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.
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.