Supreme Court of Canada to determine who has control over Vancouver’s supervised injection site
Canada’s top court will hear arguments Thursday (13 May) about whether a safe drug-injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside should be legally allowed to stay open under B.C.’s jurisdiction.
At issue before the Supreme Court of Canada May 12 is which government - federal or provincial - has power over Insite and whether shutting it down infringes on the human rights of drug users.
The site, co-managed by PHS Community Services Society and Vancouver Coastal Health, allows drugs addicts clean, safe space and equipment to inject their own street drugs under medical staff supervision and has operated under federal drug law exemptions for several years. Recently, the federal Conservative government ended those exemptions and has been seen as keen to close the facility.
PHS director Mark Townsend said Sunday he thought the overwhelming evidence showing the site has saved lives and taxpayer money should have been enough to convince Conservatives to cool their ‘tough-on-crime’ agenda in Insite’s case.
“It’s easy to attack drug users,” Townsend said. “This shouldn’t be a political thing, it’s a public health thing.”
As part of a lengthy legal battle between B.C. and the federal Conservative government, provincial courts decided in 2010 that Insite fell within provincial control under health care, preventing federal officials from shutting it down.
According to court documents, Ottawa appealed that decision, arguing provincial courts were “unjustified” in allowing provincial health interests to overrule federal drug laws.
The province and its 13 supporters, including PHS, BC Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Medical Association, argue that criminal law enforcement efforts are not undermined by Insite’s continued operation.
It also says Canada lacks any evidence to support its position, adding Insite hasn’t had a negative impact on federal efforts to control narcotics.
Insite was opened in 2003, in part, to deal with a ‘health crisis’ raging in the Downtown Eastside where large numbers of injection drug users were being infected with diseases like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, transmitted by dirty needles.
Recently The Lancet, a leading medical journal, reported overdose fatalities in city blocks closest to the facility decreased by 35 per cent following its 2003 opening, compared to a nine per cent decrease for the rest of the city. An Angus-Reid poll in June 2010 found 68 per cent of British Columbians support Insite and its services while 30 per cent opposed it and two per cent were undecided.