Disclaimer: I worked for two years at Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection facility and currently work at Onsite, the detox & transitional housing program attached to Insite. Except where explicitly stated, the following opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employer the PHS Community Services Society, nor those of Vancouver Coastal Health, which co-manages both Insite and Onsite.
On May 12, the Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear an appeal from the Attorney General on the 2008 decision by the Supreme Court of BC which struck down sections of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as unconstitutional in that they prevented Canadian citizens addicted to illegal drugs from accessing health care services, specifically those offered by Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, Insite. In his decision (which you can read in its entirety as a PDF file here), Justice Ian Pitfield wrote:
“Instead of being rationally connected to a reasonable apprehension of harm, the blanket prohibition contributes to the very harm it seeks to prevent. It is inconsistent with the state’s interest in fostering individual and community health, and preventing death and disease.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has already had one appeal of Pitfield’s decision rejected by the BC Court of Appeals in January, 2010. Undaunted by the growing scientific research that supports Insite and the use of Harm Reduction methodologies as part of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with addiction, unswayed by the legal findings of the courts, and unfazed by the cost-effectiveness of harm reduction practices, the Harper Tories wage on. British medical journal The Lancet has just published a study showing that Insite contributed to a 35 per cent drop in overdose deaths in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside within two years of its 2003 opening. That’s what at stake, human lives.
In a 2008 op-ed, the Globe & Mail‘s public health reporter Andre Picard wrote:
“our federal government and our national police force, rather than embracing harm reduction as complementary to law enforcement, have developed a hatred for Insite that is irrational and unseemly, one that threatens and undermines public health policy to its core.”
Even some Christians find the Harper government’s attack on Harm Reduction distasteful. Saskatchewan Redemptorist ethicist Father Mark Miller told the Catholic Register in 2007: “
“This is a social-justice issue. It’s almost like the situation of lepers in the time of Jesus. What Jesus did was say, ‘No, you embrace them; you bring them in, you make them part of the community.’ That becomes part of the healing. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it’s going to work for the community. It also becomes part of the healing of the community, because otherwise you become elitist and moralistic.”
Liz Evans, Executive Director of PHS Community Services (which operates Insite in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health) wrote in the National Post last month:
“InSite’s purpose is to help prevent addicts from dying, either from an overdose or from a disease, before they get a chance to recover.”
To put it even more simply, dead people don’t detox. My Canada doesn’t give up on people, Stephen Harper’s evidently does. At an October, 2007 press conference our Prime Minister said:
“If you remain an addict, I don’t care how much harm you reduce,you’re going to have a short and miserable life.”
In the face of so much evidence that shows otherwise, Harper’s statement is nothing short of appalling.
Here’s our new favourite vlogger Shawn Syms on Harm Reduction last fall: