Another shot at shutting down InSite

Disappointingly, the federal government is going to the Supreme Court to try to shut down InSite – Vancouver’s safe injection site (mentioned here before). It seems astonishing to me that any government would want to emulate the hard anti-drug stance embraced in the United States, given the extent to which drug prohibition has wrecked their justice system. It defies both evidence and logic to suggest that the proper response to drug use is to lock up the people doing it.

Here’s hoping the Supreme Court rules that facilities of this sort are permissible, given the proven success of harm reduction programs in diminishing the negative effects of drug addiction. Giving InSite a clear legal mandate to exist could encourage the emergence of similar programs in other areas where drug problems are a major concern.

[Update: 10 February 2010] There is a good post about InSite and the Conservative government over on Knitnut: Ideology trumps evidence: Conservative drug policy.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

24 thoughts on “Another shot at shutting down InSite”

  1. If I understand the legal issue correctly, the court will likely be ruling on whether the issue of drug addiction is a legal issue or a medical issue. Hopefully they will uphold past court rulings that it is a medical issue.

  2. ” It defies both evidence and logic to suggest that the proper response to drug use is to lock up the people doing it.”

    No. It’s a rational course of action if the real goal is to imprison and disempower the poor.

    Chomsky on the real versus purported purposes of the war on drugs:

  3. My guess is that the ‘real goal’ is more like catering to the paranoia of the small-c-conservative middle class – the people who think we need t0 ‘get tough on crime’ with minimum sentences and the like.

  4. I find many things about this federal government disappointing. Sheer, bloodyminded adherence to ideological cant in the face of solid science is right up there…

  5. It bugs me so much that the US pursues legal matters on foreign soil when it just rejects calls from other countries to prosecute its former or current politicians for crimes against humanity. I think it was Amnesty International that called for Bush, Cheney, etc., to be tried at the ICJ for war crimes and crimes against humanity. But nope, no chance of that.

    It’s also weird how the USA says it’s the world’s best democracy when we (until Jean-Paul Gagnon’s works) didn’t even know what democracy actually was. It’s only late in 2009 that the democracy paradox was solved by Gagnon at a conference in Australia that we actually know the general laws of democracy. I’m just an undergrad, but the explanation we got at uni was pretty shocking: apparently any politician or person that says democracy or writes it is using his or her own definition of the term because if they aren’t quoting Gagnon they don’t know what they are talking about.

  6. Actually I really doubt that the Harper government believe the evidence about drug policy supports them on this. Even with confirmation bias you’d have a hell of a job convincing yourself of that, because the literature all points the other way. I think they’re just uninterested in the evidence or the efficacy of the policy and are pursuing it for a mixture of ideological reasons (it fits better with a conservative ideological framework than the medical model does) and electoral self-interest.

  7. “I think they’re just uninterested in the evidence or the efficacy of the policy and are pursuing it for a mixture of ideological reasons (it fits better with a conservative ideological framework than the medical model does) and electoral self-interest.”

    I think you’re right on the ball Sarah.

  8. Harper sometimes surprises me by doing something that doesn’t make me wonder if he’s not secretly American.

    This is not one of those times.

    Harper To Eliminate Addiction!

    Vancouverites know how things were without insite and Vancouverites know how things are with insite….yet those who know nothing about it at all will be those who decide it’s fate?

  9. Insite protesters promise to dog Harper’s Olympic appearances

    Ian Bailey and Justine Hunter

    Vancouver, BC — From Thursday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010 6:27PM EST Last updated on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 9:39AM EST

    Supporters of Vancouver’s safe-injection site are promising to interfere with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Olympic appearances after forcing him to postpone an appearance visit to a Chinese Cultural Centre with a feisty protest yesterday.

    Nathan Allen, a spokesman for Insite for Community Safety, promised the continued activism “if we know where [Mr. Harper] is” after a protest in which activists chained the doors of the downtown Chinese Cultural Centre ahead of Mr. Harper’s appearance.

    The demonstration, which drew dozens of Vancouver police officers who stood between the building and about 150 protesters, came in the same week that the federal Conservative government said it would launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to shut down Insite, which provides addicts with a safe, clean place to use their drugs.

