Vancouver MPs say harm reduction fight with Ottawa has never been more fierce
Crass, callous, and unethical are three words the federal representative for Vancouver Centre uses to describe a Conservative Party website attacking supervised injection facilities like Insite.
“Addiction should be treated as a medical problem,” Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry told the Straight. “There is absolutely no reason that politicians should be putting their heavy hands into clinical decisions….I think that this is ideology.”
The website, titled “Keep heroin out of our backyards”, asks citizens to support new requirements for the approval of supervised injection facilities. It’s part of a new Conservative re-election strategy, according to a February 10, 2014, report in the Toronto Star.
Fry characterized the campaign—which consists of a number of sites delivering similar messages against harm reduction programs—as the latest example of Ottawa’s determined interference in Vancouver’s approaches to addiction.
Another instance, Fry said, is the Respect for Communities Act, which she argued is an attempt to raise the regulatory bar for supervised injection facilities so high that it would effectively ensure a place like Insite never receives Ottawa’s approval again.
A third is federal opposition to the SALOME trial, Fry continued. In that experimental program, a small group of Vancouver patients severely addicted to heroin and for whom methadone has proven an ineffective form of treatment is administered controlled doses of diacetylmorphine (prescription heroin).
“Once we start talking about government and politicians overruling evidence and overruling public policy that has proven to work in many places over a course of time, what we have is ideology interfering in people’s lives,” Fry argued.
The federal Conservative Party did not respond to a request for an interview. Sara Lauer, a spokesperson for Health Canada, said that an interview on the topic of harm reduction would not be granted unless questions were submitted in advance (something that the Straight does not do).
Libby Davies, opposition health critic and NDP MP for Vancouver East, told the Straight that Vancouver has always led the way on harm reduction in Canada, which means the city has often had to battle the federal government on new health-care programs that aren’t always properly understood.
Davies noted that the debate on facilities like Insite is essentially over for Vancouver. For example, an application recently filed by a West End clinic hoping to become North America’s second legal supervised injection site includes letters of support signed by Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and the city’s chief of police. In addition, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has voiced support for the SALOME prescription heroin trial. But, Davies continued, the West Coast’s fight with Ottawa is actually worse than it’s ever been.
“We’re now dealing with a Conservative government that makes decisions based on a partisan political belief rather than on evidence,” she explained. “That is a fundamental flaw and contrary to good decision making that permeates almost everything here in Ottawa.”