Monday, May 9, 2011

Stephen Harper v. Humane & Effective Addiction Harm Reduction

This Thursday, May 12th, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear Attorney General of Canada, et al v. PHS Community Service Society, et al.  The case centres around Insite, the only safe-injection facility in Canada (or North America for that matter).  Insite began as an experiment under the previous (Liberal) government, operating under a special permit granted by the Federal government exempting it from some aspects of the Criminal Code (all criminal law is federal in Canada).  Things changed when the Conservatives took power, and with a couple delays, the government planned to have Insite shut down by mid-2008.  The operators of the facility took the government to court, and challenged parts of Canada's drug laws as contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

They won in the BC Supreme Court, and again on appeal to the BC Court of Appeal in a 2-1 decision back in 2010.  Now the Government has appealed to the Supreme Court, and the fate of evidence based, humane drug addiction harm minimization is at stake.  If Insite wins, the Criminal Code prohibitions that prevent safe injection sites from operating will be struck down.  Other facilities will certainly open, likely at least in Montreal and Toronto, but maybe Winnipeg as well.  What modern city does not have some kind of needle drug addiction problem?

I'm not well versed in Supreme Court of Canada Kremlinology.  A simple partisan read of the Court shows there are 6.5 Justices appointed by Liberal Prime Ministers, and 2.5 appointed by Conservatives (the half mark is because the Chief Justice was appointed by Mulroney as a puisne (associate in US terms) Justice, then promoted to Chief by Chretien.  Insite's case has won twice already, and I have reasonable hopes that the current SCC will uphold the Charter challenge to our overly broad drug laws that would allow charges of possession and trafficking (!) to be levelled against medical professionals who merely allow addicts to use their own drugs in a safe place. 
The group Friends of Insite is asking Canadians in the Ottawa area to attend the hearing in support of Insite.  This may not be the end of the fight, Harper can always have Parliament amend the Criminal Code in some way that makes safe injection facilities illegal and is more likely to survive a Charter challenge, but each battle won is still a battle won, if nothing else but to make him expend political energy on it, and also for the people that Insite helps each day. 


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  2. Thanks for blogging about this story. It is unfortunate the Harper administration does not respect science more.

  3. Thanks. Glad to give it some attention, and I wish it was bigger international news. It's all part of Nixon North's stealth conservative project.

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