Last Friday in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that prohibiting Insite, the safe injection clinic, to operate under an exemption from drug laws would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the ruling said “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.” The SCOC ordered the federal minister of health Leona Aglukkaq to grant an immediate exemption to allow Insite to operate.
The court said similarly that if Insite wasn’t allowed to operate, it would prevent injection drug users from accessing the health services offered at the facility, threatening their health and their lives. The bottom line: to deny access to Insite is to deny access to health care. The ruling paves the way for more safe injection clinics to open up across the country without the fear of clients and staff being arrested.
The ruling comes as a slap in the face to Prime Minister Harper and his anti-crime agenda. The Conservative government has been trying to shut the site down since it came to power five years ago. Aglukkaq said Friday that the government’s investments are targeted at prevention and treatment, but that fact runs contrary to the Conservatives’ crime bill that would introduce tough new laws for simple possession.
If Harper and his Conservative Government were actually committed to prevention and treatment they should have supported clinics like Insite from the get go. In Insite’s surrounding neighborhoods during its eight years of operation, addicts that have started seeking treatment have gone up 30%. It is far more altruistic and cost effective to treat those trying to quit than to lock them up and throw away the key.
Regardless of what people’s opinion might be on the treatment of drug addicts, the Supreme Court made it quite clear that the main issue was safety. In Canada, healthcare is considered by most to be a basic human right; therefore the government (provincial and federal) should be compelled not only to support safe injection clinics, but to help fund them as well.
Over the past eight years, Insite nurses have overseen more than a million safe injections resulting in 1400 overdoses, but not one user has died as a result. What cost can you put on fourteen hundred lives? According to Health Canada, Insite costs about $3 million annually to operate or $14.00 per visit. 80% of visitors go for safe injections and 20% for counseling.
If you think $3 million dollars a year is excessive, consider this; according to the US National Library of Medicine, if Insite were closed, the annual number of incident HIV infections among Vancouver IDUs would be expected to increase from 179.3 to 262.8. These 83.5 preventable infections are associated with $17.6 million in life-time HIV-related medical care costs, greatly exceeding Insite’s operating costs.
To summarize; safe injection sites save lives, saves money, reduces the spread of disease, keeps the streets cleaner and helps those who are trying to quit. How could any God fearing conservative be opposed to such an economic and ethical cause as Insite? I’m at least pleased to see that the Supreme Court of Canada can still put logic in front of ideology, unlike some of our politicians.
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