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Harper government can’t accept Insite’s right to stay open

'They're basically pursuing an ideological war': Montaner


The federal Conservative government says it will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada a ruling by the BC Court of Appeal that allowed Vancouver’s safe-injection site for intravenous drug users to stay open.

The appeal court ruled Jan 15 that Insite is a health care facility and therefore falls under provincial jurisdiction.

But federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says “this case raises important questions regarding the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity and the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments.”

The site was opened as part of a harm-reduction plan aimed at getting users on the path to recovery, and also to tackle an epidemic of HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis C and overdose deaths.

Though an estimated 1,200 overdoes have taken place since Insite opened in 2003, no one has died.

Insite operates under an exemption from drug possession and trafficking laws. Nurses supervise about 500 injections a day.

Nicholson says the government recognizes that injection drug users need help.

“This is why our National Anti-Drug strategy focuses on prevention and access to treatment for those with drug dependencies,” he says in a statement.

January’s appeal court decision upheld a ruling by BC Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield that granted Insite a constitutional exemption from federal drug laws.

Insite spokesperson Mark Townsend calls the latest government move depressing.

“Every time they take us to court, we win even more,” Townsend said. “This is silly.”

Insite has the support of the provincial government, says chief medical health officer Dr Perry Kendall.

“It’s clearly fulfilling a scientific function,” Kendall says, calling the ongoing court battles a federal-provincial power struggle.

Dr Julio Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and head of the International AIDS Society, is more blunt.

He says Ottawa is ignoring scientific research and sabotaging a health initiative for society’s most marginalized.

“They’re basically pursuing an ideological war on an issue they view as criminal when it has been repeatedly shown to be a health issue,” Montaner says. “It’s totally unacceptable.”

Nicholson says $230 million over five years has been allocated under the National Anti-Drug Strategy for preventing illicit drug use, treating illicit drug dependency, and combating the production and distribution of illicit drugs.