Closing Insite would violate Charter: Supreme Court -

Closing Insite would violate Charter: Supreme Court

Montreal, Toronto and Victoria could establish similar services


Brian Howell/Maclean's

A crowd gathered on the gritty streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside burst into cheers Friday morning at news the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that Insite, the supervised injection site for drug addicts can remain open. The ruling is a stinging defeat for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which claimed the site fostered addictions, encouraged crime and violated the federal criminal code by facilitating the use of illegal drugs.

The court ordered the federal health minister to immediately issue an exemption at the site from laws prohibiting drug possession and trafficking to allow the facility to operate. The ruling almost certainly assures that similar sites will open across Canada. Montreal, Toronto and Victoria are among the communities that have expressed interest in establishing similar services.

The judges upheld rulings by the provincial supreme court and court of appeal, which found the federal government acted in an arbitrary manner, in violation of guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protecting life, liberty and security of the person. During the Supreme Court hearing in May, several high court judges hammered home the point to federal lawyers that the site was, in fact, saving lives.

The news was greeted by cheers and tears at 6:45 a.m. Vancouver time, by a crowd watching the ruling on a big-screen television set up outside the store front facility.

Insite opened in 2003, after receiving an exemption from the federal Liberal government of the day that allowed staff and addicts to use the street-front facility without fear of prosecution. Since opening more than 1.8 million injections have been done at the facility on East Hastings Street, which is staffed by nurses, social workers and addiction counsellors. In that time not a single overdose death occurred at the facility. It also reduced the open injection of drugs in the streets and alleys near the site, and reduced the sharing of needles and the spread of disease.

While the site was initially controversial in Vancouver, its record of success in limiting drug overdose deaths, as well as the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, recorded in dozens of peer-reviewed studies in medical journals, soon gained it strong support. It now has the backing of the Vancouver Police Department, provincial and local health authorities, the provincial government as well as the general public, according to several public opinion polls.

Those findings factored heavily in the Supreme Court’s ruling, which curbs federal criminal law when it comes in conflict with provincial responsibility to deliver safe, effective health care.

“Addiction-related drug use is a health issue and not a criminal justice issue,” said Debra Lynkowski, CEO of the Canadian Public Health Association, after the ruling was handed down. The results of more than 50 peer-reviewed scientific articles provide irrefutable evidence that Insite has a positive impact on the health of the people who use its services, and a positive impact on the surrounding community,” the CPHA said in a news release. “Given the thoughtful consideration of the court, we trust that the [health] minister will take the appropriate action.”

Insite’s future was cast in doubt when the Conservative government of Stephen Harper came to power in 2006. Tony Clement, health minister at the time, condemned the site as a public menace. In 2008, he enraged Canada’s doctors by questioning the medical ethics of those who backed the site. “The supervised injection site undercuts the ethic of medical practice and sets a debilitation example for all physicians and nurses, both present and future in Canada, who might begin to question whether it’s all right to allow someone to overdose under their care,” he said during a speech to the Canadian Medical Association.

A day later, 130 doctors signed a declaring of support for the site and condemned Clement’s “potentially deadly” misrepresentation of the “harm reduction” strategy embodied by the site.

The site had also run afoul of the U.S. government of George Bush, which said the site—one of the first such facilities in North America—undermined its war on drugs. Real Women of Canada and the Drug Prevention Network of Canada strongly opposed Insite, and said the claims of its health benefits were exaggerated.


Closing Insite would violate Charter: Supreme Court

  1. Keeping insight open– what a disgusting message 2 send 2 our children–Hey kids— U can try all the drugs U want–should U get addicted– there is a place U can get them free—!!!! why not open a —- clinic 4 alcoholics— where they can go get drunk every day–4 free— the tax payers money–pays!!! I am so outraged– can’t say anymore!!!-

    • The fail is strong in you. You aren’t even able to grasp the concept that they don’t make you an addict; they try to convince you not to be by removing the said addicts from the street, reducing the occurrence of deadly diseases and trying to prevent such people from dying. Also, your taxpayer paid nonsense is a mildly amusing considering that preventing just a few case of HIV infection probably pay the whole staff of such facility for a year but nevermind that, you are outraged! And it’s probably best that you don’t say anymore.

    • When we regulate something we do NOT automatically condone it’s use; the regulations concerning alcohol and tobacco are there to protect us from the vast increase in criminality that would otherwise exist if these substances were prohibited.

      Nicotine is the biggest killer of all known drugs, but it’s sale is legally regulated. Now why is that? Alcohol Prohibition made cigarette smoking in the US a national habit. High on the evangelicals’ hit list, second only to alcohol as a substance that had to be prohibited. In 1921, cigarettes were illegal in fourteen states, and anti-cigarette bills were pending in twenty-eight others. The prohibition of cigarettes, promoted by the very people who gave us the prohibition of alcohol, made cigarette smoking almost irresistible. As the experiment of Prohibition failed, the anti-cigarette laws fell. By 1930, they were legal almost everywhere; during Prohibition, the consumption of tobacco had nearly tripled.

      A regulated and licensed distribution network for all mind altering substances would put responsible adult supervision in between children and premature access to drug distribution outlets (illegal street dealers). Regulated and licensed distribution would reflect and respect society’s values, thus preventing children obtaining easy access to these dangerous substances. What we need is legalized regulation. What we have now, due to prohibition, is a non-regulated black market to which everybody has access and where all the profits go to organized crime and terrorists.

    • Insite does not provide free drugs. never has.
       clients must bring in their own medication.

  2. Whatever the Charter says or doesn’t say, we are under a “government of laws”, not a “government of men”. But if someone can plant drugs among your belongings, and if you are then required to prove that the drugs are not yours (which you can’t), then you are under a government of men, namely of those who are willing to plant evidence. Therefore the reverse onus of proof cannot be valid in any jurisdiction.

    More: .

  3. There are those who find a successful and tolerant society so unpleasant that they support government coercion and the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens even though at great risk to their own personal safety and financial security.

    In a dangerous and futile attempt to stamp out alcohol, tobacco, heroin, marijuana, pornography, prostitution, marital infidelity and masturbation, many a ‘prosperous and free land’ has been pillaged by groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Society, The Anti-Saloon League, The Anti-Cigarette Movement, The Social Purity Movement, The Social Hygiene Movement and our latter day Drug Warriors.

    Laboring under no burden of doubt concerning their own rectitude and right to impose their standards on everybody else by the barrel of a gun, they have ceaselessly proclaimed their Christianity while blatantly overlooking Christ’s main admonitions, namely “Judge not, lest ye be judged” and “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the first stone.”

    Alcohol prohibition in the US run from 1919 to 1933 – Now google ‘The Great Wall Street Crash’ and see when that happened!

    During alcohol prohibition, all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. Young men died every day on inner-city streets while battling over turf. A fortune was wasted on enforcement that could have gone on education etc. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs, billions in taxes were lost. Finally the economy collapsed. Sound familiar?