Last week, Insite received its annual Controlled Drugs and Substances Act exemption that the supervised-injection facility requires in order to operate without breaking the law. Health Canada has granted the exemption each March for more than a decade. But next year, that process is expected to be a whole new challenge, said Gavin Wilson, a spokesperson for Insite’s operator, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
In a phone interview with the Straight, Wilson explained that by that time, Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act, will likely have passed into law. Parliament approved the Conservative legislation on March 23, and it is now making its way through the Senate.
Wilson noted that Bill C-2 would place more than 25 new requirements on Insite and any facility seeking to offer supervised-injection services in Canada. “This will make it very difficult for Insite to receive another exemption,” he said. "Now, we are fully committed to do whatever is required."
Wilson took just one example: a requirement that applicants submit police data for a facility’s location. “That’s about 12 years of crime statistics for Insite and its surrounding area,” he emphasized. “Someone is going to have to pull all of that information together, and that’s just one of more than 25 different conditions.”
A number of studies including a seminal 2011 paper published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal describe how Insite has significantly reduced overdose deaths in the area (a fatal overdose has never occured at the facility), and also contributed to reductions in drug-related crime as well as declines in risky behaviors such as the sharing of needles.
In November 2014, the Straight reported Victoria mayor Dean Fortin was in favour of bringing a supervised-injection facility to the province's capital. And earlier in the year, VCH chief medical officer Patricia Daly revealed plans to expand safe-consumption services and integrate the program into existing clinics throughout Vancouver (a strategy more cost-effective than adding stand-alone facilities like Insite, she noted). Wilson said Bill C-2 will, at the very least, slow those efforts.
Adrienne Smith is a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who testified on Bill C-2 before a parliamentary committee last November. She told the Straight the proposed legislation is inconsistent with a 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision that found a denial of the services Insite offers was a violation of drug users’ right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
“On the face of it, we say the bill is unconstitutional,” Smith emphasized.
She noted parallels between Bill C-2 and Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which the Conservatives voted into law in October 2014. Bill C-36 outlaws the purchasing of sex. Critics maintain that this provision violates the spirit of a 2013 Supreme Court of Canada decision that states that laws criminalizing certain activities performed by sex workers endanger those individuals’ safety.
“This is not the first time we have seen the Supreme Court give really clear guidance on what must happen,” Smith said, “and then the Conservatives try and legislate that out of existence.”
Health Canada declined a request for an interview.
Libby Davies is the NDP MP who played a central role in bringing Insite to the Vancouver East riding back in 2003. She described Bill C-2 as another example of the Conservatives crafting health policy based on ideology as opposed to science.
“It flies in the face of all evidence of what works,” she said on the phone from Ottawa. “It’s based on the Conservative government’s fear and opposition to harm reduction.”