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BC Top Court Says Insite Safe Injection Clinic Can Stay Open

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posted 12:55 AM EST, Sat January 16, 2010
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BC Top Court Says Insite Safe Injection Clinic Can Stay Open © Photo Credit: Stephen Dyrgas

Vancouver’s Insite safe injection clinic has won a court battle against the Canadian federal government that wanted to shut it down.

The Insite clinic which provides chronic heroin addicts with a safe and supervised location to shoot up won a constitutional exemption from Canadian drug laws in a BC lower court last year.

Opened on a harm reduction mandate in 2003 the center aims to reduce overdose deaths as well as reduce the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis amongst Vancouver’s large heroin using population in the lower eastside. At present, the nurses at the clinic supervise about 500 injections daily. Roughly 1200 people have overdosed at the clinic since its inception, but none of these 1200 overdoses resulted in a fatality – demonstrating the efficacy of the clinic as a harm reduction center.

The federal government, led by Conservative Stephen Harper spouting a get-tough-on-drugs message appealed the ruling with the provincial Supreme Court, which yesterday upheld the lower court ruling in a 2 to 1 majority decision, allowing the safe injection center to stay open for the foreseeable future.

In deciding against the feds, the provincial justices accepted the argument that Insite is a health facility and so falls under the province’s jurisdiction to regulate.  

BC Supreme Court Justice, Carol Huddart commented on her verdict, saying, "Like palliative care, it is a form of harm reduction with benefits for both the patient and the community. The lure of safe injection gets those addicts into Insite so health care may be delivered."

In the ruling one of the Justices wrote that she ‘regretted’ that Ottawa seemed intent on shutting down Insite for political reasons while ignoring the province’s valid attempts to better an addiction epidemic of crisis proportions.

HIV Aids researcher, Dr. Julio Montaner, who traveled to hear the verdict expressed satisfaction with the outcome, saying "They've been wasting my time fighting legal battles that are unnecessary, because the evidence has been there all along that Insite is saving lives."

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