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A small kit of supplies containing syringes, bandaids and antiseptic pads waits to be used by a drug addict inside a safe injection site on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (ANDY CLARK/Andy Clark/Reuters)
A small kit of supplies containing syringes, bandaids and antiseptic pads waits to be used by a drug addict inside a safe injection site on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (ANDY CLARK/Andy Clark/Reuters)

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Injection site can stay open, B.C. court rules Add to ...

Ottawa is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in its long-running battle to shut down North America's only safe-injection site after B.C.'s highest court upheld its right to operate.

Yesterday's ruling in the B.C. Court of Appeal, greeted with applause by Insite supporters who packed the courtroom to hear it, backs a 2008 ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court. One of three judges dissented.

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Health Canada, responding in a statement, was vague on appeal possibilities.

"While the government respects the court's decision, it is disappointed with the outcome," the statement said. "The government is reviewing the decision carefully. Until this review is complete, it would be inappropriate to speculate on future action on the part of the government of Canada."

Supporters of Insite, established in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2003, challenged Ottawa to end a legal battle against the facility that has been under way for several years.

"Let's hope Stephen Harper doesn't waste any more taxpayers' money by taking this to the Supreme Court [of Canada]" Liz Evans, executive director of the Portland Hotel Society, which operates Insite, told a boisterous rally outside the court complex where Appeal Court Justice Lance Finch delivered the ruling.

Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, visiting Vancouver for a forum at the University of British Columbia, said the government should heed the message implicit in two court rulings.

"I think what the Conservatives ought to be doing now is funding harm-reduction strategies instead of paying for more lawyers," he told reporters.

"They should accept that harm-reduction strategies are an essential part of any substance-abuse strategy and should not appeal this further."

The Liberal leader's message was in sync with a statement from Vancouver's mayor.

"With this second consecutive decision in favour of Insite, I hope the federal government will drop its legal efforts so that we can go back to focusing on Insite for what it is - a harm reduction facility that saves lives and improves health outcomes for those living with addictions," said Gregor Robertson.

Addicts visiting Insite can inject their own drugs under the supervision of a nurse as part of a protocol aimed at reducing drug overdoses and HIV-AIDS.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the federal government previously argued that there is no obligation to make it easier for addicts to break the law by facilitating drug use. But the previous Supreme Court ruling found Insite to be under provincial jurisdiction, and provided a constitutional exemption to allow it stay open without the required exemption from federal laws against illegal drug use.

Perry Kendall, B.C.'s medical health officer said he hopes yesterday's ruling ends the legal battles over Insite. The provincial Liberal government has been supportive of Insite.

"I think it would be really nice if the federal government said, `Fine. We've made our points. We've lost in a couple of court arenas. If the province wants to do this, fine we don't like it, but it constitutionally falls within their powers and their jurisdiction,'" Dr. Kendall said.

But Dean Wilson, president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and a plaintiff in the case, said he expected a continued legal battle in the Supreme Court of Canada.

"[Mr. Harper]is going to appeal. I bet they have already got their appeal written. We're going to go to Ottawa, but we have won at every level."

Follow on Twitter: @ianabailey

 

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