Pubdate: Fri, 13 Apr 2012
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dan Gardner


Many people hate the idea of clinics where people can inject illicit
drugs under the supervision of nurses and counsellors.

Others want them set up immediately. They include the University of
Toronto researchers who recommended this week that supervised
injection sites be opened in Toronto and Ottawa.

Which view is more popular varies from place to place. A Forum
Research poll found considerable variation within the city of Toronto,
with a majority of people (62 per cent) in the downtown core in favour
while people farther out are just as strongly opposed. That's life in
a diverse country. If we insist on applying public policies
universally, that's a problem. We will never entirely erase our
disagreements, no matter how much we talk, argue and shout. And so,
inevitably, when a policy is implemented, or blocked, people in some
places will feel that people elsewhere have imposed their views on

Sometimes that's unavoidable. But there's far more room for
decentralization and variation than we realize. We should make more
use of it.

Consider the only safe-injection site in the country, Insite, located
in Vancouver's bedraggled Downtown Eastside.

Before Insite opened its doors in 2003, popular opinion varied much as
it does now in Toronto, with strong support in the downtown and
opposition rising in the suburbs and beyond.

If the municipal and provincial governments had insisted on a
universal policy, they would have either denied downtown residents
what they wanted or scattered clinics all over the map, in defiance of
much local opinion. Instead, they did something modest and simple.

They opened one clinic in the downtown neighbourhood where support was
strongest and need greatest. In short, it was a local experiment with
local support.

Provinces, cities and neighbourhoods vehemently opposed to the policy
did not have it thrust upon them. A neighbourhood that very much
wanted the policy was not denied it.

So local views were respected. An experiment was undertaken. Everyone
learned. What's not to love?

Eleven years ago, two gentlemen wrote that decentralization would
ensure that "the policies in all parts of Canada will better reflect
local economies and local desires - and that cannot but lead to a
stronger country."

One of those gentlemen was conservative policy analyst Ken
Boessenkool. The other was National Citizens Coalition president
Stephen Harper.

Of course, Prime Minister Harper tried very hard to close Insite, and
would have, if the Supreme Court hadn't intervened. And that
underscores a key problem.

We tend to think local control and experimentation is grand when we
like what the locals propose to do but not so much when we don't. This
hypocrisy can even be seen in strong advocates of decentralization -
such as Stephen Harper.

And then there's the Constitution. It doesn't even recognize cities.
And it gives power over the criminal law - which is connected to so
many values-laden decisions - to the federal government.

But these difficulties are not insurmountable. As was done with
Insite, the federal government can grant exemptions from the criminal
law in some cases.

Discretionary law enforcement can also make room for local
experimentation, provided the discretion is exercised formally and

But most of all we have to collectively accept the idea that local is
better, even when we don't happen to like what those people over there
want to do.

We can start with prostitution. It's ludicrous to think we can find
one answer to prostitution that will satisfy the circumstances,
opinions and values coast to coast. So let's decentralize: The federal
and provincial governments should sit down with municipalities to
discuss policy frameworks that would allow cities to take the lead and

And supervised injection sites? Thanks to Insite, the discussion is
focused at the city level. That's good.

There isn't a safe-injection site in Burnaby or Port Moody. Or
Kitsilano. But there is one in the Downtown Eastside, where people
want it. That's local. National Citizens Coalition president Stephen
Harper was right: We need more of that.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt