By Ken MacQueen - Monday, October 15, 2012 - 0 Comments
Signs of hope and renewal in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood
For decades it was an acknowledged, if largely unspoken fact: if you lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside odds were you lived a Third World life and died a Third World death. Twenty years ago women living in what was called Canada’s poorest postal code died 4½ years sooner on average than those living in the rest of British Columbia. They died almost 6½ years before residents of suburban Richmond just a few kilometres to the south, which has the longest life expectancy of any city in Canada. Men in inner-city Vancouver died almost 11 years before those in the rest of B.C.; they lost 14 years of life compared to men in Richmond. Health officials declared a public health emergency in the Downtown Eastside but the problems seemed intractable: poverty, addiction, homelessness, an epidemic of HIV-AIDS, drug overdoses and a host of chronic diseases. “There was nothing else like it elsewhere in Canada or North America,” Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, says of her arrival in the city 15 years ago. “The rates of HIV in that population were the highest reported in any city, I think, anywhere in the developed world at that time. There was despair. Overdose deaths were unbelievable. It seemed overwhelming.”
By Colby Cosh - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 4:01 AM - 0 Comments
In recent weeks, it seems, adulterated ecstasy (MDMA) has left Alberta and B.C. with a sizable heap of young corpses. A tragedy has thus come home to roost in the West: namely, the tragedy of policy that incentivizes adulteration of drugs that, if manufactured in the open and checked for purity, would kill hardly anybody. Pure MDMA has a larger “therapeutic index”—a wider safety margin for overdose—than alcohol. It would probably make a pretty reasonable substitute for alcohol in many settings if we were to sit down and rebuild a drug culture from scratch. But over the past ten years or so, both Liberal and Conservative governments have worked to increase penalties for and monitoring of the flow of “precursor chemicals” used in the manufacture of MDMA.
It has been their goal to make pure MDMA more difficult to manufacture; when precursors are seized it is hailed as a triumph. But illicit drug factories never do put out the follow-up press release announcing that they’re putting less MDMA in their “ecstasy” and replacing it with other party drugs that have much smaller safety margins, or with drugs that interact dangerously with MDMA. And when rave kids die as a result, the RCMP chooses not to pose imperiously alongside the body bags giving a big thumbs-up. They are eager to take credit only for the immediately visible results of their work. Continue…
By John Geddes - Friday, December 30, 2011 at 2:07 PM - 0 Comments
Stages in the legislative process that make a bill law in the Canadian Parliament; ministers (not including the Prime Minister) on cabinet’s powerful Priorities and Planning committee; former political figures (not including sovereigns or social activists) memorialized in bronze around Parliament Hill—twelve is the number in each of these interesting categories. But for our purposes here, in this second annual stocktaking of the year just ending, it’s the 12 calendar months that matter. Pick just one political story for each page, and 2011’s kaleidoscope might just take a turn from jumbled to intelligible.
January: We glimpsed how Ignatieff thought a leader should look
By the start of 2011, we had long since figured out Stephen Harper’s disciplined style and thought we understood the limits of Jack Layton’s appeal. But Michael Ignatieff had taken over as Liberal leader in an odd way, with no conventional leadership race to bring him into focus. Instead, Ignatieff had been defined for many Canadians by Conservative attack ads. For those who had paid attention to him before politics, his globetrotting-intellectual persona still loomed large.
Then came his Jan. 25, tone-setting address on Parliament Hill to the Liberal caucus, with the media invited in. This was no detached thinker. Sleeves rolled up, Ignatieff ripped through a 15-minute speech in which he mocked Harper, invoked Barack Obama, and answered his own question—“Are we ready to serve the people who put us here?”—with a shouted, “Yes, yes, yes!” Hopeful Liberals saw a fiery campaigner, astute Conservatives a man ripe for ridicule. We didn’t know it then, but this was a clear foreshadowing of the campaign to come.
February: We watched Conservatives smoothly execute a key transition
As an opposition leader and especially as Prime Minister, Harper has shown a remarkable ability to shed and replace chiefs of staff, communications directors, and other key advisors. But the one constant in his electoral machine was the beard and brogue of Doug Finley, his campaign director. When Finley stepped down at the very end of January as he recovered from colon cancer, the party began a testing transition. Guy Giorno and Jenni Byrne stepped into new roles.
For a lesser partisan machine, the loss of a figure as dominant as the Scottish-born Finley would have been a marked setback. Instead, the transition seemed to go off without a hitch. Spring election speculation continued unabated. As for Finely—who ran Harper’s winning 2006 and 2008 campaigns and was rewarded with a Senate appointment in 2009—Twitter awaited.
March: We marveled as the PM fell, yet defined the moment his way
It was no surprise when the Conservative minority was voted down by the opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois on March 25. The House had been an increasingly fractious and angry place. The actual non-confidence vote, only the sixth in Canadian history, found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to supply full cost estimates for fighter jets, crime bills and corporate tax cuts.
Yet Harper largely succeeded in burying those reasons by asserting doggedly that the real issue was the opposition’s refusal to support his government’s budget. “There’s nothing, nothing, in the budget that the opposition could not or should not have supported,” he said. “Thus, the vote today that disappoints me, will, I expect, disappoint Canadians.” His refusal to even minimally acknowledge that the election was triggered by anything other than a clash over economic priorities carried him into the campaign and, arguably, to victory.
April: We absorbed the potential of Layton’s NDP surge in Quebec
The orange wave surged over Quebec so unexpectedly that even senior NDP veterans had difficulty knowing what to make of it. By April 23, when Jack Layton climbed to the podium at Montréal’s Olympia Theatre to address his party’s largest ever campaign rally in the province, the possibility of an NDP breakthrough was widely acknowledged. The Bloc was running scared. The Tories and Liberals were looking elsewhere in the country for any gains.
At the back of the Olympia, Layton’s young Quebec organizers spoke, wide-eyed, of a dozen or so new Quebec seats being within reach. That seemed remarkable enough. Yet had they been able to fully take in the spectacle of Layton podium performance, and the crowd’s reaction, they might have dreamed bigger. Holding his talismanic cane aloft, smiling as only he could, hitting his applause lines like the pro he was, “Bon Jack” embodied an unlikely convergence of long, careful political preparation and recent, inspiring personal determination. You can’t make this stuff up.
May: We experienced Harper’s majority win as an inevitability
It’s an illusion of course, maybe even a delusion, to think anything in politics had to happen the way it did. There are always too many variables. Still, Harper’s May 2 election victory had that it-was-written feel about it. He steadily built toward the moment, from his near miss in 2004, through his two minority wins in 2006 and 2008. The train was rolling toward this destination.
And Harper’s campaign-trail consistency was remarkable. His rallies were a model of methodical planning and error-free execution. He refused to be badgered by media complaints into taking more reporters’ questions or exposing himself to unscripted encounters with voters. He stuck to his key economic message even when Layton’s rise might have unnerved a more skittish campaigner. Election night was full of compelling stories—Bloc and Liberal failures, NDP ascent—but it belonged, in the end, to the Prime Minister.
June: We shrugged as a political financing experiment was cancelled
On June 6 Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reintroduced his spring federal budget, which was never passed in the rush to an election, with a key twist: Flaherty added a measure to phase out the $2-per-vote subsidy to political parties by 2015-16. The taxpayer subsidy was introduced by the former Liberal government in 2004, to compensate for the curtailing of corporate and union contributions.
The Conservatives’ first attempt to get rid of the subsidy, announced in the fall of 2008, triggered the ill-fated bid by opposition parties to form a coalition and replace Harper’s minority. But with Harper leading a majority, there was no chance of his being thwarted this time. Few Canadians took much notice. And so an attempt to make raising money less central to our politics comes to an end. Constant, clever, insistent fundraising appeals to the party faithful—a Tory strong suit—will be essential to any party’ success for the foreseeable future.
