Advocates of B.C. safe-injection site go to court to keep it open

Saying it's time to end the uncertainty over the future of Vancouver's safe-injection site, a group that runs the facility as well as two drug addicts filed a lawsuit Friday to pre-empt the federal government from trying to close it.

Saying it's time to end the uncertainty over the future of Vancouver's safe-injection site, a group that runs the facility as well as two drug addicts filed a lawsuit Friday in an attempt to pre-empt any attempts bythe federal government to close it.

The fate of Insite, in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, is uncertain after Dec. 31, when its exemption from federal drug laws is set to expire. ((CBC))

The Portland Hotel Society and drug addicts Shelly Tomic and Dean Wilson filed the statement of claim in B.C. Supreme Court. In the court document, they argued that the closure of Insite — as the supervised injection site is known — would be a violation of drug users' Charter rights to "security of the person."

According to the court documents, if Insite closed, "Wilson, Tomic and other users will face risk of death or serious harm to their physical and mental health."

The court document goes on to say addicts "will face increased risks of overdose, infection and the decline in their mental and psychological well-being."

Tomic and Wilson, who has been addicted to heroin for 38 years, said they joined the court action because Insite saved their lives. They are both seeking treatment now.

Site funded by province

Mark Townsend, director of the Portland Hotel Society, said the site is a health service that operates under provincial jurisdiction. The court documents filed Friday call for Insite to operate exclusively under B.C. jurisdiction.

The federal government exempted the facility, opened in 2003 as a pilotproject,from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Under the pilot, it isallowed to remain open until Dec. 31. Health Minister Tony Clement has not indicated whether the government will renew that exemption.

"It's not even funded by the federal government. It's 100 per cent funded by the province," Townsend said.

The facility in Vancouver'sinfamous Downtown Eastside neighbourhood was the first legal drug site in North America established so drug addicts could get their fix safely and cleanly, with nurses providing clean syringes and keeping watch over intravenous drug users in case of overdoses.

Addicts can also access referrals to detox and rehab services.

With files from the Canadian Press