Vancouver mayor and B.C. health minister say it's time for Ottawa to repeal Harper's anti-Insite law

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      The mayor of Vancouver and B.C.’s health minister have sent a letter to Ottawa asking for the federal government to remove barriers to the establishment of supervised-injection facilities for drug users.

      Specifically, Gregor Robertson and Terry Lake have requested that the new Liberal government repeal Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act.

      That piece of legislation was drafted by the former Conservative government and passed into law in June 2015. It requires regional governments and health-care providers that would seek to open a supervised-injection site for drug users to complete a long and arduous application process.

      The bill has been widely criticized as making it virtually impossible for cities to open supervised-injection facilities like the one that has operated near the intersection of Main and East Hastings Street since 2003.

      Robertson and Lake’s letter bears the signatures of a number of other prominent politicians and health-care officials. They include Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer; Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health; and Dr. Michael Krausz, the UBC-Providence leadership chair for addiction research, among others.

      It makes a case against Bill C-2 and argues the law should be repealed.

      “The Respect for Communities Act is a flawed, mean-spirited and ineffective piece of legislation that only serves to marginalize our most vulnerable residents and criminalize people suffering from addiction,” it reads. “It was a deliberate attempt by the Conservative government to create barriers that block people from accessing life-saving harm reduction services and medical care.

      “The Act places onerous requirements on health care providers seeking approval from the federal government to open or continue to operate a supervised injection site. The amount of paperwork and criteria required to meet federal approval downloads thousands of dollars in costs on to health providers. In Vancouver, we can testify to Insite and the Dr. Peter Centre's success and ability to save lives and support recovery. To keep the administrative hurdles in place for establishing and maintaining these vital health services is the wrong approach.

      “The Act is in no way based on health science and should be repealed by your government as soon as possible. At a time when overdose deaths are surging in British Columbia and the Provincial Health Officer has declared a public health emergency regarding fentanyl, we urge you to reconsider your position and begin steps to repeal the Respect for Communities Act, so that people who need access to medical treatment can get it as soon as possible.”

      On August 24, Health Minister Jane Philpott stated the federal government currently has no plans to repeal Bill C-2.

      At the same time, the government of Justin Trudeau has signalled it is supportive of harm-reduction measures. For example, in May 2016, Health Canada proposed a regulatory change that would let doctors apply for special access to the drug, also called diacetylmorphine, and offer it to patients as they see fit.

      Meanwhile, several cities across Canada have moved to establish supervised-injection facilities.

      Toronto city council has passed a motion in support of three sites, Victoria’s mayor has repeatedly spoken in favour of the idea, and Montreal has begun preparing an application for a federal exemption that supervised-injection sites require to operate legally in Canada.

      Those efforts, however, appear stalled or significantly hampered while former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Respect for Communities Act remains in effect.

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