Top court rules Insite drug injection clinic can stay open


Vancouver’s controversial Insite clinic can stay open, the Supreme Court said Friday in a landmark ruling.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that not allowing the clinic to operate under an exemption from drug laws would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court ordered the federal minister of health to grant an immediate exemption to allow Insite to operate.

"Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernable negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation," the ruling said, written by chief justice Beverly McLachlin.

The court ruled that withdrawing the exemption undermines the purpose of federal drug laws, which include public health and safety.

The long-running court battle between the federal government and Insite supporters was based on the clinic’s claim — supported by two lower court rulings — that it should be allowed to operate exempt from federal drug laws.

The federal Ministry of Health, which granted that exemption under the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, wanted the option to withdraw it.

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in January 2010 that the province has the power to implement health programs for the benefit of its citizens, with or without the federal exemption.

That decision supported a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in 2008.

Insite, supported by the City of Vancouver and the B.C. government, provides sanitary conditions for addicts while they inject drugs, medical supervision to help monitor for overdoses, clean needles and counselling for those seeking rehabilitation.

The clinic does not supply any drugs.

Insite was opened in 2003 and has supervised more than one million injections, according to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

The health authority also says on its website that there have been more than 1,400 overdoses at Insite and that medical staff was able to intervene successfully in all cases.

A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet found that overdose deaths had declined by 35 per cent in the area of Insite, on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, since the clinic had opened, compared to a nine per cent drop in overdoses city-wide.

The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS has said that since Insite opened, there’s been a 30 per cent increase in the number of addicts who enter detox.

Other Canadian cities, such as Victoria and Toronto, have said they want to open their own safe-injection clinics, modelled on Insite.

Lawyers for the federal ministry have argued that the government should not be in the business of facilitating illegal drug use.

Tony Clement, the former Conservative minister of health, said that so-called harm reduction programs like those provided by Insite divert money from drug treatment programs.

The full story and a copy of the ruling is available here:


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