July: We saluted as our troops left a battle zone still in question
When Canadian soldiers moved in large numbers into Afghanistan’s violent southern province of Kandahar in 2006, military and political leaders were unprepared for how much the mission would come to dominate foreign and defence policy. The hard fighting they were soon engaged in was unlike anything Canadians had experienced in decades. Before exit day, 158 Canadian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan, along with a diplomat, two aid workers, and a journalist.
The last Canadian commander of Task Force Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, didn’t really want to leave. He would have preferred to stay a bit longer to help the Americans, whose troop surge into the province had put the Taliban on the run and stabilized previously volatile districts. Canadian troops remain in Afghanistan, but mainly engaged in training the Afghan National Army. But the years of fighting changed the place of the military in the Canadian public imagination—and Canadian political calculations.
August: We mourned Jack Layton, moved by what he’d come to mean
The death of the NDP leader on Aug. 22 at just 61 was not entirely surprising. The previous month Layton had announced that he was battling cancer for a second time, his ravaged face and desiccated voice shocking the country. But the way he died was unprecedented. He drafted a farewell letter and organized a public funeral in Toronto, knitting together the personal and political in his final weeks and days in a way that made them indistinguishable.
Layton came at the end to represent, in an era of deep cynicism about politics, an unapologetic zeal for total immersion in public life. All through the spring campaign, struggling back from a broken hip, Layton had exuded his relish for the democratic fray. Facing death, he didn’t shy from explicit partisanship. “Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us,” he told the New Democrats in that last letter, “that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.”
September: We were reminded by judges that even majorities face setbacks
With Parliament in session again, the Conservatives sitting pretty with their fresh majority, it seemed that nothing could slow the implementation of Stephen Harper’s vision. Then came the Sept. 30 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the federal government could not shut down Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection clinic for intravenous drug users.
The unanimous 9-0 decision delivered a rebuke to the Conservative position that Insite’s clear track record since 2003 of helping addicts avoid infections and overdose deaths should be trumped by the government’s desire to send a strong anti-drug, law-and-order message. The ruling also validated the pro-Insite positions of the British Columbia provincial and Vancouver municipal governments. For those left disheartened by Harper’s resounding spring victory, the court offered a fall tonic.
October: We witnessed the lasting emotional power of a populist cause
From the time it was implemented in 1995, the federal registry for rifles and shotguns was deeply controversial. In the broadest of strokes, rural gun owners resented it, while urbanites who feared gun crime approved. Opposition gathered steam after a 2002 report from Auditor General Sheila Fraser put estimated the registry tab would climb to $1 billion by 2005.
With hot-button right-wing populist issues like abortion and capital punishment largely off the table in Canadian politics, the long-gun registry took on disproportionate importance for that portion of the Conservative base. Harper extracted maximum political benefit from attacking the registry. On Oct. 25, the bill to eliminate it was finally tabled in the House. A drawn-out, culturally fraught episode in Canadian political life was coming to a bitter close. Even the data in the registry was to be destroyed, so no province or future federal government, not to mention police force, could make use of the information. Few outcomes politics are so categorically one-sided.
November: We took comfort from a Canadian’s prominence in troubled economic times
The Cannes summit of the G20 club of major developed and developing nations was dominated by gloomy, even alarming, news about Europe’s deepening debt crisis. This was the backdrop for the appointment of Mark Carney, the Bank of Canada’s youthful governor, to head a key oversight body called the Financial Stability Board. Never mind what the FSB does—highly technical banking stuff. Pay attention to what Carney represents—solid Canadian economic management.
Carney is a fascinating story in his own right. His assessments of the state of banking regulation, economic policy and its international coordination, are parsed closely by rapt global market players. Beyond his personal qualities, he embodies the new Canadian swagger concerning our sound banks and solid government finances. But can Canada’s political and business leaders build beyond those oft-mentioned fundamentals to more innovative manufacturing and competitive service sectors?
