Conservatives continue long fight against Insite with application to Supreme Court

The Conservative government’s request that its lawsuit against Insite be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada is all about punishing an initiative it does not like, proponents of Vancouver’s supervised-injection site suggest.

“I just think it is about pure politics,” said Mark Townsend, manager for the Portland Hotel Society, one of the partners that runs Insite. “I think we were very unlucky that this came across Stephen Harper’s desk.”

On February 9, Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson announced that the federal government had filed an application for the Supreme Court to hear its appeal in the case of the Attorney General of Canada v. PHS et al (Insite).

On January 15, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that Insite’s operation falls under provincial and not federal jurisdiction.

That followed a May 2008 decision by the B.C. Supreme Court that said that applying Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to activities at Insite was inconsistent with section seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that “everyone has a right to life, liberty, and security of the person and right not to be deprived thereof”.

Townsend said that he was not surprised by the Conservative government’s decision to appeal, and described the action as part of a broader strategy that aims to waste opponents’ time and money.

He noted that earlier in Insite’s battle with the federal government, the Conservatives fought Insite’s request for a summary trial that did end up saving time and money. And that when the court awarded costs against the federal government, that was appealed as well, despite the dollar amount being minimal.

“It was like that was designed to be kind of spiteful and to be disingenuous and to be difficult,” Townsend said.

The justice minister’s release argues that the federal government’s case “raises important questions regarding the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity and the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments.”

Carolyn Bennett, health critic for the Liberal Party of Canada, called that characterization “total nonsense”. Like Townsend, she argued that the Conservative’s steadfast opposition to Insite is based on ideology and not science.

“It is so upsetting to have a government that is so punitive that they don’t understand that all of these things require a therapeutic approach, not a punitive, law and order approach that just makes no sense,” Bennett said.

She also noted that Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Opposition, has announced that he will visit Insite while in town for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Daniel Webster, who served as counsel for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association when it acted as an intervener in the Insite case, told the Straight that the Supreme Court will likely announce its decision on whether or not it will hear the case sometime in the late spring or early fall.

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Feb 10, 2010 at 6:01pm

It's absolutely ridiculous that those with no real understanding of the benefits of Insite continue to cling to their ignorance while insisting on saving us from our do-gooding selves.

But then, Harper's harpees & harpettes spend so much time in the DTES, perhaps they really do know best.

<a href=" Eliminates Addiction!</a>

To scrap effective harm reduction in favour of pretending that old, tired & failed methods of dealing with addiction will work this time.... it's brilliant in it's simplicity. Almost American, really.

glen p robbins

Feb 10, 2010 at 7:25pm

Some of my conservative right wing friends see Insite as about carrying illegal drugs. The B.C. Supreme Court of Appeal made the right decision-defining Insite-- as a medical issue--

Ryan Dalziel for B.C. Supreme Court Judge. Go Ryan Go!!

In my opinion, you would have to be thinking in a mind like Adolf Hitler's not to get this Insite issue.


Feb 10, 2010 at 11:17pm

The safe injection site has had hundreds of overdoses, all successfully treated. That's alot of lives saved. It also cuts down on disease transmission, and saves something like 4 dollars for every dollar spent.


Feb 11, 2010 at 11:49am

This is very bad news ideed.

For whatever reason I had the impression that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was one of Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper's more pragmatic ministers, less inclined to pursue this issue than was former Health Minister Tony Clement, a wild-eyed ideologue if ever there was one. So this is a very unfortunate and extremely troubling development.

Furthermore, given the Conservative Govt's adamantine refusal to budge even AFTER the Supreme Court had ruled that Omar Khadr's rights had been violated, one wonders how they would respond to a defeat in this case at the Supreme Court? Wouldn't they just pass a new federal statute specifically declaring any facility like this a criminal activity, and then use their newly appointed Senate majority to get it through?

All three opposition parties should issue press releases condemning this decision, using similar language to drive home the point that they are united on this matter. They should demand a complete accounting of all the federal governments legal costs, both those spent to this point and those projected, and they should request similar information from the Vancouver-Coastal Health Authority and the Government of British Columbia.

Lawyers for both the Portland Hotel Society and the Department of Justice should be subpeaoned to appear in front of the Commons Standing Committees on Health and Justice and Human Rights to explain their arguments.

I recall asking Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission Conservative backbencher Randy Kamp at an all cadidate's meeting during the 2005/06 general election if it was true that his party's drug policies were inspired by John P. Walters, the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush. Kamp denied it, and asked skeptically why anyone might think that.

Well, I guess in the next election I can ask my question again.

Rod Smelser