Pubdate: Wed, 05 Oct 2011
Source: Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: David Akin


Drug addicts in Vancouver's downtown east side now have the 
protection of the Supreme Court of Canada to avail themselves of a 
medical facility, the Insite clinic, where they may inject themselves 
with heroin under medical supervision.

Now: What about drug addicts in the country's prisons? Can they 
expect the court's ruling to change the way they are treated?

This is no academic question but one which the members of the House 
of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and Security may soon be seized.

On Tuesday, at a meeting of that committee, Catherine Latimer, a 
lawyer and the executive director of the John Howard Society of 
Canada, suggested that the court's landmark and controversial ruling 
should have an impact as that committee looks at the issue of drug 
and alcohol use in our prisons.

Latimer, in an interview after the meeting, explained that she is not 
advocating so-called "shooting galleries" on every cell block in 
Canada's jails.

But she did say the Supreme Court's Insite ruling could have 
important implications for the prison population.

"One, it identifies addiction as a type of illness and as soon as 
something is identified as an illness, it's treated a little bit 
differently and, secondly, it raises a whole lot of questions how 
(ministerial) discretion has been exercised in denying harm-reduction 
opportunities to other people who are governed by federal legislation 
such as inmates."

Some prisons now offer "bleach kits" to inmates who are intravenous 
drug users to help stanch the spread of disease. Would a prison 
needle exchange program be another harm-reduction measure?

This is precisely the kind of program the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal 
Network pushed for last year, noting that similar programs work in 
Europe and Asia.

But as Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner noted, needles can be pretty 
effective weapons and, surely, we would want to keep needles away 
from prisoners.

And yet, the Supreme Court's Insite ruling has clearly forced policy 
makers in Ottawa and in every provincial capital to do some new 
thinking on this controversial issue.

The good news, so far as drug use in prisons goes, is that the rate 
of use appears to be dropping.

That said, drug use continues to pose a threat not only to the safety 
of drug users themselves but also the wider safety and security of 
the prison population and prison guards.

Conservative MPs on the security committee appear to prefer tackling 
the drug problem in prisons by focusing on measures that reduce the supply.

That might involve more strict interdiction measures, more guards, 
and more punishment.

Randall Garrison, a B.C. NDP MP who taught criminal justice issues at 
college, said the government will soon reach a point of diminishing 
returns by implementing more costly programs to cut the supply of drugs.

Better yet, the NDP says, would be increasing measures to reduce demand.

This brings us back to the John Howard Society and its call for a 
broad-based approach that encompasses treatment and harm reduction. 
Turn addicts into ex-addicts, in their view, and you're beating the 
drug problem.

The Insite ruling, to the discomfit, I suspect, of many small-c 
conservatives, now tips the scales to those who advocate that 
supervised, safe use of dangerous drugs is an important and useful 
part of the process of creating those ex-addicts.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom