Open letter: Current, former Vancouver mayors ask Harper government to back off on Insite

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and five former mayors have issued the following open letter on Insite:

May 10, 2011

As the Mayor and former Mayors of the City of Vancouver, we are asking the federal government to reconsider its efforts to close Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection facility.

Our support of Insite is based on its demonstration of tangible benefits for our community. The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority – to name a few – also recognize the vital health services that Insite provides, and support its continued operation.

Since opening in 2003, Insite has proven – beyond a doubt – its worth to our community. Scientific research confirms the facility reduces high-risk behaviours that lead to the transmission of deadly diseases such as HIV and AIDS. Insite has been shown to reduce public disorder, as well as increasing entry into addiction treatment and detox programs. Most recently, research released in The Lancet, the internationally respected medical journal, revealed that Insite has significantly reduced overdose deaths in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

In addition, independent research has shown that Insite saves money. Taken together, the available evidence unequivocally demonstrates that Insite is a key component of the Four Pillars approach, which includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.

On May 12, the federal government will go before the Supreme Court of Canada to renew its efforts to try to close Insite. As present and past municipal government leaders, we respectfully ask the federal government to reconsider and drop its appeal of the earlier court decisions that support Insite.

Insite and its staff of healthcare professionals provide essential, life-saving benefits to vulnerable Canadians. For many, access to Insite is literally a matter of life and death. The timely and professional response of Insite staff has ensured that there has never been an overdose death at the facility, and it has increased the number of people who seek treatment options to end their use of drugs. Insite is a valued part of the community that deserves to be allowed to continue its excellent work.

Given the benefits that Insite has delivered to our community, ranging from reduced public disorder, increased use of addiction treatment services, and the prevention of overdose deaths, we urge the federal government to reconsider its legal efforts to close this vital health service.

Thank you for your consideration.


Mayor Gregor Robertson, 2008-present

Sam Sullivan, Mayor of Vancouver, 2005-2008

Larry Campbell, Mayor of Vancouver, 2002-2005

Phillip Owen, Mayor of Vancouver, 1993-2002

Mike Harcourt, Mayor of Vancouver, 1980-1986; former Premier of BC, 1991-1995

Art Phillips, Mayor of Vancouver, 1972-1976

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Michael K.

May 10, 2011 at 12:05pm

Everything that has come out of the Harper Government(TM) in the last five years makes it absolutely clear that they do not care about any facts. All they care about is their ideology and that means tougher sentences for drug users because clearly, they keep doing it because the penalties aren't harsh enough yet.

8 12Rating: -4


May 10, 2011 at 5:53pm

"Insite has been shown to reduce public disorder," Tell that to the "vulnerable" that are constantly ripped off and or assaulted coming and going from the site. Lack of cops, so the poor dears don't feel harassed, allows the area to prosper as an open air drug market.

Alex Y.

May 10, 2011 at 6:32pm

The Harper government has clearly decided that saving lives is not a priority. May 2, 2011-- a day of national shame for all Canadians.

R U Kiddingme

May 10, 2011 at 10:03pm

Technically, the Federal government is appealing the ruling on Insite to preserve the primacy of federal law over provincial administration of health care. I don't have a problem with the appeal on those grounds. If you are going to have laws then they ought to be obeyed. Civil disobedience is ok for you and me to prove a point, but the BC medical system is not really in a position to flout federal law.

If the laws are wrong then of course they have to be pulled or redrafted. So, what would be appropriate would be for the feds to pledge to redraft federal law to permit Insite to operate legally, in the event that their appeal is successful.

Steve Finlay

May 10, 2011 at 11:01pm

I am fairly certain that preserving the primacy of federal law over provincial admininistration of health care CANNOT be the grounds of the federal appeal. The original decision by Justice Pitfield explicitly upheld the primacy of federal law over provincial (the legal term is "paramountcy"), and the appeal court did not question this part of his decision. Justice Pitfield rejected the federal law as it applied to Insite on the basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which definitely has primacy over federal law. I am fairly certain that this federal government is NOT trying to argue that its laws have primacy over the Charter - although I'm damn sure they would LIKE to.

Andrew Butt

May 11, 2011 at 12:24pm

The Conservative Government is not a 'caring' Government.
Sadly its focus is on control and putting its own ' thumprint' on every sociable aspect of Society. i.e. decimating the Arts, closing ' Insite' at all costs without proper review and so on and on.
They don't listen , they dictate.
The don't help, they abandon.
They are spending billions on prisons and armaments rather than on education and scientific research for the advancement of the next generation.
Let's hope they remember the fact that they didn't win the popular vote, not even close.
But sadly they won't. No cooperation, unless its on their terms.
And its only just begun !!

N. Pallone

May 11, 2011 at 2:03pm

Absolutely Insight should stay open. I lived on the eastside when it opened and saw a difference. it does not 'enable' drug users, it offsets the horrendous costs associated with treating the health issues that arise from unsafe injections.

N. Bulley

May 11, 2011 at 9:05pm

The Federal Government has no "primacy" over health care whatsoever. The division of powers in the Canadian Constitution makes health care a Provincial responsibility. What the Feds *do* have is a criminal law power. The central issue here is whether the criminal law power trumps Provincial jurisdiction over health care.
Insite is able to operate only because they have an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, otherwise what they are doing would be illegal. The Conservatives want to end that exemption, shutting them down.
If this case goes for the Feds, the implications are thought provoking. It would set a precedent for Ottawa overriding any area of Provincial responsibility they disagree with by making them illegal under criminal law.

16 9Rating: +7

No Kidding

May 11, 2011 at 11:40pm

To R U Kiddingme:

With respect, my impression is that Mr. Harper is a supporter decentralization of health care to the provinces. Why would he want to appeal insite on the grounds you suggest, namely, "to preserve the primacy of federal law over provincial administration of health care" ?

D. Zaster

May 12, 2011 at 11:19am

I couldn't help but notice that Gordon Campbell, mayor of Vancouver from 1986 to 1993, did not sign the letter. Could the Straight perhaps follow up with an inquiry to Campbell, or report any comments about Insite he may have made as Premier? Thanks.