Pubdate: Tue, 02 Jun 2015
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The Toronto Star
Author: Adrienne Smith
Page: A11


This week the Harper government, and the largely Conservative-appointed
Senate, will effectively drive a nail into the coffins of thousands of
Canadians living with addiction by passing legislation that will block
the establishment of supervised injection facilities such as
Vancouver's Insite.

Bill C-2, the ill-named Respect for Communities Act, which is likely
to pass third reading in the Senate imminently, changes section 56 of
the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Canada's blanket prohibition
on drugs. It establishes 26 new requirements applicants must meet
before the feds will even consider an approval to operate a supervised
injection facility. These requirements are unwarranted and will be, in
many cases, impossible to satisfy.

Vancouver's supervised injection facility operates legally because
users and staff are exempted under section 56 from criminal liability
for possession and trafficking in drugs. It's at Insite where drug
users are able to inject the drugs to which they are addicted safely,
under the supervision of a nurse who can intervene if something goes
wrong. There are nearly 100 similar sites in dozens of countries
around the world. There is only one in Canada.

The passing of Bill C-2 is bad news for Insite, but even worse news
for the thousands of people struggling with addiction across our
country in communities without similar facilities, but in desperate
need of them. You may recall the Supreme Court of Canada seemed to
settle this issue after the Conservative government's efforts to shut
Insite's doors. The Court's landmark 2011 decision upheld the
constitutional rights of drug users to access Insite's life-saving
health services. It also said that in the absence of a demonstrable
risk to public safety, section 56 exemptions should be granted.
Unsurprisingly, Bill C-2 takes the opposite position, mandating that
exemptions will occur only in "exceptional circumstances."

Despite the Supreme Court's decision that Insite was legally a
hospital, Health Minister Rona Ambrose has continued to lobby against
the establishment of similar safe-injection sites based on unfounded
fear-mongering. She told a Senate committee that future "injection
houses" could be plunked down in every small community without any
consultation, unless she acted quickly to protect us all from
"addicts." The reality is that drug users - members of our families
and our communities - are already injecting unsafely in the alleyways
of the nation and without access to specialized health care, they will
continue to die there. In the summer of 2014, there were 83 severe
overdoses investigated by the Agence de la sante et des services
sociaux de Montreal, 25 of them fatal. A fentanyl epidemic is
currently plaguing Calgary and Alberta's Kainai Nation (Blood) reserve
west of Lethbridge. Fentanyl is an opiate drug regularly passed off as
heroin by street dealers but dangerously more ! potent. In other
communities across the country, thousands of people have died by
overdose and, under this new legislation, countless others will die,

It doesn't have to be this way. On Thanksgiving weekend last year, 30
people suffered accidental fentanyl overdoses at Insite. None of them
died. In contrast, the lethal concoction took five lives elsewhere in
the city. Between 2004 and 2010 there were 1,418 overdoses at Insite,
but not a single death. Many of these overdoses could have been fatal
had they occurred outside the facility.

The problem of fatal drug overdoses in Canada is a preventable
epidemic. Supervised injection saves lives. The science and the
economic benefit have been well established in credible peer reviewed
journals for more than a decade. When I travelled to Ottawa last
November, I told a House of Commons committee that the bill was
unconstitutional. It would not pass Charter scrutiny and would attract
a pointless and expensive legal challenge.

But it has long been the custom of this government to make decisions
based on ideology rather than evidence. The Harper government does not
value the lives of people who use drugs. Rather than embracing the
life-saving promise of a proven intervention, it seems Ottawa will
instead violate the constitutional rights of drug users and compound
the grave dangers they face.
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