Canada's top court to decide fate of Insite drug clinic | National Union of Public and General Employees

Canada's top court to decide fate of Insite drug clinic

Supreme Court of Canada will make the final ruling on whether Harper Conservatives have authority to shutdown safe-injection clinic on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Ottawa (25 June 2010) - The Supreme Court of Canada will decide whether the Harper government has the authority to shut down Insite, the supervised safe-injection drug site on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The court disclosed Thursday that it will decide whether the federal government has authority to shut down the clinic, the first of its kind in North America. Addicts are allowed at the clinic inject themselves with prohibited drugs under a nurse's supervision.

The case has turned into an important jurisdictional struggle between the province and federal governments.

In January, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 that the province has jurisdiction over the clinic since it provides addicts with health care, a provincial responsibility.

That decision upheld a 2008 trial decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield, who found that the facility reduces the risk of death and disease for addicts, and that the application of federal laws violated the rights of clinic clients to life, liberty and security of the person.

Federal lawyers maintain that, while addicts need help, providing a safe injection site is the wrong way to go about doing it.

The federal Conservatives are ideologically opposed to the clinic and have long used it as an anti-crime wedge issue to appeal to law-and-order voters.

The Insite facility was opened in 2003 after it was specifically exempted from federal drug laws by the former Liberal government.

Health Canada initially granted an exemption for three years under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to establish it as a scientific research project.

In 2008, two years after Harper became prime minister, the Portland Hotel Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users launched a constitutional challenge of the federal government's power to close the facility, arguing the site saves lives and money.

Clinic supporters maintain that it is a cost effective way of preventing overdose deaths, limiting the spread of disease and moving more people into addiction treatment programs. Many of its participants are homeless, have serious mental health issues or disabling illnesses. Besides the drug injection service, it offers nursing care, nutritious meals and art therapy.

The Supreme Court appeal will be heard next fall at the earliest.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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