“If your safe injection site lasts longer than ten years, contact law enforcement immediately…”
Way, way, way back in September 2011, our currently scandal-beleaguered preemo and crew, whom we affectionately dubbed Little Stevie Harper and The Knee-Jerks, lost a significant battle in their one-party War on Canada’s Falling Crime Rate when Canada’s top court ruled in favour of continuing an exemption that allowed Insite, a Vancouver-based safe-injection centre for hard drug addicts, to continue operating.
This past week, the anti-Charter brigade in the Langevin Block–including the same crew of “little shits” that outgoing Tory caucus renegade, Brent Rathgeber complained about on his way out of the caucus compound yesterday–were reviving their losing battle against power-addiction through the orifice of the Harper Government’s current minister of health, Leona Aglukkaq.
At a clumsily stage-managed press conference, the minister was joined by a Canadian Police Association mouthpiece and other members of the NIMBY anti-injection site crowd, to deliver what amounted to a reprise and repetitive kick in the gonads to the Supreme Courtiers’ now two-years past its “best-before” date ruling that allowed Insite to continue providing safe injection services to addicts in Vancouver’s horrific Lower East Side.
Yesterday, Ms. Aglukkaq regurgitated the same non-minced offal that she dished up when the Highest Court in the Land first passed judgment, along with a list of soon-to-be enacted regulations that will effectively strangle the safe-injection model in its crib:
“Our government believes that creating a location for sanctioned use of drugs obtained from illicit sources has the potential for great harm in the community. Accordingly, we believe that the application process needs to be changed to create formal opportunities for local voices to be heard and their views considered before an exemption would be granted.”
“Hey! Let’s organize a lynch-mob, er,”community group” and head on over there!”
If those “opportunities for local voices to be heard” sounds suspiciously like an undisguised call to the Tories’ vigilante and posse-organizing buffs under the banner of “Don’t listen to the bean counters at StatsCan, the crime rate is through the roof!”, you are not a cynic or even psychotic. Such is the twisted, nightmarish take on reality that plagues the perceptions of the paranoid fear-mongers who serve our illustrious Prime Minister and ensure that the ONLY item allowed on the public health agenda is Public Safety.
After all, folks, they named this legislative abomination the Respect for Communities Act, eh?
The criteria for allowing safe injection programmes, as announced yesterday by the health minister will include a requirement that the federal minister of health (herself) consult the views of local governments, including the police, community associations, conduct a feasibility assessment of any proposed site, and scrutinize the “scientific” proof that such a programme will actually provide benefits.
Above all, the proponents of any safe injection programme, including even the currently operating INSITE clinic in Vancouver–will be required to provide assurances about the “public safety” impact of their operations, including statistical evidence that the local crime rate has not “spiked” as a result of needle-injecting clients.
At what point does ‘foot-dragging’ become contempt of the Supreme Court of Canada?
As part of the Tories’ tough-on-anything-vaguely-or-potentially-fear-inducing-to-prospective-voters platform, the Canadian department of Justice sent a phalanx of its finest litigating minds to the fore in seeking to overturn a British Columbia appellate court ruling which permitted Insite officials to continue to exempt its drug-addicted clientele from federal criminal laws prohibiting them (and the rest of us) from possessing illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.
The exemption angers the born again brigade in the former Canadian Reform Alliance Party, because it permits Godless junkies and their “ilk” to safely administer their noxious substances without fear of arrest and prosecution, not to mention, the ever-present risk of contracting Hepatitis-C and other nasty diseases associated with reuse of contaminated “street needles.”
“Insite or Insanity?”
Since 2003, the Vancouver clinic has provided safe injection facilities as “medical services” to intravenous drug users in the ghoulish junkiedom that is Vancouver’s lower East Side.
Municipal, provincial and federal government agencies initially collaborated to set up a workable and “legal” way to allow safe injections by drug addicts under medical supervision without fear of arrest and prosecution (or O.D’ing).
Insite was also applauded as an enlightened and successful strategy for preventing the spread of other pesky public health menaces like HIV/AIDS and rising mortality rates from intravenous drug overdose in the downscale community.
However, in 2008, Stephen Harper’s newly-minted federal minority government opted to deny an extension to Insite‘s exemption from the operation of the federal Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Seeing the law-and-order writing on the proverbial wall, Insite sued in B.C. for a judicial declaration either that those laws should either not apply to their safe-injection program or that the Tory government’s denial of an extension to the exemption breached their clients’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In May 2008, a B.C. lower court judge endorsed the view of the health experts supporting the Insite program that addiction was first and foremost a public health problem, as opposed to a “law and order” issue. Judge Pitfield also found that Insite‘s operation reduced the number of junkies shooting up in public places and did not lead to any observable increase in drug-related vagrancy, crime or even drug-dealing in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
But undaunted, the feds appealed the lower court defeat to the next level. Yet, once again, in 2009, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld Judge Pitfield, agreeing with his conclusion that Insite should continue to operate free from federal drug prohibitions. And, again, undaunted, their pockets stuffed with litigation vouchers from the public coffers, federal lawyers upped the ante and applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
There, Insite reiterated its arguments that its safe-injection program was a health service and, therefore, a strictly provincial area of jurisdiction under Canada’s federal-provincial system.
