Pubdate: Mon, 16 Nov 2015
Source: Daily Press, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 Sun Media
Author: Giuseppe Valiante
Page: A5


MONTREAL - Quebec healthcare workers and politicians say they expect 
the new federal government to approve their application for 
supervised, illicit-drug injection sites in Montreal, which will make 
the city the second in Canada to host the controversial harm-reduction program.

But some are warning the strict law passed before the Conservatives 
left office will mean potential injection site operators will have to 
navigate a complicated legal maze aimed at preventing these sites from opening.

The chairman of the health centre expected to house Montreal's first 
legal injection site said he has "no doubt" the new Liberal health 
minister will approve the application after months of what he calls 
Conservative "stalling."

Louis Letellier de St-Just said if the project calling for three, 
fixed safe-injection locations and one mobile unit gets approved 
quickly, it might be up and running by next fall.

"The project will certainly get the go-ahead from the (new) federal 
health minister, so we are thrilled," said Letellier de St-Just, 
whose community health centre, Cactus Montreal, has been working with 
drug users and sex workers for decades.

A City of Montreal spokeswoman said Mayor Denis Coderre was also 
confident that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government 
would approve the proposal.

Health Canada refused to comment on Montreal's application, but the 
Liberals' election platform stated its support of supervised 
injection sites, saying they "decrease the risk of death and disease 
for those living with addiction and mental illness, reduce crime, and 
protect public health and safety."

Currently, Vancouver is the only city in Canada where intravenous 
drug users can inject themselves with illegal substances under 
supervision of nurses and other health care staff.

Proponents of these facilities say the sites offer a clean and safe 
location for drug users as opposed to the street, and where addicts 
can be directed towards treatment programs.

Critics say the sites encourage drug use, attract drug users and say 
governments shouldn't be subsidizing centres where people consume 
illegal substances.

The previous Conservative government took the latter view, and its 
efforts to close the Vancouver centre, called Insite, were stopped by 
the Supreme Court of Canada in 2011.

The high court ruled the government couldn't deny health services to 
addicts in the city's Downtown Eastside.

In response to the ruling, the Tories passed legislation in June 
which makes it "virtually impossible" for new sites to open in the 
country, said Anna Marie D'Angelo, with Vancouver's Insite.

Cities seeking a supervised injection site need approval from the 
federal government through an exemption under the Controlled Drugs 
and Substances Act.

The Tory law - known as C-2 - forces potential injection site 
operators to provide the government with crime statistics and other 
neighbourhood data as well as criminal background checks of potential 
employees and an accounting of any local opposition to the project.

"Compiling all these statistics year in and year out is very 
onerous," D'Angelo said. "We don't think it could be very easily 
accomplished for a new centre."

Donald MacPherson, professor at Simon Fraser University and director 
of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition said in the past, exemptions 
were allowed to "facilitate innovation and health care."

"But Bill C-2 is very much not in that vein and puts obstacles in 
front of people," he said, calling on the Liberals to "repeal or 
radically alter" the law.

But not all health-care workers are open to supervised injection facilities.

Seychelle Harding, spokeswoman for Montreal's Portage addiction 
centre, said her organization isn't necessarily against the sites, 
but adds public money shouldn't be diverted from rehabilitation 
programs to fund them.

She said the injection sites can benefit a "small and highly 
marginalized" group of people resistant to treatment and also help to 
reduce the transmission of HIV and other infections.

Harding cautioned that supervised injection sites are a public safety 
measure, not a replacement for treatment and rehabilitation.

"Anything that can save lives or limit the propagation of infections 
is a good thing," Harding said. "It's clear that we don't want the 
money dedicated to treatment to be reduced."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom