Pubdate: Sun, 20 Mar 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: Richard Elliott
Note: Richard Elliott is executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS 
Legal Network.
Page: A13


Not only are the legislative hurdles to safe injection sites 
unnecessary and unjustifiable, but also in some places, they will be 
nearly impossible to overcome

Supervised injection sites have the potential "to save countless 
lives." This is what Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told the 
CBC last week, echoing what she said this year when she visited 
Insite, a supervised injection site in Vancouver. This clear support 
is a welcome change at the federal level, and was reflected in 
Canada's unprecedented statement last week at the UN Commission on 
Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.

At its first international outing on drug policy, the federal 
government expressed its strong support for evidence-based harm 
reduction, including measures such as needle and syringe programs, 
supervised injection sites and the distribution of naloxone, a proven 
and effective treatment to counter opioid overdoses. This is a 
radical shift from recent years, during which Canada joined countries 
such as Russia in speaking out against harm-reduction programs.

Canada's clear statement offers a new vision of drug policy, rooted 
in scientific evidence, public health principles and human rights. 
These values were reflected in a landmark ruling in 2011, in which 
the Supreme Court of Canada declared, as a matter of constitutional 
rights, that Canada's criminal prohibition on drugs could not be 
allowed to impede the operation of Vancouver's Insite facility.

But in 2015, in flagrant disregard of this ruling and despite 
widespread condemnation by public health and human rights experts, 
the previous federal government passed Bill C-2, the misleadingly 
named Respect for Communities Act, making it harder than ever to 
establish much-needed supervised injection sites.

Currently, several proposals to implement supervised injection sites 
are being considered across Canada (most recently in Toronto). But 
instead of enhancing access to these critical health services, as the 
Supreme Court of Canada suggested, the Respect for Communities Act 
makes it exceedingly difficult for public health and community 
agencies to apply for an exemption. Not only are the legislated 
hurdles unnecessary and unjustifiable, but also in some places, they 
will be nearly impossible to overcome, even as the preventable toll 
of death and disease mounts.

The current law requires applicants to engage in excessive 
consultations and submit an onerous amount of information to the 
health minister - some of it likely to be simply unobtainable - 
before the minister can even consider an application for an 
exemption. And the law further directs that exemptions may only be 
granted "in exceptional circumstances," even though the Supreme Court 
had ruled that, where there is evidence that a supervised injection 
site could reduce the risk of death and disease, and there is little 
or no evidence of detriment to public safety, "the minister should 
generally grant an exemption."

No other health service is subjected to such scrutiny. The law 
blatantly flouts the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is driven by 
stigma and prejudice against those the former government regularly 
denigrated and dehumanized as "junkies."

As the Supreme Court declared, "Insite saves lives." Indeed, 
supervised consumption services have been proven to reduce risks of 
transmission of blood-borne infections, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, 
reduce deaths from overdose and connect people who use drugs to other 
vital health services. While the health minister's support for 
supervised injection sites is welcome, their establishment or 
continued operation cannot be subject to the unreasonable and 
burdensome requirements of an unconstitutional law.

The law has to change. Canada's commitment to harm reduction before 
the UN community was a momentous step - and we encourage Ottawa to 
continue to take strong leadership in advocating for harm reduction 
policies, practices and programs both at home and abroad.

This means repealing the Respect for Communities Act. Lives depend on it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom