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Canada: Federal Government to Appeal Ruling Okaying Safe Injection Site

The Conservative federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will ask the Canadian Supreme Court to overturn a provincial court ruling that okayed Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government will appeal because the case raised important questions about the division of powers among the federal and provincial governments, the CBC reported Tuesday.
InSite (courtesy Vancouver Coastal Health)
InSite is the only supervised drug injection site in North America. It has been in place since 2003, when British Columbia health authorities won a temporary exemption from Canada's federal drug law. While the then-Liberal government approved, the now-governing Conservatives do not.

Over 20 peer-reviewed studies showed the supervised injection site to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and incidences of drug overdoses while increasing the number of drug users accessing rehabilitation services.

InSite originally won a three-year exemption from the federal drug law. Under tremendous pressure, the Conservatives grudgingly gave InSite a 15-month extension, and then extended it to 22 months ending in June 2008.

But fearing the Conservatives' intentions, InSite operator the Portland Hotel Society, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and two InSite clients filed a lawsuit in the BC courts seeking to have the provincial government, which under Canadian law is responsible for health care, declared the sole authority over InSite -- not the federal government or federal drug laws.

InSite and its supporters won in the BC Supreme Court in 2008 and won again last month in the province's highest court, the Court of Appeals. It is those decisions, which puts decisions on whether to keep InSite open firmly in the hands of BC health officials, that the federal government now seeks to overturn.

In his remarks Tuesday, Justice Minister Nicholson said nothing about shutting down InSite, instead saying the appeal was about clarifying provincial versus federal powers. "The case we'll be presenting before the court is to ask for clarification," he said. "I think it is important to do that."

But Portland Hotel Society director Mark Townsend was running out of patience with the Conservatives. "The courts have now ruled twice in favor of InSite," he said in a statement Tuesday. "Last time, they thought the feds were so out of line they made them pay all the costs. We wish Stephen Harper would stop wasting court time and the taxpayers' money and start helping to solve the drug problem in our community."

So does New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies, who represents Vancouver's east side, including the InSite location. "InSite saves lives," said Davies. "The science proves it, and the BC Supreme Court and BC Appeal Court agree," she continued. "Yet the Conservatives continue to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on legal fees to try to shut it down. If the Conservatives are really so tough on crime, they should respect the law and support these harm reduction strategies that work," said Davies. "Evidence-based success should be shaping our drug policy, not Conservative ideology."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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