Saturday, June 8, 2013
Mean Streets About to Get Tougher
Insite under threat from Tories Bill C-65
Released by Gillean Wittkowski, Aidslaw.ca
louting the Supreme Court of Canada, today the federal government has introduced in Parliament a bill that aims to make it even more difficult for health authorities and community agencies to offer supervised drug consumption services, such as Vancouver’s Insite, to Canadians who are among those most at risk of HIV infection and fatal overdose.
Bill C-65 introduces numerous conditions that the government says must be met before the Minister of Health will issue an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to allow a supervised consumption service to operate. Without such an exemption, people using the service risk being criminally charged for drug possession, effectively undermining the ability of health services to reach those at greatest risk.
The bill is an irresponsible initiative that ignores both the extensive evidence that such health services are needed and effective, and the human rights of Canadians with addictions. In essence, the bill seeks to create multiple additional hurdles that providers of health services must overcome. The bill declares that the Health Minister should issue an exemption only in “exceptional circumstances.”
In addition, numerous provisions of the bill create opportunities for community opponents, local police and others to voice their opposition — even if ill-informed — to such health services, and for the federal Health Minister to then use such opposition as an excuse for denying exemptions.
The exemption first issued to Vancouver’s Insite facility in 2003 is the only exemption issued to date in Canada under the CDSA for a supervised injection service. In September 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada finally ruled against the federal government’s decision to withhold further extensions of that exemption.
The Court declared the Health Minister had violated the Charter rights of people who need access to such a health facility to reduce the risk of blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis C and the risk of dying from overdose. As the Court succinctly declared: “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven.” It ordered the Minister to grant an exemption to Insite immediately.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court said the Health Minister has discretion in deciding whether to approve any particular request for an exemption to run a supervised consumption service, but that discretion must be exercised in a way that respects the Charter. The Court set out five factors and said the Minister must consider any evidence there is about those factors in making a decision. This includes any evidence about community support or opposition to the proposed health service.
However, the Court did not say that these are preconditions that must all be satisfied. Yet the government’s bill would make people’s access to supervised consumption services dependent on whether police or other members of the community feel they are warranted. People who use drugs are entitled to needed health care services just like all other Canadians.
It is unethical, unconstitutional and damaging to both public health and the public purse to block access to supervised consumption services which save lives and prevent the spread of infections.
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