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Politics Quebec opens door to setting up safe-injection sites

Supplies used drug addicts at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Buoyed by a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling allowing supervised injection sites to remain open, the Quebec government is setting up a program to oversee the opening of facilities wherever deemed "socially acceptable" by communities.

Health and Social Services Minister Yves Bolduc says public-health officials will work with the groups Cactus in Montreal and Point de repère in Quebec City to develop services for drug abusers.

"The work will be conducted over the next several months to examine what model best suits our needs here in Quebec. What we do know is that it will not be one big single clinic like Insite (in Vancouver) but a model that will be socially acceptable, softer, one that meets the needs of the [local]population," Mr. Bolduc said on Tuesday.

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Community and health groups in Montreal met with Mr. Bolduc last week and are working on setting up a series of safe-injection sites rather than just one at a single location.

Jean-François Mary of the group Cactus Montréal, which offers needle-exchange programs and is in line to operate one of the injection sites, hailed Mr. Bolduc's willingness to go forward.

"We've moved from hypothetical projects to concrete ones, and we can work toward offering actual service outlets," Mr. Mary said. "We're very pleased with the minister's openness."

Mr. Mary said opening drug-injection sites in Montreal will mean addicts would receive injections safely instead of taking drugs in back alleys, public spaces or restaurant bathrooms. Cactus is located in downtown Montreal.

"This will break the taboo about drug consumption," he said, adding that spreading out the injection sites will avoid the kind of concentration that would "stigmatize a neighbourhood."

The minister argued that drug abuse was above all an illness that needed to be contained and cured. Supervised injection sites will offer services that will monitor the health of drug addicts and encourage them to seek detoxification and rehabilitation, Mr. Bolduc explained.

The need for social acceptability was crucial to the project's success, he said, which means sites will have to work closely with police, community leaders and health officials.

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"Unlike what some people believe, the sites do not increase crime in the community. They save lives. Drug abuse is a disease. And for a project to go ahead in a community it will need to be socially acceptable," the minister said.

The Quebec government spends $80-million a year on various drug-abuse programs and the minister said that part of the money will now be directed toward setting up injection sites along with the new services for drug abusers.

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