    Not long before the Prime Minister’s scheduled photo op at the Chinese Cultural Centre, a few blocks from Insite in the Downtown Eastside, the protesters wrapped yellow caution tape around the complex, then chained the doors.

  10. It is disappointing and perhaps inappropriate to rely on the courts for policy-making. Courts are hesitant to become involved with issues of policy-making.
    Whether or not to have a safe injection site seems to fall into the realm of policy-making.

    I feel this closure of the safe injectio site may be an attempt to impose a national strategy where local interests differ. I think there is a relatively strong concensus within Vancouver the Insite does more harm than good, including among the police.

  11. That certainly isn’t what I have heard or read. I think there have been several serious studies that demonstrate how it improves outcomes, relative to what would happen if it did not exist.

    As for courts, they have more of an obligation to think things through seriously than politicians do. Also, they don’t need to pander to populist sentiments as much.

  12. Oleh, I would say just the opposite: There is a strong consensus within the city that Insite does more good than harm. The Vancouver Police are partners in the program, although the RCMP (who would be less likely to have to deal with the problems of the downtown Eastside) have in the past voiced opposition.

    In addition, nearly every study of the safe injection site (including one commissioned by the RCMP who disapprove) has shown benefits, including cost to the tax payer where an estimated $6 million per year is saved (after program operating costs) due to decrease in strain on the health care system. The site is responsible for reducing needle sharing disease transmission and for increasing enrollment in rehab programs.

    Finally, risk for non addicts (ie the general population) is decreased by the presence of Insite. There are fewer needles disposed of on the street, and break-ins and petty thefts have decreased in the area around Insite. If the Insite program were to be expanded, all evidence suggests an even further reduction in costs to taxpayers and harms to drug users.

  13. Supreme Court to decide future of B.C. injection site

    Kirk Makin

    Globe and Mail Update Published on Thursday, Jun. 24, 2010 12:16PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Jun. 24, 2010 12:28PM EDT

    The future of a unique, supervised drug-injection site in Vancouver will be decided in the Supreme Court of Canada.

    The Court said Thursday that it decide whether the federal government has authority to shut down the Downtown Eastside clinic – the first such clinic in North America to allow addicts to inject themselves with prohibited drugs under a nurse’s supervision.

    The case has turned into an important jurisdictional struggle between the province and federal governments.

    In January, the B.C. Court of Appeal decided 2-1 that the province has jurisdiction over Insite for Community Safety since it provides addicts with health care, which is within provincial jurisdiction.

    The court found that it was not necessary to rule on the facility’s constitutional right to exist since it is a provincial responsibility. Its ruling upheld a 2008 trial decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield, who found that the facility reduces the risk of death and disease for addicts, and the application of federal laws violated its clients’ Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

  14. New HIV infections in Canada back to 1982 levels

    André Picard Public Health Reporter

    Vienna — Globe and Mail Update Published on Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010 12:51PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010 2:42PM EDT

    The number of annual cases of HIV-AIDS in Canada and the U.S. has risen back to 1982 levels – when the epidemic began ravaging the gay community.

    But those being infected today are not just gay men, they are increasingly IV drug users, and members of visible minority communities, particularly African-American men in the U.S. and aboriginals and immigrants in Canada, delegates to the International AIDS Conference heard Thursday.

    Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, associate dean of global health sciences at the University of California, San Diego said there were approximately 3,300 new HIV infections in Canada in 2008, compared to 56,300 in the U.S.

    But infections are rising steadily in Canada, while they have leveled off in the U.S, the researcher said.

  15. “Go back to O’Brien’s original press release. “The fact that this research is even considering drug injection sites for Ottawa,” it said, “should be of concern to every resident.” O’Brien wanted to make an issue of the study because he is adamantly opposed to the creation of an injection site. And he thought he could score votes with his opposition.

    It didn’t work out that way, however. Jim Watson, his main opponent, said he is also opposed to the creation of a safe-injection site. For good measure, police chief Vern White called safe-injection sites “absolutely ridiculous” and regretted that O’Brien had even mentioned the study. “I’m a little disappointed that we’re giving this any legs,” White told a reporter.