December: We watched a familiar national shame unfold in the hinterland
On the first day of the last month of 2011, the federal government imposed what’s called third-party management on the Northern Ontario reserve community of Attawapiskat. That meant an administrator appointed by Ottawa would run the Cree community of 1,800 on James Bay, where a crisis of abysmal housing began drawing national attention in late November.
It was yet another example—they happen every few years—of a burst of media attention to the plight of an impoverished, remote First Nations village briefly forcing Canadians to contemplate the worst policy failure of successive federal governments. But how to break that desultory cycle? As Attawapiskat took centre stage, the Harper government was quietly introducing legislation to reform band council elections and improve financial transparency. Maybe this incrementalism will help where past grand gestures did little.
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 3:56 PM - 14 Comments
“I think it’s just too early to tell.”—Ontario health minister Deb Matthews on whether she opposes safe-injection sites, 11/02/2011
In the 1990s, Vancouver was Canada’s capital of drug-related crime and home to the fastest-growing AIDS epidemic in North America. Back then, drug users injecting were a common sight in the city’s Downtown Eastside. They were doing so against the backdrop of a changing HIV epidemic in Canada, with the concentration of the disease shifting from men who have sex with men to addicts sharing needles.
Thus, the city on Canada’s west coast was a fitting locale for Insite, the first safe-injection site on the continent. Allowing people to use pre-obtained drugs under medical supervision could potentially reduce the harms associated with this type of drug use—namely, the risk of overdose and infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Insite fell into the category of what health policy wonks call “harm reduction,” or policies and programs implemented to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of illegal drugs (and other high-risk activities). International health organizations—such as the WHO and UNAIDS—believe in harm-reduction interventions, and endorse them as a key part of a global HIV-prevention strategy. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Monday, October 10, 2011 at 10:50 AM - 86 Comments
The PM came close to shutting down Insite, only to be reminded there are still some limits to his reach
The limits of Stephen Harper’s power are becoming as interesting as the extent of it. Most days, life looks pretty good. His MPs form a comfortable majority in the Commons. Three of the caucuses he faces have no leader. The leader of the fourth, Elizabeth May, has no caucus. He inherited and did not ruin a well-performing economy. Even Americans envy Canada’s fortune.
But there is a clinic in Vancouver the Prime Minister cannot shut down by the hair of his chinny chin chin. The clinic is called Insite, and every morning drug addicts line up waiting for it to open. They keep it full until evening, injecting their veins full of heroin and other drugs. This just seems wrong to the Prime Minister. Three times he has sent federal government lawyers to court to say so. Each time they come up snake eyes.
Last week it was the Supreme Court of Canada. Two justices Harper named joined the unanimous decision against his lawyers’ arguments. Insite will stay open. Other supervised-injection sites may follow. (That last part isn’t clear. We’ll walk you through it in a minute.)
By Ken MacQueen and Martin Patriquin - Friday, October 7, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 221 Comments
After the supreme court ruling, Montreal and Victoria are planning safe injection sites. Others aren’t far behind.
For the last 22 years, Cactus Montréal has doled out needles, crack pipes and other necessities of drug use to the city’s addicts. North America’s first needle exchange program had humble beginnings; it once provided its services from a cockroach-infested storefront on St-Dominique St., facing a particularly seedy section of Montreal’s red-light district. Today, Cactus’s headquarters are a monument to respectability. Its drop-in centre and needle exchange occupy a bright, glassed-in corner of an avant-garde building in downtown Montreal, across the street from a university pavilion. “A lively and warm place,” as its website advertises, “where people of all stripes come to get injection equipment, condoms, crack pipes, counselling and even to draw a picture or play an instrument.”
Thanks to last week’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling directing the federal government to stop obstructing Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection clinic, Cactus will soon be renovating once again. Cactus administrators, and those across the country who advocate harm reduction, a policy of mitigating the damage of drug use without requiring abstinence, interpret the ruling as essentially green-lighting supervised injection sites, albeit under strict conditions. By next spring, Cactus administrators hope to have an area where drug users will be able to inject drugs under the supervision of a medical professional. Many of Montreal’s other needle exchange sites, as well as those in Quebec City, will likely follow suit in the coming year, if they meet the criteria the court established to win a federal exemption from drug possession laws.
