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1000 Crosses were raised at Crab Park in Vancouver in this photo taken in May, 2008. (LAURA LEYSHON/LAURA LEYSHON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
1000 Crosses were raised at Crab Park in Vancouver in this photo taken in May, 2008. (LAURA LEYSHON/LAURA LEYSHON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Supreme Court to decide B.C. injection clinic's future Add to ...

The future of Vancouver's supervised drug-injection site, Insite, will be decided in the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court said Thursday that it will decide whether the federal government has the authority to shut down the Downtown Eastside clinic - the first such clinic in North America to allow addicts to inject themselves with prohibited drugs under a nurse's supervision.

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The case has turned into an important jurisdictional struggle between the provincial and federal governments.

The $3-million Insite facility was opened in 2003 after it was specifically exempted from federal drug possession and trafficking laws.

In January, the B.C. Court of Appeal decided 2-1 that the province has jurisdiction over the facility since it provides addicts with health care, which is within provincial jurisdiction.

Its ruling upheld a 2008 trial decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield, who found that the facility reduces the risk of death and disease for addicts. Judge Pitfield found that the application of the federal drug law would violate the addicts' Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

However, federal lawyers maintain that, while addicts need help, providing a safe injection site is the wrong way to go about it.

"Our national anti-drug strategy focuses on prevention and access to treatment for those with drug dependencies," federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said after the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.

B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon expressed disappointment with the federal government's opposition to a program that has had solid support in the medical community and in medical journals.

Health Canada initially granted a three-year exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to establish it as a scientific research project. The federal Conservative government objected to it in recent years, but the province continued allowing the facility to operate.

In 2008, the Portland Hotel Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users launched a constitutional challenge of the federal government's power to close the facility, arguing the site saves lives and money.

The appeal will be heard next fall at the earliest.

As the battle over Insite moves to the Supreme Court, a related skirmish is under way.

On Thursday, the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS filed a complaint with the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, alleging the force tried to discredit Insite by paying for studies that cast the facility in a negative light.

In a close to 200-page complaint, the centre states that it "believes that the RCMP paid to obtain documents that specifically supported the RCMP's and federal Conservative government's negative views on Insite, supervised injection sites and harm reduction."

The complaint concerns two studies, released in 2007, that raised questions about whether Insite was successful in areas such as preventing overdose deaths and reducing transmission of disease.

The 2007 studies "contained no new data and were not published in conventional peer-reviewed scientific journals", the complaint states. "Instead, they were essays posted on the website of a U.S. law enforcement lobby group known as the Drug Free America Foundation."

The papers were cited by politicians who argued that Insite should be closed.

For the past 18 months, according to the complaint, the centre has been talking with senior RCMP officials about the papers and ensuing fallout - even working on a joint media release that, among other statements, acknowledged the 2007 reviews "did not meet conventional academic standards."

But scheduled joint press conferences were twice cancelled, according to the complaint.

A spokeswoman for the complaints commission said on Thursday it was reviewing the complaint.

RCMP media representatives in Ottawa would not discuss specifics of the complaint, but said "the RCMP has on repeated occasions met with [Centre of Excellence director]Dr. Julio Montaner and continues to dialogue with Dr. Montaner on issues of common interest."

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

 

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