The Insite ruling

Our round-up of coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision in favour of the safe injection site

Brian Howell/Maclean's

(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.

Early reads from the Globe, Canadian PressPostmediaStar and CBC.

10:33am. Libby Davies, whose riding includes the Insite facility, applauds. Three years ago she lectured Tony Clement and called on him to abandon the government’s appeal.

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.

Ms. Davies. Today the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in favour of Insite … The Supreme Court found that this government arbitrarily infringed on the rights of individuals to receive the treatment and help they so desperately need. Now this government has an opportunity here to take off their ideological blinders and support a vital public service that has saved lives and given people hope. Will they do that?

Ms. Aglukkaq. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision today, we will comply. We believe that the system should be focused on preventing people from becoming drug addicts. A key pillar of the national anti-drug strategy is prevention and treatment for those with drug dependency. As part of our strategy, we have made significant investments to strengthen existing treatment efforts through the treatment action plan. We will be reviewing the court’s decision. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Ms. Davies. That’s precisely what Insite does. Since it opened in 2003 in my riding, fatal overdoses have dropped by over a third. More people get treatment as Insite is there to connect people with the services they need. Today the people who use this service have had their voices heard. The Supreme Court agrees. Health professionals agree. International health experts agree. Will the Conservatives admit their failed approach and acknowledge that Insite protects public health and saves lives. Will they stop being the barrier to this very important service?

Ms. Aglukkaq. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as I stated earlier, our government believes that spending more money on treatment and to help people get off drugs is the best investments we can make. As I said earlier, as well, we’ll be reviewing the decision. In fairness, the decision was made two hours ago. And I stated that we will be reviewing it and we will be reviewing it. Thank you.

12:09pm. The Canadian Medical Association applauds the Supreme Court’s decision.

12:30pm. In Kirk Makin’s analysis, this opens the door to similar facilities in other cities.

Montreal may soon follow Vancouver’s lead in setting up a supervised injection site. Jean-François Mary of Cactus Montreal, a community group that has been pressing to operate supervised injection sites for years, says today’s ruling removes the group’s last remaining obstacle.

“The scientific merit was proven long ago, there was only the question of the legality,” Mr. Mary said in an interview. “This decision brings us a big step forward – a Supreme Court ruling we can rely on.” He says police and municipal officials in Montreal were unwilling to back the idea of supervised sites without a legal opinion – something that changes now. “If we couldn’t prove the legality, we couldn’t get their support.”

12:57pm. Our Ken MacQueen reports from Vancouver.

1:34pm. Paul Wells considers the ruling’s meaning for the Harper government.

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 Justice 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.

2:35pm. Cactus Montréal, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Harm Reduction International have released a joint statement welcoming the Supreme Court’s decision. That release includes the following in bold.

In light of today’s Supreme Court decision, jurisdictions Canada-wide should act fearlessly on evidence and make harm reduction services modelled on Insite available to those in need in their locales. The Minister of Health must respect the Court’s decision and grant similar exemptions to other sites so that people across Canada will be able to access the public health services they desperately need.

3:42pm. Emmett MacFarlane considers the Court’s message and the ruling’s ramifications.

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.

4:22pm. The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario applauds.

4:40pm. Ottawa’s mayor and police chief say they don’t support establishing a safe injection facility in the city.

“I do not support locating a safe injection site in Ottawa, and was very clear about that in the last election,” Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement released by his office. And in an interview with the Citizen, police chief Vern White agreed, saying such a facility would have “an extreme negative impact” on nearby residents.

5:05pm. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson comments on the ruling.

“Addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue. Research, and now the law, confirms our position that safe injection sites such as InSite perform an important health care role in the lives of people living with chronic addiction-related problems. Insite connects people to detox treatment services, counselling and medical help, while saving lives, reducing overdoses and reducing HIV and other infections.”

7:46pm. An embassy cable shows the U.S. government opposed Insite. Elizabeth Payne talks to Dr. Mark Tyndall, who would like to establish a facility in Ottawa. The Prime Minister is disappointed.

“We’re disappointed, we have a different policy,” Harper told reporters in Quebec City. “We’ll take a look at the decision, but we will clearly act in respect and within the constraints of the decision.” Harper said it is “premature” to speculate on the possibility of other cities establishing supervised injection site. “Obviously, it is going to lead to some changes in federal policy in order to respect the decision. 

“The preference of this government in dealing with drug crime is obviously to prosecute those who sell drugs and create drug addiction in our population and in our youth. And when it comes to treating drug addiction, to try and do so though programs of prevention and treatment, rather than through the issues that were in front of this court in terms of so-called harm reduction.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.