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Friday, October 7, 2011

Drug injection site decision sets dangerous precedent


In a unanimous decision by all nine judges, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the controversial site drug injection site in Vancouver would be allowed to continue to operate.  The court said that closing the Insite facility would violate drug users’ s. 7 Charter rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.

The court’s decision sets an incredibly dangerous precedent on several levels.  It upholds exemptions from the law; it forces the government to support a drug addict’s continued addiction; and it uses taxpayers’ money to support such destructive addictions.

In May, I wrote for the Prince Arthur Herald about the Supreme Court of Canada hearing arguments both for and against the contentious facility.  I concluded that the court must support the minister’s decision to not renew Insite’s exemption from illegal substances law; that the government cannot support the suspension of its own laws in some areas, in some circumstances. 

In 2008, Health Minister Tony Clement announced that he would not be renewing Insite’s exemption under s. 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.  This exemption previously allowed Insite to operate outside of Canada’s laws, since drug users are obviously breaking several laws.

The court’s recent decision orders the Minister of Health to grant an exemption to Insite, under s. 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so it could be allowed to continue to operate outside of Canadian law.  S. 56 states:
The Minister may, on such terms and conditions as the Minister deems necessary, exempt any person or class of persons or any controlled substance or precursor or any class thereof from the application of all or any of the provisions of this Act or the regulations if, in the opinion of the Minister, the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.”

It follows that, if exemption is “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest,” then not providing an exemption meant Clement did not feel Insite’s operation was for scientific or medical purposes, and certainly not in the public interest.  Yet the court felt they could regulate the minister’s reasoning.

The court’s decision, presupposing that Insite was a successful, helpful institution, allowed government law to be ignored in order to let the facility to continue operations. The court has created a law-free zone – the only place in North America where drug users can break illegal substances laws without being held accountable.  Chief Justice Beverly MacLachlin acknowledges that Insite was created to allow drug users to inject drugs “without fear of arrest and prosecution.”

Furthermore, drug users must obtain their substances illegally. This too was acknowledged by the trial court: “It goes without saying that the substances brought to Insite by users have been obtained from a trafficker in an illegal transaction.  Users are obviously in possession of their substance en route to Insite.” The court’s decision means that drug users cannot be held accountable for illegally buying substances, effectively propping up the dangerous drug trade.

Simply put, Insite is a legal black hole, where laws do not apply and police cannot enforce their mandate to protect Canadians.

Next, we must also consider the morality of using government resources to facilitate drug addictions, rather than ending them. Certainly, Insite provides safer facilities to drug users. As the court acknowleged, the clinic “has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area.”  It is clear that providing clean needles, a sanitary clinic, and the supervision of trained medical staff will reduce incidents surrounding drug injections, especially when they would have otherwise been done with dirty needles, on the streets, and without supervision.

But what should not be presupposed is that it is morally right in any sense to facilitate, endorse, and support drug addicts who wish to continue their addiction, especially when this support comes from the federal government and taxpayers’ wallets.  Nowhere in the judgment did the judges consider this.

It is shocking to learn that Insite admits pregnant women and allows them to inject drugs under the watchful eye of civil servants. How can we allow this atrocity to occur, not only on our watch but also on our tax dollar?

Just to add a bit of humour into the discussion: Insite offers drug detox. services, for those addicts who are trying to kick their addiction.  It’s located directly above Insite, so all a drug user has to do is pass through the drug haven to get to the detox. centre upstairs.  Does this sound like a recipe for failure?

Finally, we reach the problem of public funding for this facility. If Insite were a privately-run charity organization, funded through private donations, it would be far less controversial.  But it’s not.  This is an organization funded by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments.  Public money – our hard earned taxes - Our taxes are directly funding a safe haven for drug addicts, free from the constraints of law. 

Wouldn’t our resources be better used for rehabilitation programs, allowing addicts to recover rather than giving them the facilities to continue their addiction? Furthermore, wouldn’t our tax dollars be better used strengthening the administration of justice in order to protect Canadian families?

Canadian voters should be left to determine whether the minister was right or not.  The Prime Minister’s government is accountable to Canadians through the ballot box and their parliamentary offices.  Canadians are able to register their satisfaction or disgust with government decisions by contacting the respective minister; and, if Canadians cannot find a suitable middle ground, that minister or government is not re-elected for another term.  The court demanding that the minister make a decision is a terrible precedent which results in undue interference in parliamentary business.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision has put Canadians at risk by allowing addicts a safe haven where laws – which would apply anywhere else in Canada – do not apply to them.  They have allowed pregnant women to shoot up in government-sponsored facilities, paid for with our money.  They have relegated any efforts made by family or friends to get the addict clean, in favour of allowing them to continue their habit.

Luckily, the federal government has pledged to review the court’s decision, but it’s now only a matter of time before these law-free zones begin popping up everywhere.