You might say it’s infectious. Supervised injection sites have the backing of several of the country’s biggest health authorities, including those in Montreal and Vancouver. There are preliminary plans for another site in Vancouver, and possibly one in Victoria. Some advocates look ahead to a time when addicts might receive prescription heroin rather than street drugs. While many governments are reluctant to endorse giving addicts a place to shoot up, let alone the drugs to do so, every province has some sort of needle exchange program. Even Calgary gave out safer crack pipe kits for three years until health officials nixed the program over the summer.
For proponents, providing a clean, medically supervised place to imbibe drugs is simply a logical extension of a service already provided across the country. “The Supreme Court decision let us stop being hypocrites,” Cactus community coordinator Jean-François Mary told Maclean’s. “For 22 years, we gave people clean tools, then sent them out into the street. We were doing half the work. Now they’ll be able to shoot up in complete safety.”
By Emmett Macfarlane - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 2:37 PM - 6 Comments
Those who favour the reform of Canada’s drug laws should be pleased
“Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven.” With that blunt statement, the Supreme Court of Canada cuts to the heart of the matter: by denying Vancouver’s safe-injection facility, Insite, a further exemption from laws prohibiting drug possession, the federal government acts contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The ruling stands as a razor-sharp rebuke of the federal government’s rather fragile position, at least as in terms of the insurmountable evidence that Insite averts deaths from overdose, helps prevent the spread of disease, and facilitates treatment and recovery. The Court’s decision also stands as a potential landmark in Canadian constitutional law, having considerable implications for the obligations the Charter increasingly imposes on government.
Before delving into these two important elements of the decision, it is worth noting what the Court does not do. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 1:31 PM - 79 Comments
This morning’s unanimous Supreme Court decision on Vancouver’s Insite safe injection site is categorical, urgent and beyond appeal: the Court ordered Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq to issue an exemption “forthwith” permitting the clinic to keep operating. It took the minister barely two hours to announce she’ll comply. The defeat, for a government that has fought Insite at every turn, is clear.
It’s also pretty narrow. While dealing Stephen Harper a personal and unequivocal defeat on a file his government clearly took seriously, it reaffirms federal powers in ways that will probably come in handy down the road; it seeks to contain this decision to the single, existing facility; and (probably inadvertently, but all the same) it offers a strong political argument in favour of the Conservatives among voters who share Harper’s aversion to Insite. Continue…
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 12:46 PM - 5 Comments
Montreal, Toronto and Victoria could establish similar services
A crowd gathered on the gritty streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside burst into cheers Friday morning at news the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that Insite, the supervised injection site for drug addicts can remain open. The ruling is a stinging defeat for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which claimed the site fostered addictions, encouraged crime and violated the federal criminal code by facilitating the use of illegal drugs.
The court ordered the federal health minister to immediately issue an exemption at the site from laws prohibiting drug possession and trafficking to allow the facility to operate. The ruling almost certainly assures that similar sites will open across Canada. Montreal, Toronto and Victoria are among the communities that have expressed interest in establishing similar services. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 10:13 AM - 6 Comments
Safe injection facility can stay open despite federal government’s objections
In a landmark unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has overruled the federal government’s objections to a safe injection site in Vancouver. The Conservatives had sought to repeal Insite’s special exemption from drug possession and trafficking laws, but the court found in the B.C. provincial government’s favour, ruling that it could keep the clinic open. The move is expected to make it easier for other provinces to open and maintain similar harm-reduction facilities.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 9:53 AM - 41 Comments
(This post last updated at 7:46pm)
The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Insite safe injection facility—a unanimous ruling in the facility’s favour—is here.
