Pubdate: Mon, 03 Nov 2008 Source: Capilano Courier, The (CN BC Edu) Contact: http://capcourier.theorem.ca/contact-us/ Copyright: 2009 The Capilano Courier Website: http://capcourier.theorem.ca/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/4983 Author: Lindsay Kasting Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/hr.htm (Harm Reduction) INSITE VS. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT Bedouin Sound clashes with the cops. Insite clashes with control. I arrive at the 100-block of east Hastings late afternoon to be greeted by an impressive scene in front of Insite, Vancouver's safe injection site in the Downtown Eastside. Stilt walkers in striped costumes duck out of Insite's doors to waltz amongst the crowd, their oversized bunches of balloons drifting high above their already exaggerated height. A short distance away a DJ nods his head, eyes closed, to the beat of his headphones and the pulse of the crowd. Further down, the block is covered in tables and barbeques, where volunteers grill burgers and serve hot chocolate to anyone who shows interest; all to the beat of the Clash, Jimi Hendrix and other upbeat oldies. Both people from the community as well as supporters of Insite's cause are gathered on the street. Hastings Street drivers honk their support in passing, as people dance waving placards with "Insite Saves Lives" printed in bold. People eat, and smiles abound on one of the most famously dreary streets in Vancouver. A stage sits right outside of Insite's doors, with a P.A. system set up. Bedouin Soundclash, Canada's own reggae rock band are the excuse for the occasion. The boys in the band were in town anyways, scheduled to play a show with Zaki Ibrahim and Hey Ocean at the Commodore Ballroom that night. Jay Malinowski, the band's lead singer and guitar player, had contacted Insite, approximately two weeks prior to the event and offered to play a free concert to show their support for keeping InSite open. "They said they were upset by Stephen Harper not listening to the evidence on [Insite]," says Mark Townsend, director of the Portland Hotel Society Community Services, the Vancouver non-profit organization that operates Insite through a partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health. "They wanted to do something to help." Insite was created in 2003 to address the number of people using intravenous drugs in unsafe conditions in Vancouver. As part of the harm reduction aspect of the four pillars approach, the goal is to minimize the potential risks drug users put on themselves when using needles in this environment. Inside, individuals have access to clean injection equipment with which they inject their own drugs under the supervision of nurses and trained staff. From there, people move to the post-injection, or chill room, where they rest until they are ready to leave. Here, Insite staff are present to connect people to other services, from primary care of wounds, to detox and other treatment programs. Another goal of Insite is to reach some of the most marginalized population, bringing street users into a clean environment with knowledgeable supervision and engaging them with services and information regarding safer practices. The facility is able to operate based on a certain level of cooperation from all levels of government. It relies on the constitutional exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act from the federal government, and exists under the province's jurisdiction as a specialized medical facility, with the BC Ministry of Health covering operational funding. The site continues to receive overwhelming support from the community it exists in as well as Vancouver's municipal government. Originally instated as a temporary experiment for research purposes, the site was given a three year exemption from the criminal code. Since then, the exemption has been extended twice to allow for further research, as federal politicians were nervous about what effect it would have if they were to be seen okaying it permanently and despite the studies that continued to prove the benefits of safe injection facilities. The last of these extensions was set to run out in June, 2008. The block party continues. But tucked around the corner of the block is an unexpected surprise. The Vancouver Police Department Crowd Control Unit waits; a line of dancing monkeys waiting for the string to be pulled. They form a parameter, closing off all traffic to the block. Behind the line of police motorcycles a crowd builds; more and more people want to take part in the occasion, and they are not going to be stopped. Like a dike bursting under the pressure of a month long rain, they burst through, refusing to be held back any longer. The deejay is silenced. Sirens wail, and people's cries grow in protest: "InSite saves lives!" The police parameter closes in as they confiscate the sound equipment and deconstruct the tents. The message is clear: Bedouin Soundclash are not going to be permitted to play, and no one will give a reason why. This, however, is not the first hurdle Insite has ever had to clear. In April of this year, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the Portland Hotel Society mounted a constitutional challenge to the federal government's ability to shut Insite, arguing that it addresses a public health crisis. On May 27th, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of keeping Insite open, agreeing that denying drug addicts access to the health-care services at InSite violates their Charter rights to life, liberty and security of person. Judge Ian Pitfield ruled that addiction is a disease and the federal government can't force addicts to inject drugs in an unsafe environment when a safe one is available. The ruling gave the federal government until June 30, 2009 to bring the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act into line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and granted InSite continued constitutional exemption. The federal government, however, is taking this decision to the court of appeal. "This is no more justifiable than requiring an exception from the law of theft from kleptomaniacs, or an exception from the impaired driving laws for alcoholics," state federal government lawyers in the documents filed early October, 2008. The federal government is disputing the striking down of the parts of the criminal code that would prevent Insite from operating. The BC Court of Appeals has set aside three days for the hearing in late April of next year. The BC government is already an intervener and it is expected that Vancouver Coastal Health and the BC Civil Liberties Association will also apply for intervener status. On an average day, Insite sees roughly 645 visitors. Over the past five years since its conception, there has not been a single fatal overdose. It has proven effective at reducing public injections and related litter, reducing needle sharing, preventing overdose deaths and reducing hospital visits. But for the federal government that is not enough. They say that Insite has failed in treating addiction, despite the fact that that has never been the site's primary goal. "It's very depressing for the people down here and the people using the site," says Townsend. "All the evidence is in, and it's clear, so it's just depressing that this goes on and on and on and on. We just don't get listened to." As the crowd disperses, deflated and defeated, next to me, Delanye, a Downtown Eastside resident of the past ten years and Bedouin Soundclash fan, is affronted by the police reaction to what she sees as a community gathering. "If this had gone down in Oakridge, [the police] would be supporting, and the band would be playing right now. In any other neighbourhood. But the fact of the matter is that people here are kept on a pretty tight leash." "I've tried to stay away from politics because I'm an artist and a healer, and yet I feel like they are continuously challenging us and pushing in on us and taking away what little we have. So that if you take two steps to improve yourself, they'll slam you in the face and push you three steps back. That's how hard it is to get anything done around here." According to later press releases, the police presence had to do with noise levels and the possibility of someone getting injured by Hastings Street traffic. But as the grills continue to smoke and the sky darkens, drawing a smudged curtain between control and controlled, I wonder. This seems to be a repeating trend representing a much larger picture for Insite's proponents: one hell of a battle against a formidable opponent, before having a brief chance to recoup and prepare for the next one.