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Insite, the supervised injection site on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, provides an indoor space where addicts can bring illegal drugs bought on the street and inject them under medical supervision. ((CBC))

The federal government is asking the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal a lower court ruling that sanctioned Vancouver's supervised drug injection site.

The case has raised important questions about the division of powers among federal and provincial governments that need answers, said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Parliament Hill Tuesday.

"The case we’ll be presenting before the court is to ask for clarification," he said. "I think it is important to do that."

Nicholson pointed out that there was a dissenting opinion in the lower court ruling. "I think it is appropriate for me to seek leave to appeal," he said.

The minister agreed that drug addicts need assistance, pointing out that the federal government's anti-drug strategy is aimed at prevention, and treatment for addicts. 

The B.C. Appeal Court ruled Jan. 15 that provinces, not the federal government, have jurisdiction for health care, which includes services such as supervised injection sites for addicts of illegal street drugs.

The January decision upheld a lower court ruling, but the federal government is appealing on the basis that there was one dissenting opinion in the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.

The Conservative government's decision to launch an appeal is certain to disappoint proponents of the facility who had hoped that more injection sites could open in other cities.

Mark Townsend, executive director of Portland Health Society, which runs Vancouver's Insite facility said, "The courts have now ruled twice in favour of Insite. Last time, they thought the feds were so out of line they made them pay all the costs.

"We wish [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper would stop wasting court time and the taxpayers' money and start helping to solve the drug problem in our community," he said in statement released Tuesday morning.

With files from The Canadian Press