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Battle for Insite

Insite, North America’s first supervised injection facility, has been entangled in a political battle with the Tory federal government for years.

Irene Ogrodnik

on 30 September 2011

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Transcript of Battle for Insite

In 2000, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has 4,700 chronic drug users and is considered to be in the middle of an ‘injection drug epidemic.’ For scientific and research purposes, Health Canada grants Vancouver Coastal Health a three-year exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and allows it to operate North America’s first legal supervised injection site—Insite. The clinic begins to operate as a safe location for injection drug use, primarily morphine, cocaine and heroin.

Researchers from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS act as evaluators of the clinic and are responsible for publishing their findings in peer-reviews journals. Health Canada grants $1.5 to the evaluation component while the Government of B.C. funds other operation aspects, including administration.

The funding is scheduled to conclude on September 12, 2006. September 2003 With a Conservative federal government under rule, Prime Minister Stephen Harper voices his opposition against the operation of Insite and wants to close down the clinic. Harper states that “As a government, we will not use taxpayers’ money to fund drug use.” 2006 June 7, 2006: Researchers from the Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS publish a study on Insite in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study finds that the more a drug user visits Insite, the more likely the user will go into detox. Health Minister Tony Clement allows Insite to operate until December 31, 2007. Clement says the decision will allow for more research on how supersized injection sites affect treatment, prevention and crime.
September 1, 2006 November 21, 2006: Researchers of the Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS publish their Insite evaluation findings in the Canadian Medical Association. The study concludes that the facility does not encourage drug use and that drug addicts who use the site are being referred to treatment. The researchers also find that drug users who use the clinic are less likely to share needles and overdose. January 3, 2007:
Health Minister Tony Clement visits Insite, yet leaves no indication if the government would allow the clinic to operate beyond the end of the year.
August 13, 2007:
The Portland Hotel Society and two Insite clients file a lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court. The complaints argue the closure of the site would be a violation in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom.

October 1, 2007:
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell expresses public support for Insite.

The B.C. Supreme Court rules that closing a health-care facility that saves lives violates the Charter of Rights guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person.
In the same ruling, Justice Ian Pitfield grants Insite legal grounds to continue operating by granting the site exemption to federal drug laws.
The federal government announces plans to appeal the court decision. The matter is set to go to the B.C. Court of Appeal. May 27, 2008 On the same day, however, the federal government cuts evaluation funding for Insite. Tony Clement slams Insite at the 2008 International Conference on AIDS in Mexico City. August 2008 The B.C. Court of Appeal sets aside three days to hear the federal government’s appeal of Justice Pitfield’s ruling. April 27, 2009 January 15, 2010: The B.C. Court of Appeal dismisses the federal government's appeal in a 2-1 ruling. The federal government announces it will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the country’s Canada’s highest court.

February 12, 2010: The Canadian Union of Public Employment writes an open letter to Prime Minister Harper, urging the federal government to allow Insite to remain open.

The Supreme Court of Canada agrees to decide whether the Vancouver supervised injection site for drug users can stay open.

By convention, the Supreme Court does not give reasons for granting leave to appeal to the federal government. A decision is scheduled for May 12, 2011. June 24, 2010
A new study concludes Insite is saving lives. The study, published in this week's Lancet medical journal, was written by Dr. Thomas Kerr and colleagues from the Urban Health Research Initiative at St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. The researchers found that Insite has reduced the number of fatal overdoses in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside by 35 per cent.
April 2011 Battle for Insite May 2011 Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and five of his predecessors ask the federal government to reconsider its opposition to the city's controversial safe injection site.

The mayors issued an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government saying the facility saves lives, reduces the transmission of deadly diseases and increases the use of addiction treatment.

"Insite has proven beyond a doubt its value for our community," said Robertson in a news release.

September 30, 2011 Vancouver’s supervised injection site will remain open after the Supreme Court ruling on Friday closing it would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court decision ends a jurisdictional battle between the Ottawa and B.C. about whether the province’s duty to provide health care trumps the Criminal Code.
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