FEDS APPEAL INSITE COURT RULING
Safe Injection Supporters Continue Lobbying Efforts
The federal government has made good on its promise to file an appeal over a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that allows the city's supervised injection site to remain open indefinitely.
Two notices of appeal filed in the B.C. Court of Appeal registry don't lay out the grounds for the government's court action but the message is clear: the federal government isn't happy with the court ruling. Insite, on East Hastings in the Downtown Eastside, is a scientific research project approved under the former Liberal government. It was supposed to close Monday.
Insite opened in September 2003 as a three-year experiment. The Conservative government extended the operating licence twice. The current operating agreement was to expire June 30, but a successful court challenge by PHS Community Services Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users ( VANDU ) will keep the facility's doors open.
The Attorney General of Canada filed the notices of appeal in court June 3 against VANDU and the PHS, which operates Insite in conjunction with Vancouver Coastal Health. The grounds for appeal won't be known until a document called a factum is prepared by the government.
Meanwhile, federal Health Minister Tony Clement continues to criticize the B.C. Supreme Court ruling that granted drug users a permanent constitutional exemption from prosecution under the country's drug laws.
In a May 29 speech to Parliament's health committee, Clement emphasized the need for treatment over injection sites. If the $3 million per year used to operate Insite were spent on treatment beds, he said, 1,200 female sex workers could be helped. "There is a notorious lack of treatment beds in the Downtown Eastside and while I would quickly assert that people at Insite have the best of intentions, I think the site itself represents a failure of public policy, indeed, of ethical judgment," Clement said.
Supporters of Insite point to the various peer-reviewed studies that show the facility is reducing the spread of disease, directing users to treatment and preventing overdoses.
Mayor Sam Sullivan and Premier Gordon Campbell are on record as supporting an extension of Insite's operating agreement with the federal government.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield has given the government until June 30, 2009 to amend the country's drug laws to allow for medical use of drugs if tied to a health care initiative.
Monique Pongracic-Speier, a lawyer who represented the PHS and two drug addicts in the case against the government, said sections of the drug laws involving possession and trafficking need to be re-written before Pitfield's June 2009 deadline.
Pongracic-Speier said the federal government's appeal doesn't supersede Pitfield's ruling. His ruling stands in force unless and until it is overturned by a higher court, she added.
"So it's not a question of the site going out of business, so to speak, by June 30, 2009, but rather the law has to accommodate the existence of this site," she said.
Nathan Allen, the coordinator for Insite for Community Safety and assistant bank manager at the PHS-operated Pigeon Park Savings, said advocates for Insite will continue to lobby the federal government, despite Pitfield's ruling.
"We're confident that the appeal won't be successful but it causes further uncertainty around the site, so we're going to pressure the federal government to do the right thing and keep Insite open," he said, noting there are public forums on harm reduction planned next month in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
Fri, 27 Jun 2008
Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Vancouver Courier