Balloons marked the entrance to Insite this morning as the supervised injection facility held a community event to celebrate its 10-year anniversary.
As supporters gathered outside the building on East Hastings Street, Dean Wilson and Shelly Tomic were among those in attendance to commemorate the work of Insite, which has kept its doors open amid continued legal battles over the years.
Tomic and Wilson were plaintiffs in a court case that led to a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of Insite in 2011.
“It was a long battle,” Wilson said in an interview today (September 20). “I’m just really, really happy that we have survived 10 years, that we won the constitutional challenge.”
As Tomic recalled the lengthy process, she noted she learned a lot from the court battle.
“I learned that there’s a lot of strong people down here, and I’ve always known that there’s a lot of intelligent people down here,” she told the Straight. “They just made a bad choice one day, not realizing that that choice is going to control their life.”
Liz Evans, the executive director of Insite operator PHS Community Services Society, told reporters that she has seen an “incredible difference” since she started working in the community 22 years ago, when she noted there was an extremely high overdose death rate.
“What I saw was the results of a lot of failed policies,” she said during a press conference at Insite. “People with trauma and extremely complex addictions and lives literally going blue and lying in the doorways of local businesses.”
Evans added that for those who have witnessed the progress made during the last 20 years, there is much to celebrate.
“Insite sends the message of hope,” she said. “Because it’s not celebrating drug use, it’s celebrating the right of somebody to have a life.
“Not only have we engaged and brought people inside, the most marginalized folks that have been told all their lives that their lives don’t matter, and that we don’t care about them—but we’ve also created a whole new language of how we’re engaging people into treatment.”
Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates Insite in conjunction with PHS, described the research conducted at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV and AIDS as “absolutely crucial” in allowing the facility to keep its doors open.
She noted the research has shown that the supervised injection site has contributed to reductions in overdose deaths in the community, and diagnoses of HIV among injection drug users. Research has also indicated there has been no increase in drug use among injection drug users, or relapse among former users.
“I think we need to celebrate the fact that Insite is a well-accepted part of the service that we offer in our community, that we’ve saved many lives here, that it’s contributed to our collective understanding of how to treat very difficult addictions,” she told reporters.
“But most importantly for me as a public health official, it’s allowed us to engage a very marginalized segment of our population and provide them with both compassion and care, which we know every human being deserves.”
But while attendees celebrated the facility’s successes, some also expressed a sense of apprehension over what’s to come when the Harper government tables legislation next month.
Libby Davies, the NDP MP for East Vancouver, expects the federal Conservatives to re-introduce Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
“The bill is so egregious—it’s designed to not allow any safe injection facility anywhere,” she said in an interview on East Hastings Street.
“So that will be a big challenge taking that on in Ottawa and trying to get that bill either defeated, or at least mitigated in some way.”
Davies noted Insite has support across the country, as well as internationally.
“Despite all of the attempts by Conservative government to shut this place down, they’ve never been able to do it, and they never will,” she stated. “This place is very grounded in this community.”