In a landmark decision that flies in the face of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the government must stop interfering with the operations of the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver. According to the Globe and Mail:
The Court was persuaded by evidence that drug addicts are considerably safer administering their own injections under medical surveillance rather than obtaining and injecting hard drugs on the streets of the city’s troubled Downtown Eastside.
The unanimous decision (9-0) noted that the federal government’s concerns about illicit drug use were “grossly disproportionate” to the life saving benefits that the injection site provides to the community and drug addicts.
Ruling Needed to Save Safe Injection Site
Vancouver’s safe injection site was opened in 2003 under an exemption to trafficking provisions in Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The site was granted two extensions to the exemption, but then in 2008 the Conservative government made it clear that it would not support a further exemption. This put the future of the Vancouver clinic in jeopardy and also prevented other proposed safe injection sites from moving forward with their plans due to uncertainty about future support for them.
Jean-Francois Mary from Cactus Montreal, a community group that supports the creation of safe injection sites, said that today’s ruling removes the final obstacle for the creation of new clinics. He told the Globe and Mail that “the scientific merit was proven long ago, there was only the question of the legality…This decision brings us a big step forward – a Supreme Court ruling we can rely on.” Cactus plans to use today’s ruling to put pressure on the province of Quebec to move forward with safe injection sites in the province.
Health Minister Unhappy with Ruling
In Question Period today, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s ruling. She indicated that the Conservative government will comply with the ruling, but that they plan to review the decision. She emphasized that the Conservative government supports a system that focuses on preventing people from becoming drug addicts.
Supporters of Insite Celebrate the Decision
From staff to users of the clinic to non-Conservative politicians, supporters of Vancouver’s Insite clinic are relieved by today’s decision and celebrating it as a victory. New Democratic Party Member of Parliament, Libby Davies, supports the clinic which is in her riding and reacted by saying that “The Conservative government has been relentless in their opposition so today’s decision by the court just feels like an incredibly victory.”
Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that the safe injection has “been proven to save lives with no discernible impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada.”
Photo credit: roland on flickr