Pubdate: Tue, 19 Aug 2008
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2008 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard, Public Health Reporter, with reports from 
Campbell Clark and Robert Matas
Bookmark: (Insite)
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)


Comments Come As Tory Ads Take 'Junkies' To Task

MONTREAL -- Health professionals who support Vancouver's safe 
injection site are unethical and immoral, federal Health Minister 
Tony Clement suggested yesterday. "The supervised injection site 
undercuts the ethic of medical practice and sets a debilitating 
example for all physicians and nurses, both present and future in 
Canada," he scolded in an address to the Canadian Medical Association 
general council meeting in Montreal.

He called providing a safe injection site to drug addicts tantamount 
to offering palliative care to a patient with a treatable form of cancer.

"This is a profound moral issue, and when Canadians are fully 
informed of it, I believe they will reject it on principle," the minister said.

His comments come as the Conservatives have bombarded urban ridings 
in Vancouver and Toronto with ads, sent free using MPs' mailing 
privileges, that depict a discarded syringe and a headline that 
states: "Junkies and pushers don't belong near children and families. 
They should be in rehab or behind bars."

The campaign, in addition to Mr. Clement's remarks, shows the 
Conservatives are trying to make illegal drugs an issue that will 
separate them from other parties and influence key swing voters, 
especially women.

Yesterday, Mr. Clement took issue specifically with a letter he 
received from CMA president Brian Day that stated: "There is growing 
evidence that harm-reduction efforts can have a positive effect on 
the poor health outcomes associated with drug use."

The minister retorted: "Is it true that supervised injections offer 
'positive health outcomes?' I would not put it this way. Insite 
[Vancouver's safe injection site] may slow the death spiral of a 
deadly drug habit, but it does not reverse it. I do not regard this 
as a positive health outcome."

After the speech, Dr. Day said the "minister is off base in calling 
into question the ethics of physicians" and accused Mr. Clement of 
"manipulating medical ethics to make a political point."

Dr. Day noted that in a poll of Canadian physicians, 79 per cent 
supported harm-reduction measures, including safe injection sites.

"We have an opinion based on scientific evidence. The minister has 
come to a different conclusion," he said.

Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal public-health critic and a physician, 
was livid after the minister's speech.

"I've never seen such an offensive performance by a health minister," 
she said. "How dare he come to a meeting of professionals and scold 
them about their perceived ethical failings."

At Insite, a small facility in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, drug 
users inject themselves while supervised by nurses and physicians, 
and receive counselling about rehabilitation.

Clean needles are provided, but drugs are not; the principal purpose 
is to limit the spread of infectious diseases. Insite was granted an 
exemption from federal drug laws in 2003 so its users cannot be 
prosecuted for drug possession.

The Conservative government has vowed to close Insite, but the 
facility won a reprieve this spring when the B.C. Supreme Court 
struck down parts of Canada's drug laws. Ottawa has appealed.

Mr. Clement said yesterday that he would like Insite to "remain open 
with a changed mandate of prevention and treatment instead of drug 

He said that drug addicts need treatment, and safe injection 
facilities are counterproductive.

"Injections are not medicine. They do not heal. We need to offer them healing."

The new Conservative ad campaign picks up where Mr. Clement's message 
leaves off with its call to "keep junkies in rehab and off the 
streets." It includes pictures of the party leaders and asks which of 
them is on track to fight crime.

The text reads: "Thugs, drug pushers and others involved in the drug 
trade are writing their own rules. For too long, lax Liberal 
governments left gangs and drug pushers to make their own rules and 
set their own criminal agenda. Those days are over."

The Tories have lower support among women, and pollsters for both 
Conservatives and Liberals have found that women and seniors feel 
vulnerable to crime. A promise to keep junkies away from children is 
a direct pitch.

The pamphlets have opposition MPs accusing the Tories of 
electioneering with public funds.

Each MP is allowed to send free mail to a number of households 
outside their riding that is equal to 10 per cent of their own riding.

Some of the drug pamphlets sent to Toronto homes came under the stamp 
of Alberta MP John Williams; others sent to Vancouver were marked 
from MPs from other parts of the country.

Vancouver Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh said the pamphlets are too 
partisan to be acceptable under the 10-per-cent mailing rule, which 
is supposed to cover an MP's parliamentary duties.

"This message goes beyond what ought to be an acceptable 10 per 
center," he said. "What's questionable is the ethics of a government 
that would allow vulnerable people to die without getting help."

A Conservative Party spokesman, Ryan Sparrow, rejected the suggestion 
that the pamphlet was too partisan.

"You're debating a policy and you're asking which political party or 
which political leader is on the right track," he said. 
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