British Columbia

B.C. court affirms injection site's right to exist

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed an attempt by the federal government to shut down Vancouver's supervised injection site on the city's troubled Downtown Eastside.
Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society, which operates Insite, welcomes the B.C. Court of Appeals decision outside the courthouse Friday. ((CBC))

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed an attempt by the federal government to shut down Vancouver's supervised injection site on the city's troubled Downtown Eastside.

The federal government appealed a previous B.C. Supreme Court ruling in favour of Insite, and on Friday morning in Vancouver, the B.C. Appeal Court confirmed the injection site's constitutional right to exist.

Outside the courthouse, Liz Evans, the founder and executive director of the Portland Hotel Society that operates Insite, welcomed the decision.

"I'm just so excited. I can't believe it anyway, but today it looks like it was a clean sweep for Insite," said Evans as she wiped back tears.

"I'm so proud of the decision that was made here this morning," Evans said. "It looks like not only have they agreed that it is our constitutional right to have Insite exist, but they've also …weighed in in support of the jurisdictional issue, and that means effectively that Insite is now a provincial issue."

Further appeal not ruled out

The 85-page decision does appear to be a clear victory for the supporters of the site who have fought a long legal battle with the federal Conservative government to keep the facility open, but one of the three judges did write a dissenting opinion.

The supporters of Insite say they hope the federal government does not appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, and so far the federal government has not indicated what its next step could be. 

A statement released by Health Canada said, "While the government respects the court's decision, it is disappointed with the outcome. The government is reviewing the decision carefully. Until this review is complete, it would be inappropriate to speculate on future action on the part of the Government of Canada." 

In the ruling, one of the supporting justices wrote that no serious debate still exists about the need for Insite, while the other expressed her "regret" that Ottawa's desire to prohibit drugs seems to have overtaken respect for B.C.'s approach to solving the crisis of addiction on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Widespread support

The decision was also welcomed by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, in a statement released by his office.

"With this second consecutive decision in favour of Insite, I hope the federal government will drop its legal efforts so that we can go back to focusing on Insite for what it is — a harm-reduction facility that saves lives and improves health outcomes for those living with addictions," said Robertson.

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))

"As a key component of our city's four-pillars drug strategy, research confirms that Insite connects people to treatment services, counselling and medical help, at the same time as it reduces crime. The science in favour of Insite is clear, and as long as we have people suffering from addiction on our streets we need harm-reduction options in place," said the mayor.

B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said the ruling recognizes the province has the right to implement health programs for the benefit of its citizens.

"It recognizes that Insite has been evaluated, forms a critical piece of the treatment prevention program that we offer to people with addictions and mental health issues, and it also recognizes that this is an area of provincial health services delivery, so I think it's a very, very positive result," said Kendall.

World-renowned HIV/AIDS researcher Dr. Julio Montaner was also on hand to welcome the decision.

"They've been wasting my time fighting legal battles that are unnecessary, because the evidence has been there all along that Insite is saving lives," said Montaner.

"Stephen Harper, we told you," said Dean Wilson, the president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and one of the original plaintiffs in the case. "It should be a non-issue, man."