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Insite comes to Ottawa

The Harper Government TM is still attempting to shut down Insite, Canada’s only supervised injection site. The case is now before the Supreme Court of Canada, which is where I spent yesterday morning.

I had to line up to go through a scanner, and empty my pockets and put metal things in a bin and so on. The security guy and I didn’t like each other. I think he thought I was being willfully obtuse, when in fact I was just being a little scrambled because security procedures make me nervous. He openly sneered at me. Twice. I didn’t sneer back, but I thought he was a jerk.

The courtroom was full, so I joined a number of other people in the lobby, to watch the proceedings on TV. We were given headsets and chairs.

A little background

Insite is a supervised injection site in Vancouver. Addicts bring their own drugs to Insite, and inject them in a clean place, using clean equipment, under the supervision of a nurse. This helps prevent contamination, the spread of disease, and death by overdose.

Every single scientific study (over 40, to date) has indicated that Insite is an effective public health initiative and helps to prevent disease and death. Many of these studies have even been funded by the federal government itself.

In order for Insite to operate legally, it has an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to permit illegal drugs to be consumed on its premises.

The Harper Government TM is ideologically opposed to Insite, and wants to shut it down. It refused to renew Insite’s exemption.

Insite took it to the BC Court, which ruled in Insite’s favour.

The government appealed the BC Court’s judgement, and the case is now before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Yesterday’s Hearing

Much of the debate hinged on the federal/provincial division of powers. The government says drugs fall under federal jurisdiction, therefore it has exclusive control. Insite however is a health care facility, and therefore falls under provincial jurisdiction.

It’s more complicated than that, and I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of paramouncy or interjurisdictional immunity or any of the finer points of constitutional law, so I’m not going to get into that.

But I think it boils down to whether or not Insite requires an exemption from the Federal Minister of Health in order to allow illegal drugs to be legally consumed on its premises.

Here are a couple of highlights from yesterday’s hearing.

1. The Harper Government TM claims no decision has been made about whether to grant the exemption, which is ridiculous since everybody knows the feds won’t grant the exemption.

2. Insite had an impressive roster of intervenors and expert witnesses to speak of its benefits, including the Canadian Association of Nurses and other health care organizations. The Harper Government TM had only one: Real Women. (I’m not even kidding.)

3. The government’s lawyer, when asked, was forced to concede that the feds have no evidence that Insite doesn’t work.

4. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected in a few weeks. I’m virtually certain they will rule in favour of Insite, as the federal government had nothing – no evidence, no credible intervenors, no logic. Just Stephen Harper’s personal opinion.

11 comments to Insite comes to Ottawa

  • Everything for the next four years is going to be based on Stephen Harper’s personal opinion.

  • Who are the judges sitting this one? Do they have reason to fear reprisal from the Harper Government TM if they rule in insite’s favour? Gah back to my bird bubble where this election never happened

  • Good summary, thanks. I understood the situation completely, from what you wrote. Very interesting that the government had almost no one to speak on its behalf. Maybe they’ve given up and they are only allowing it to proceed so as not to lose face (or set a precedent).

  • future landfill

    It would be nice to think wisdom will prevail, that being the speciality of the Supreme Court, as you might say. However, if it’s strictly a matter of jurisdiction it all gets muddled by constitutional guff and the Supremos have to come down on the side of whoever’s authority is paramount. I’m guessing it won’t be a unanimous decision.

  • me

    According to the Toronto Star, today:
    The Harper government will get an opportunity to name two more Supreme Court of Canada judges with the surprise announcement Friday of the pending retirements of Ian Binnie and Louise Charron.

    Does that make you worry for future decisions?

  • I have faith in the integrity of Canadian judges, especially at this level. We do not have the political divide in the judiciary as the Americans tend to. If you read enough Supreme Court decisions from many years, you will see that the judgments are not given based on political inclinations.

    So no, I do not worry for future decisions. My basis for making this comment comes from my two law degrees, an LL.B. and an LL.M., so I am not just reacting with no background.

    In fact, even in the U.S. at that level, judges tend to have great personal integrity. You may be familiar with the Roe v. Wade decision that has not been overturned since it was rendered in 1973, likewise the Miranda decision from 1966.

  • Deborah

    Thank you for the update. I hope, as Julia suggests, that the Supreme Court will rule fairly, honestly, and with integrity.

  • Eileen

    I do fear for the future of our Supreme Court now that Harper has a majority. He will choose judges that have similar idealogies to his own.

    Roe vs Wade and Miranda happened a long time ago. However, in this century look at the disgraceful conduct of the very conservative nature of the U.S. Supreme Court when they handed Bush the 2000 election.

  • Lisa in Toronto

    Thanks for the very good post – and thanks for going to the Supreme Court in person. Glad to know people can do still so.

  • XUP

    The Harper Government got its majority without a platform, so why wouldn’t they expect to win a Supreme Court decision without any evidence? I’m thinking Harper will do whatever he wants to do for the next 4 years, regardless of how many obstacles we attempt to put in his way. He is going to take full and ruthless advantage of his majority.

  • Regarding judicial appointments, some pundits on CBC agree with me: