March 27th, 2015
How lucky we are in Vancouver- for the moment. On Wednesday the federal government ruled that Insite, the supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, could stay open. Insite’s dedicated staff have saved people from overdose deaths and helped others into treatment to deal with their addiction. But luck could be running out for Insite and is certainly not shining on other communities across Canada that could really benefit from similar services.
On Monday the House of Commons passed Bill C-2, also known as the Respect for Communities Act, a title Pivot Legal Society’s Adrienne Smith calls “cruelly ironic.” Smith says that Bill C-2 “could make it much harder for Insite to stay open, and it effectively prevents a similar health service from opening in any other Canadian city.” Many in the community will remember that the Conservative government’s fight against Insite went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The 2011 result had the Supreme Court deciding unanimously in favour of Insite remaining open because not allowing the clinic to operate would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill C-2 sets up serious roadblocks to establishing similar health services. “Bill C-2 undermines the rights of people who use drugs to access lifesaving and health-protecting services” says a 2014 background document from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. A piece from the Canadian Medical Association suggests “The legislation’s language appears to contravene the direction of a 2011 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada that upheld Insite’s exemption.” Smith’s blog for Pivot Legal Society echoes that: “What the Harper government is trying to do is wrong. It is also unconstitutional.”
An article from last fall rightly identifies the government’s conflict between ideology, science and public health. Peer-reviewed research on Insite’s programs and impact on community show it works to improve community wellness and reduce risks. It is a form of health care delivered to vulnerable and stigmatized people.
Perhaps Bill C-2 won’t get passed at its final hurdle, the Senate. If it does, it will be an uphill if not impossible battle for many communities to deliver care their citizens sorely need. The battle isn’t over.