No Abby injection site after court result
Better suited for "horrific problem in Vancouver"
The Supreme Court of Canada's decision to back Insite could pave the way for more supervised injection services in Vancouver itself and elsewhere in the province and the country.
On Friday morning, Canada's top court struck down the federal government's 2008 decision to deny Insite a special health exemption from criminal law, which allowed the only supervised injection site in North America to operate without legal recourse.
The judges said the Conservative government's refusal to extend the exemption was "arbitrary," and unconstitutional because it compromised the health and safety of drug users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
The court's support for Insite effectively legitimizes a model that can be replicated elsewhere, said Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
The decision, however, isn't a "green light" for other communities to open up supervised injection sites "willy nilly," he noted, explaining that the court was careful to restrict its discussion to Insite only. But the decision can be used by other jurisdictions to secure similar exemptions.
The court "set a precedent," he said. "There is a need to expand this service," Montaner said. Insite is at capacity, and additional supervised injection sites or other "harm reduction" measures could be implemented in the Downtown Eastside, and elsewhere, he added.
Other communities around the province have problems with dangerous drug use, and right now Insite is "geographically isolated," he said.
The announcement brought cheers, hugs and tears from a crowd of well over a hundred people gathered in front of Insite on East Hastings Street.
The crowd waited in morning darkness for the decision, which was broadcast live from Ottawa on a screen outside the building.
There's little dispute over the effectiveness of Insite, said Dr. Patricia Daly, vice-president, public health, and the chief medical health officer, Vancouver Coastal Health.
Chief medical officers from Canada's 18 largest cities believe in the evidence behind the effectiveness of Insite, Daly said. "Some are quite interested in the outcome of this court case," she said. "I suspect you'll see some other jurisdictions apply for exemptions across Canada."
Other communities "have certainly been in touch with us for the last number of years saying they would wait until this ruling to decide what to do," said Liz Evans, the execu-tive director of the PHS Community Services Society, which operates Insite.
Her organization will be looking at potential sites and considering other "creative" options to expand harm reduction services, she added, but wouldn't specify where such sites might be.
Other cities with the same "philosophical perspective" will have to go through the same protocols as Insite to get a health exemption, Evans said.
Other cities in B.C. weren't so quick to jump on board.
Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said while the Supreme Court ruling vindicates the work being done at Insite, he doubts there will be a huge movement toward injection sites around the province because the facility is seen as specifically dealing with the "horrific problem in Vancouver."
Even though Abbotsford has one of the highest HIV and hepatitis C infection rates in the region, Peary said the city is more interested in setting up a needle exchange to prevent addicts from sharing needles.
The city is working with the Fraser Health Authority to come up with appropriate harm reduction programs, but an injection site isn't being contemplated.
The FHA review and recommendations are expected to go to council in January, he said.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said her city already has a needle exchange, a detox centre and other facilities to deal with addicts, and it would have to assess whether an injection site would be suitable in her community. "We don't have thousands of people in a Downtown Eastside," she said, noting that one-third of Surrey's population is under 19. "I don't know if that would best suit that population or if it's shooting up[wards]."