The Minister made a decision not to extend the exemption from the application of the federal drug laws to Insite. The effect of that decision, but for the trial judge’s interim order, would have been to prevent injection drug users from accessing the health services offered by Insite, threatening the health and indeed the lives of the potential clients. The Minister’s decision thus engages the claimants’ s. 7 interests and constitutes a limit on their s. 7 rights. Based on the information available to the Minister, this limit is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. It is arbitrary, undermining the very purposes of the CDSA, which include public health and safety. It is also grossly disproportionate: the potential denial of health services and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users outweigh any benefit that might be derived from maintaining an absolute prohibition on possession of illegal drugs on Insite’s premises.
10:46am. Liberal health critic Hedy Fry applauds.
10:51am. The Canadian Public Health Association applauds.
11:37am. Ms. Davies raised the court’s decision in QP just now, provoking a response from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, May 20, 2011 at 7:10 AM - 59 Comments
On Insite, the cruellest blow against the feds’ case came from one of the PM’s own appointees
On May 13, Mr. Justice Ian Binnie and Mme. Justice Louise Charron announced they’ll retire from the Supreme Court of Canada this summer. Their replacements will be Stephen Harper’s third and fourth appointments to the top court, but the first two he’ll make as head of a majority government. By the next election, Harper will have named at least five of the court’s nine justices, maybe more.
The day before Binnie and Charron announced their retirements, quite by coincidence I spent half a day attending the top court’s hearings. The Supremes were hearing arguments about Insite, the Vancouver clinic where drug addicts use their street-bought heroin and other substances under medical supervision.
The case illustrated why a prime minister takes a keen interest in his power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court. But it also showed that the power to put a judge on the court isn’t a magic wand. When the final Insite decision comes down, don’t expect much of a rift between Harper’s appointees and the majority who were there before he came along.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 5:00 PM - 158 Comments
Brian Lilley’s latest piece criticizing Vancouver’s Insite safe-injection facility has been a source of continuing fascination to me since he posted it a couple of days ago. There is a certain courage about the thing, I think, that sets him apart from other Insite objectors. Let’s not get too caught up in the quarrel over the quantitative evidence from Insite, he suggests. This is convenient, to be sure, since the evidence is all against him; but I think he is right to say the question whether Insite should exist can’t quite be settled by means of numbers alone.
In designing a policy, we must always weigh many groups of what it has become trendy to call “stakeholders”, and many kinds of interests and possible consequences. “Just because something may work,” Lilley writes, “doesn’t mean we should do it.” This is a difficult statement to absorb, for those of us who’ve noticed that the drug war involves doing a whole lot of harmful things that obviously don’t, in any specifiable sense, “work”. But he is entitled to raise the prior question of how we decide whether something is working.
Which is, of course, is the point at which everything turns to porridge [emphasis mine]:
Helping junkies shoot poison into their veins and then putting them back on the street is wrong. Would I have as much of a problem if these drugs were administered as part of an ongoing treatment program to help wean addicts off of drugs? Probably not.
But that’s not what InSite does. InSite allows people to enter a government backed facility and use street drugs that they have purchased on the street, drugs that could have anything mixed in, and shoot those illegal drugs into their veins. The addict then leaves the facility and heads back out on the street.
It’s discouragingly common for people, particularly those who have lost loved ones to heroin abuse, to ascribe special demonic attributes to the drug, distinguishing it from other substances of abuse by anthropomorphizing it in a frankly untenable, ridiculous way. Lilley is not to be confused with these people. He has little or no inherent problem with the idea of government letting people inject heroin under supervision, in the name of utilitarian health-care considerations.
What bothers him, it seems, is that the clients bring the “street drugs that they have purchased on the street” with them into the facility. He’s worried about the “poisonous” nature of what they’re shooting. But he’s also admitted it’s not the heroin itself he really has an issue with. So what can he mean? The whole point of Insite is largely to let junkies inject without the fear of AIDS or hepatitis, and with the assurance of immediate medical assistance if they get a too-pure or adulterated batch. Surely it is indisputable that Insite accomplishes that much—that it protects the drug user, while he is within its confines, from the “poisons” that actually threaten his life—whatever other problems may be hazily attributed to it?
