A leading HIV/AIDS researcher is accusing the Harper government of "genocide" for allegedly ignoring scientific evidence supporting Vancouver's controversial supervised drug injection site.
Dr. Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society, accused the Conservatives of neglecting the needs of drug addicts and endangering their lives during a news conference Monday morning, held to mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Downtown Eastside facility called Insite.
"When you neglect purposely a percentage of the population that can be defined on the basis of a particular characteristic, that's genocide. And I will tell you that is exactly what they are doing," Montaner said.
He predicted that if the Conservatives win a majority government, they will close Insite.
"These people, they have no morals and they are after this population because they want them gone," said Montaner.
Science ignored, researchers say
Other scientists at the news conference also criticized how the Harper government reacted to studies about the facility.
Thomas Kerr of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS said 30 peer-reviewed scientific studies have proven Insite is working, putting more people into detox programs and reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS,
But the government is ignoring the evidence, he said.
"Much like the Bush administration and its treatment of science related to environmental protection, the Harper government has clung to ideology and engaged in a real war on science in this country," Kerr said.
That sentiment was echoed by Simon Fraser University professor Neil Boyd, who wrote one report that concluded Insite wasn't attracting new crime or drug users to the area.
"We have a government in Ottawa at the moment that is driven by dogma, and that is seemingly impervious to evidence-based social policy," Boyd said.
Attacks unfair, Conservative responds
After the press conference, Conservative MP James Moore said the attacks are unfair because his party has extended Insite's operating licence twice.
"This is a complicated area of public policy. Insite is one approach," said Moore.
"We believe the federal government and provincial governments and all levels of government should be working together to find solutions and we believe the focus should certainly be on treatment," he said.
The former Liberal government temporarily exempted the facility from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as a pilot project in 2003. After the initial exemption expired, two extensions were granted by Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement while he reviewed its operations.
The most recent six-month extension for the site expired in June 30, but the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in May that denying access to the site ignored the illness of addiction. The court granted Insite an immediate exemption, allowing it to remain open.
Insite provides a place for addicts to inject illegal drugs they bought on the street, under the supervision of nurses.
It is funded by the B.C. Ministry of Health through the Vancouver Coast Health authority and run by the non-profit Portland Health Society.