Ottawa ‘disappointed’ with B.C. court

Ottawa ‘disappointed’ with B.C. court ruling on safe-injection site


The Canadian Press

May 28, 2008 at 5:14 PM EDT

Canada’s federal health minister said his government is “obviously very disappointed” with a British Columbia court ruling that struck down laws prohibiting possession and trafficking of drugs by those accessing help at supervised injection sites.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling effectively granted a one-year reprieve for Vancouver’s controversial injection facility.

“We disagree with the judgment,” Mr. Clement told reporters in Ottawa.

“Our government believes that the best way to deal with the health issues of drug addicts is to offer treatment and indeed to prevent people from getting on to illicit drugs in the first place.”

Mr. Clement also strongly suggested the Conservative government was opposed to the facility’s continued operation.

“We don’t consider it the best health outcome to keep people in a position where they continue to use the illicit drugs, to inject the illicit drugs.”

The facility began as a pilot project and has been allowed to continue to operate because of exemptions granted by the federal government under a section of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The latest exemption was to expire June 30.

But the B.C. court ruling allows the facility in the Downtown Eastside known as Insite to operate at least until June 30, 2009.

Clement said the federal government is “examining our options” and any decision to appeal would be announced by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

Justice Ian Pitfield said in the ruling released Tuesday that denying access to the site ignores the illness of addiction and violates drug addicts’ right – enshrined in Section 7 of the Charter – to life, liberty and security.

“While there is nothing to be said in favour of the injection of controlled substances that leads to addiction, there is much to be said against denying addicts health-care services that will ameliorate the effects of their condition,” he wrote.

“I cannot agree with Canada’s submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative.”

While Judge Pitfield’s decision striking down two sections of the federal drug laws doesn’t take effect until next year, he granted Insite an immediate exemption, allowing it to remain open.

Law professor Isabel Grant of the University of B.C. said the decision would almost certainly be appealed.

“When a court strikes down important legislation, the federal government is going to want more than just a single B.C. Supreme Court justice making that decision,” she said.

The judge’s ruling, said Prof. Grant, is asking Parliament to exempt trafficking and possession laws from those accessing treatment at safe injection sites.

“It wouldn’t be that difficult for Parliament to amend them,” she said.

“The judge is saying that because we’re dealing with the life and security of the person, the individuals who use this clinic, you can’t have these blanket prohibitions when it’s being used in the name of health care.

“There has to be some kind of exemption made to allow for this kind of medically supervised use.”

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association called the ruling a “major victory for social justice in the Downtown Eastside.”

“The court has decided that the government cannot deny drug addicts access to the health care that they desperately need and that Insite provides,” the association said in a prepared statement.


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