It is impossible for me to see what kind of coherent understanding, what non-contradictory set of principles, could lead one to Lilley’s position. If we are going to have the “moral” conversation about Insite, the soundness of the moral reasoning ought to count for something. Lilley doesn’t score high marks here. The “immorality” of Insite, which doesn’t give anybody drugs and has kept plenty of people alive long enough to kick them, has to be located and specified by its opponents rather than just presumed. Personally, I’m damned if I can find it.
By macleans.ca - Monday, May 16, 2011 at 11:12 AM - 24 Comments
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 1:40 PM - 60 Comments
Whatever Tony Clement has said about the “evidence”—and whatever value you are supposed to place on Mr. Clement’s public pronouncements—the government’s lawyers managed to concede during yesterday’s Supreme Court hearings that Insite has worked.
Federal lawyer Paul Riley conceded health ministers allowed it to operate from 2003-2008 following a wave of deaths in the 1990s “to permit a scientific study of the nature of that program as a question of policy.”
“And it worked,” interjected Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. She cited the trial judge’s findings based on research showing addiction is an illness; unsanitary equipment is linked to infections and disease, and risk of death is lessened by supervision of qualified health professionals. “Lives are being saved, diseases are being prevented by this site, and are we putting too fine a point on it by saying the site has nothing to do with it?” McLachlin said.
“In the end this program somehow, while not being perfect, works,” said Justice Louis LeBel. “Have you got anything that tends to demonstrate that this program doesn’t work?”
Riley stammered in reply: “I think that’s a fair observation.”
By John Geddes - Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 5:43 PM - 144 Comments
The case of the Vancouver supervised injection facility called Insite was being heard at the Supreme Court of Canada today, and I’m sure not going to pretend here to offer any instant untangling of the lawyers’ arguments about clashing federal and provincial jurisdictions.
The two levels of government are battling because British Columbia claims the right to keep Insite open to provide a health service to addicts, while Ottawa asserts the right to shut it down to maintain the uniform national application of criminal law.
It will be interesting to see how the court rules. But from what I heard in court this morning, combined with what I knew already about Insite, it seems to me this case should never have ended up in court in the first place.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 10:52 AM - 15 Comments
Future of safe injection facility to be determined by top court
The Supreme Court will open hearings on Thursday to determine the future of Insite, the safe injection facility in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. At issue is whether authority over the site rests with the provincial or federal government, and whether closing it would constitute a breach of its drug-addicted users’ rights. B.C.’s provincial government has argued Insite is a provincial health care facility that has helped curb overdoses and the spread of diseases like HIV, while the federal government wants it shuttered as part of its tough-on-crime agenda. A 2008 provincial court ruling in B.C. upheld the province’s right to operate the facility, which is entirely funded by the B.C. government.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 12:31 PM - 4 Comments
Current mayor gets support of five predecessors ahead of Supreme Court hearing
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and five of his predecessors have joined together in a bid to stop the federal government from shuttering Insite, the city’s controversial safe-injection site. Robertson, Philip Owen, Larry Campbell, Mike Harcourt, Art Phillips, and Sam Sullivan have signed a letter arguing the facility is a medical service that’s been effective in saving lives and urging Ottawa to abandon its case against Insite, which is set to go before the Supreme Court on Thursday. “Drug addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and Insite needs to be recognized for what it is: a valuable health service that saves lives,” Owen said. “To help people who are addicted, we need a comprehensive, health-based approach, and Insite needs to be a part of that.” Arguments filed by the Justice Department show Ottawa plans to argue its authority over criminal justice matters trumps the province’s jurisdiction over health care facitilities.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 11:47 AM - 31 Comments
Two weeks ago, a group representing 11 religious denominations expressed its objections to the government’s justice program. Now, it’s a group of 500 health professionals that is registering its concern.
“We, the undersigned, are concerned that the federal government is pursuing significant amendments to federal drug legislation, through Bill S-10, which are not scientifically grounded and which research demonstrates may actually contribute to health and social harms in our communities,” the health professionals say in the letter.
