To have low threshold programs is a critical policy, and I don’t know why you don’t get that,” said NDP MP Libby Davies, voicing her frustration towards Clement.

“It must be because of an ideological reason that you can’t move on,” she said. “Practically everyone else on this committee is on board with [Insite] except for you.”

“You are the only barrier to Insite’s continuation.”