The main conclusions of more than 30 articles published in peer-reviewed journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine in the U.S. and The Lancet in Britain, were overwhelmingly positive. For instance, addicts who used Insite were found to be more likely to go into detox than those who didn’t.
The amount of drug-related litter, like used needles, in the neighbourhood around the site decreased measurably. Insite’s nurses treated a lot of injection-related infections.
From the outset, though, Conservative politicians were uncomfortable with Insite. Tony Clement, who is now industry minister but was health minister from 2006 to 2008—the key period when the government’s position against the facility hardened from skeptical to staunchly opposed—once called it an “abomination.” Active RCMP officers also occasionally voiced skepticism, but the extent of opposition to Insite inside the force wasn’t clear. However, the documents assembled by Montaner’s centre for its filing to the RCMP complaints commission suggests at least some Mounties were actively seeking to raise doubts about the centre’s research, without drawing attention to the force’s involvement.
According to the centre, the RCMP commissioned four studies reviewing the stack of articles published in medical and scientific journals. The first two, delivered in 2006 by consultants Raymond Corrado and Irwin Cohen, didn’t offer much ammunition to criticize the mainstream research into Insite. Corrado found that the researchers’ methodology was “appropriate” and that the “policy inferences made were generally carefully presented.” Cohen uncovered no serious problems, but stressed the need for “further empirically sound evaluations.”
The RCMP asked for two more reports, by Garth Davies, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, and Colin Mangham, research director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, a group opposed to Insite’s harm-reduction model, founded by former Conservative MP Randy White. Both were sharply critical of the academic literature. Mangham faulted the research into Insite for failing to discuss the fact that “only a small percentage of IV drug users use Insite for even a majority of their injections.” Davies cast doubt on the statistical validity of the whole body of research into safe injection facilities, including those in Europe. But neither review was published in a peer-reviewed journal, the usual sign that an academic paper stands up to expert scrutiny. Instead, they appeared in 2007 on a website called Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, a site supported by U.S. groups that advocate a strict line on illicit drugs.
The RCMP’s involvement in commissioning the Mangham and Davies reports was subjected to a burst of publicity in the fall of 2008, when the Pivot Legal Society, a non-profit lawyers’ group based in the Downtown Eastside, released emails it obtained under the Access to Information Act. In them, police officers discuss strategy surrounding the studies. “Dr. Mangham’s report has now been published,” reads one email from an RCMP drug enforcement officer. “As per our request, the report has no reference to the RCMP.”
Pressing the RCMP to come clean on its role in generating these reports was one goal of Montaner’s protracted talks with senior officers. Their conversations started soon after Pivot went public with the incriminating emails on Oct. 8, 2008. Montaner said he was stunned. He called Deputy Commissioner Bass’s office, but couldn’t reach him until a Saturday. They met that day at Montaner’s home. “To his credit,” Montaner says, “he showed up at my place not knowing what to expect.” That first two-hour meeting ended, he says, with Bass agreeing to look into RCMP involvement in the studies. Many more meetings followed, bringing Bass and his officers together with Montaner and his AIDS researchers.
By last October, the RCMP seemed ready to fess up to the shortcomings of its bid to generate critiques of the centre’s research. “Soon after Insite was opened, the RCMP commissioned several reviews on the impact of supervised injecting facilities, including Insite,” Harriman said in his email proposing “messaging” for a joint media release. “These reviews, conducted by Cohen and Corrado, concluded that supervised injecting facilities, including Insite, were associated with positive impacts. Subsequent reviews were commissioned by the RCMP or one of its affiliates (i.e. the Addictive Drug Information Council) to provide an alternative analysis of the existing [supervised injection facility] research. The RCMP recognizes that these reviews did not meet conventional academic standards.” Harriman’s email admits the police should never have waded into the debate: “The RCMP is not qualiﬁed to comment or engage in discussion over the merits of this research.”
After the stage seemed set for a coordinated public event to clear the air, Montaner says he was shocked when Bass called to tell him the RCMP wouldn’t be issuing that mea culpa or participating in any news conference.
Unwilling to give up, Montaner arranged a meeting with an even more senior Mountie, Deputy Commissioner Souccar from the force’s Ottawa headquarters, early this year.