    So the issue was a political dud. But notice that not one of these civic leaders expressed the slightest interest in reading the study. No, their minds were closed. They already knew the truth. No need to examine evidence as it becomes available, and certainly no need to adjust opinions accordingly.

    This is indefensible. It is nakedly irrational. Unfortunately, it is also perfectly natural.

    Every brain is stuffed with certain understandings of human nature and how the world works. Some are the product of evolutionary hardwiring. Others come from personal experience and culture. Whatever their origins, they shape our subsequent perceptions and thoughts, thanks to the brain’s insistence on maintaining order in its mental universe.”

  16. Insite, Vancouver’s supervised drug injection site, has a date with the Supreme Court of Canada.

    In January, the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed the federal government’s latest attempt to close the clinic, arguing that Insite’s operations fall under provincial rather than federal jurisdiction.

    Justice Minister Rob Nicholson responded last week by announcing that Ottawa would appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Many of Insite’s supporters regard the federal government’s appeal as strictly ideological, in keeping with the party’s conservative principles of being “tough on crime” and “tough on drugs.”

    But when we examine the party’s founding principles, Insite’s operation would appear to be ideologically conservative. So much so that the Conservative government should be supporting it rather than trying to shut it down.

    Take the principle of balancing fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities.

    Studies have found that Insite saves money. In a cost-benefit analysis over a 10-year period, it was found that a net $18 million could be saved.

    Similarly, more than $6 million could be saved each year just by averting HIV-related medical costs.

    Together, these savings are more than enough to offset Insite’s $3 million per year operating costs. Support for Insite, therefore, is the only fiscally responsible position for Conservatives.

  17. If a drug policy works, Harper wants nothing to do with it
    Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen

    A scene that said much about Prime Minister Stephen Harper unfolded last week at the Supreme Court of Canada.

    At a hearing about the legal status of Insite, the supervised injection site in Vancouver, a lawyer representing the federal government acknowledged the facility had been granted a federal exemption from drug laws under a clause that permits scientific study. Insite is an experiment, in other words.

    “And it worked,” observed Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

    A long list of scientific research papers published in prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals showed that Insite had done exactly what it was designed to do. Overdose deaths down. Rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection down.

    “Lives are being saved, diseases are being prevented by this site, and are we putting too fine a point on it by saying the site has nothing to do with it?” McLachlin asked the federal lawyer.

    “In the end, this program somehow, while not being perfect, works,” interjected Justice Louis LeBel. “Have you evidence that tends to demonstrate that this program doesn’t work?”

    The lawyer’s stammered response: “I think that’s a fair observation.”

    So to sum up, heaps of evidence suggests Insite saves lives, while the federal government has acknowledged before the Supreme Court of Canada that it hasn’t evidence to the contrary.

  18. But when he speaks of the importance of Insite, you hear something else, something only an insider can say with feeling: While not a traditionally religious man, Wilson speaks of a distinctly spiritual dimension at Insite, of how it presents an “offer of hope” to those who remain on the street and on drugs.

    “Junkies,” after all, are literally seen as vermin by many and that view is often internalized by users themselves. They often see themselves as neither possessed of, nor worthy of, a future.

    Or as Wilson puts it in his characteristically poetic way: “Does a homeless person even dream on the street?” By validating not their drug use but their humanity in spite of their drug use, Insite gives them a sense of self-worth and allows them to dream of a future -allows them to say, in Wilson’s words, “My God, I am somebody.”

    This often translates to their taking charge of their health, to seeing doctors when necessary rather than letting their wounds -and their lives -fester.

  19. The current Canadian debate between critics who want an approach focused on public health and prohibitionists who want to scale up law enforcement and punishment has happened many times before. The prohibitionists always win. And their policies always fail. In the early 1960s, harsh new punishments, including severe mandatory minimum sentences, came into force. Shortly after, drug trafficking and consumption soared.
       “Research has almost uniformly failed to show that intensified policing or sanctions have reduced either drug prevalence or drug-related harm,” concluded Peter Reuter, one of the world’s leading experts on drug policy.
       No matter. The Harper government opposes Vancouver’s supervised injection site and any other attempt to try something new. Instead, it will soon pass new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.
       Only the names change. “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won,” concluded the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

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