They say there is no evidence that mandatory minimum sentences will reduce drug use or deter crime, that the sentences would have a disproportionately negative impact on young people and members of Canada’s aboriginal communities, and that they would have a negative impact on public health and HIV rates.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 5:01 PM - 0 Comments
Noting the recent reporting of our John Geddes, doctors Kathleen Dooling and Michael Rachlis release an analysis of Vancouver’s Insite facility they recently compiled for the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
They conclude that “the evidence shows that this public health facility reduces harms of drug addiction while creating positive relationships between users and caregivers which result in more of them entering treatment and rehabilitation programs. Insite also helps to reduce the adverse impact of addiction on the immediate community in various ways, such as decreasing litter like used needles.”
Their full report is available here.
By Paul Wells - Monday, August 23, 2010 at 8:47 AM - 0 Comments
Many of the comments under John Geddes’ astonishing story about the RCMP’s protracted attempts to make up new “facts” about Vancouver’s Insite safe-injection centre suggest readers are having trouble understanding what, precisely, went on here. And the reaction from other news organizations — there’s been none — suggests our colleagues prefer to believe there’s nothing new in the story.
And yet Geddes lays it out with crystal clarity. What’s at stake is not a simple matter of opinion about whether injection sites are a good idea. It is (1) an exhaustively-documented attempt by elements in Canada’s national police force to create a bogus “academic” argument against Insite. Then (2) an attempt by senior RCMP officers to reverse course and atone for that burst of academic vandalism. And finally, (3) a decision from the RCMP’s highest echelons — or from someone in government outside the RCMP — to stifle the belated atonement, instead letting the sham record stand. The first part of that story has been told before. The rest is new, and devastating. Let me try to walk you through it. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 20, 2010 at 3:16 PM - 0 Comments
Our John Geddes looks inside the battle over British Columbia’s safe injection site and finds a remarkable series of events.
There’s a striking contrast between the government’s waging of a public campaign against Insite, while top RCMP officers simultaneously engaged in private bridge-building sessions with Montaner. As the politicians sought the power to close Insite, senior Mounties quietly learned about the research into supervised injection. They seemed—based on Harriman’s email to Montaner on Oct. 28, 2008—to accept the centre’s findings supporting Insite. And they appeared—based on Souccar’s letter to him on Feb. 12, 2010—to regret the RCMP’s attempts to cast doubt on that research. The question now is whether these revelations about the undisclosed evolution in the RCMP’s perspective on the Insite experiment will have any impact on the government’s determination to end it.
By John Geddes - Friday, August 20, 2010 at 2:42 PM - 122 Comments
The Mounties were set to publicly acknowledge the benefits of projects like the Insite facility. Then they backed away.
It would have been quite a news conference, and it very nearly happened. Last fall, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, after months of intense, private talks, agreed to face the media together to declare their agreement that research shows the “benefits” and “positive impacts” of supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users.
For the RCMP, making such a statement would have been a turning point: the Mounties would have had to distance themselves from dubious studies, commissioned by the force itself, that were critical of Insite, Vancouver’s pioneering safe injection facility. And that would have been a politically awkward move for the federal police, since Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is firmly committed to shutting down Insite.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 8:24 PM - 123 Comments
The NDP house leader and the Prime Minister’s press secretary yell at each other on national television over what may or may not have been going on in Vancouver and what the NDP house leader may or may have had to do with whatever was or was not happening.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 10:27 AM - 70 Comments
The B.C. Court of Appeal’s ruling on Vancouver’s Insite shooting gallery for heroin addicts makes for interesting reading. We are all so busy arguing over the merits of harm reduction, and the wisdom of the Harper government’s attempt to shut down the clinic, that it is easy to forget the big constitutional issue that was the chief concern of the court here. You would think that Canadian jurisprudence had developed a clear objective rule for settling even the trickiest “double aspect” issues, wherein both federal and provincial governments can claim that some crumb falls within their respective spheres of constitutional power.
You would, apparently, be wrong. Continue…