Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has defied the Supreme Court of Canada by reintroducing a bill on Oct. 17 that aims to prevent the existence of new supervised injection sites (SICs) in Canada.
Ambrose introduced Bill C-2 as an amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and is identical to Bill C-65, tabled in Parliament on June 6, which spurred organizations such as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition to release a statement calling for SICs to be recognized as life-saving services.
In these statements, the organizations described the bill as “an irresponsible initiative that ignores both the extensive evidence that such health services are needed and effective, and the human rights of Canadians with addictions.”
The bill itself states that a supervised consumption service can only exist in exceptional circumstances. Thus far the only exemption granted was in 2003 to Vancouver’s Insite, the first legal supervised injection site in North America. Despite the Supreme Court’s declaration that ‘Insite saves lives. […] [And] its benefits have been proven,’ it remains the only SIC in Canada, in contrast to over 90 worldwide.
In 2011, the Supreme Court similarly declared that the federal health minister had violated the Charter rights of people who needed access to such facilities and ruled against the federal government’s decision to withhold offering services like Insite.
“Bill C2 is an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court Ruling of 2011,” said Connie Carter, senior policy analyst of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
The organizations called on Ambrose to take into account the benefits of supervised consumption sites and outlined the benefits they bring, such as a decrease in drug-related deaths, injuries, and infections (like HIV), and decreases in public drug use and risky behaviours associated with HIV — all without increasing the negatives associated with drug use, like crime.
Earlier, on Sept. 30, the aforementioned health organizations co-wrote an open letter to Ambrose, backed by over 50 other Canadian health organizations.
“It is unethical, unconstitutional and damaging to both public health and the public purse to block access to supervised consumption services which save lives and prevent the spread of infection,” the letter read.
They urge Ambrose to “stand up for people’s lives and take the leadership to ensure that supervised consumption services become a part of the continuum of care for people who use drugs in Canada.”
Other organizations supporting SICs are the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Public Health Physicians of Canada, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, and the Urban Public Health Network.