Today’s Supreme Court decision on Insite opens the door for other injection facilities across the country and for expanding similar services in Vancouver, supporters said today.
“This is an incredible day,” said a tearful Liz Evans, the executive director of the Portland Hotel Society, following this morning’s unanimous ruling in favour of the facility. “It marks a giant victory for all of us.”
The ruling follows a long legal battle on behalf of operators to keep the facility open. Two previous B.C. court decisions have ruled in favour of the site.
“It feels like it’s been a really long time that we’ve been trying to explain to people who don’t know or don’t know how to care, that there’s better ways to embrace people living in our society with addictions than to cast them aside and to tell them they’re better off dead,” Evans told reporters.
Lawyer Joe Arvay, who represented plaintiffs Dean Wilson, Shelly Tomic and the Portland Hotel Society in the case, said the ruling is significant for other jurisdictions across Canada.
“The Supreme Court of Canada decision is on its face confined to Insite, but the decision has very great and important implications for there to be other supervised injection sites across Canada where the need is similar to Insite, and where the facility is operated in the same excellent manner that Insite has been operated,” he told reporters.
Operators of the facility say they have already received a lot of interest from across the country.
“I think you will see interest from public health colleagues across Canada who will do the necessary ground work to ensure they have the same kind of local support, need within their communities, and evidence that this may be a benefit to their population and may well apply for exemptions in their community,” said Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.
Evans said the decision also opens the door for the Portland Hotel Society to explore more treatment options. She noted they plan to meet with Vancouver Coastal Health to look at ways of expanding the service and looking at other potential sites.
HIV/AIDS expert Dr. Julio Montaner described Insite as a “beacon” internationally for management of intravenous drug addiction.
“I can see the day in the not too distant future where harm reduction would be embedded within our health care system as an ethical, necessary and mandated part of the support that we provide to individuals who are addicted, and I look forward to that,” he said.
Montaner said he can also foresee a day when drugs are dispensed at a facility like Insite.
“I had that discussion with the RCMP around the issue of Insite, and they actually expressed their concern that individuals who are under the supervised injection environment…are still injecting substances that are uncontrolled, and they actually have indicated to me that they would be a lot more comfortable if we would have fully medically supervised dispensing and supervision of the drugs,” he said. “This is a discussion that has to happen.”
“If you know what people are injecting, it would be much safer,” he added. “The evidence is there, it’s a question of when and how we’re going to be prepared to embrace it for implementation.”
The court’s decision also has implications for another facility in Vancouver, the Dr. Peter Centre, which administers supervised injection to HIV/AIDS patients as part of broader health care services. The Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation was one of about a dozen intervenors that spoke in support of Insite at the Supreme Court.
Maxine Davis, the executive director of the centre, said the decision gave clear direction to the federal minister of health that exemptions need to be made possible for other entities where there are similar benefits to the community.
With regard to future applications, the Supreme Court ruled that: "Where, as here, a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption."
“For the Dr. Peter Centre it certainly is very, very reassuring that what we are doing…is consistent with the direction of the court – that supervised injection should be available to more injection drug users than those who just use Insite,” Davis told the Straight.
She added the centre’s model of supervised injection integrated with health care is “of a lot of interest” to other towns and cities across the country. While the facility has not operated under the same exemption from federal drug laws as Insite, Davis said they will explore that option.
Today’s Supreme Court decision was received by a large crowd outside the supervised injection facility this morning to celebrate the decision.
Evans later thanked supporters, drug users at the facility, community members and the groups that intervened in the court case from across the country, and called Insite a “symbol of systemic change”.
“It welcomes people who are broken, it allows all of us to heal together, and today we can celebrate a victory that allows us to continue this work and move forward into the future, expanding treatment options for people for whom Insite is really only just a beginning,” she said to loud cheers from supporters.