To no avail, and playing mainly to the Tory blue-rinse peanut gallery, the federal legal flacks urged that national criminal and drugs laws should prevail because they fall exclusively under a federal “head” of law-making authority.
But, speaking for the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada (or, wait for it, “The Supremes,” as they are referred to by obnoxious tenured law profs across Canuckistan), Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin today stated once and for all that:
Insite was the product of cooperative federalism. Local, provincial and federal authorities combined their efforts to create it. It was launched as an experiment. The experiment has proven successful. Insite has saved lives and improved health. And it did those things without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area. The Vancouver police support Insite. The city and provincial government want it to stay open. But continuing the Insite project will be impossible without a federal government exemption from the laws criminalizing possession of prohibited substances at Insite…The threat to the liberty of the staff in turn impacts on the s. 7 rights of clients who seek the health services provided by Insite…The record supports the conclusion that, without an exemption from the application of the CDSA, the health professionals who provide the supervised services at Insite will be unable to offer medical supervision and counselling to Insite’s clients. This deprives the clients of Insite of potentially lifesaving medical care, thus engaging their rights to life and security of the person…In order to make use of the lifesaving and health-protecting services offered at Insite, clients must be allowed to be in possession of drugs on the premises. To prohibit possession by drug users anywhere engages their liberty interests; to prohibit possession at Insite engages their rights to life and to security of the person.
Having thus ruled that the Harperian refusal to renew the exemption to Insite breached the security of the person rights of its clients, the SCC came up with a traditional common law “special remedy”, an order of mandamus–a Latin phrase meaning “do it!”– directing the feds to extend Insite‘s exemption from relevant federal drug laws so Insite can continue to operate.
That wasn’t just a “suggestion”, bub, this is the Supreme-frickin’-Court talkin’…
Still, that edict has not, alas, dissuaded the law-bending brigade in the Langevin Block from easing up on their tiresome rants that sound like outtakes from the 1965 lawless-drug-crazed teenagers-take-over-the-world spoof, Wild in the Streets.
For among the most virulent and outspoken critiques to be circulated in opposition to the INSITE-style model of harm reduction treatment clinics is none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2011 campaign jock and current senior advisor and all-round PMO ballbreaker, Jenni “there’s no Y, only an ‘i’ Byrne”.
Apparently, Ms. Byrne, has been sending out missives to the Conservative Party of Canada acolytes spreading fear and loathing about the impending chaos and destruction that will quickly engulf law-abiding communities across the land if these safe injection crime factories are not shut down and banished from our midst once and forever.
In a move that Richard Elliott, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, may have modestly characterized as “intended to monger fear,” the Globe and Mail‘s Gloria Galloway reported today that Ms. Byrne’s e-mail missive to the CPC faithful ominously warned that: “These are facilities where drug addicts get to shoot up heroin and other illicit drugs…I don’t want one anywhere near my home.”
Jenni Byrne’s ‘hood teetering on the brink of annihilation…
Interestingly, for Jenni Byrne, that ship may have already sailed and, in fact, dropped anchor in her own backyard. For, at least according to Elections Canada‘s online political financing database, which lists the postal codes and partial address of all campaign contributors in elections past, in 2011 Ms. Byrne herself resided within two relatively short blocks of the Ontario Addiction Treatment Facility’s downtown Ottawa clinic on Somerset Street West in Ottawa’s Centretown community.
Although Ms. Byrne reportedly has no backyard in her toney apartment block, the fact of her proxmity to the ODATF den of iniquity a few scant city blocks from her highrise is only one of the bizarre and coincidental aspects of this forlorn reality series.
The other is that the reason Ms. Byrne’s once and possibly future Ottawa address is a matter of public record stems from her own contribution of $300 to the 2011 federal campaign of none other than–care to hazard a guess?–Leona Aglukkaq, of Nunavut.
To be fair, unlike Ms. Byrne, the ODATF clinic at Somerset West is not (yet) a safe-injection site. It does not therefore represent the same peril of impending annihilation to the surrounding neighbourhood forewarned by the scofflaw vigilantes. But its apparently hitherto innocuous presence for some time only a stone’s throw from Hartman’s IGA and a Ceylonese cafe right next door does belie the NIMBY paranoia to a great degree.
The failure if not refusal by the Harper Government to give effect to the SCC ruling from 2011 is beyond doubt. By seeking to tightly control and frustrate public debate on this health care issue, e.g., by dispatching a cop to sit right beside his health minister while she damns the new SITE regulations with faint praise, our Prime Minister again betrays the Tories’ “psycho-graphic” obsession with remaining in power at any cost to our communities.
By wedding health care, defence and just about every other fricking public policy under the sun to the Party’s relentless CIMS-based voter propaganda blitzes, the important challenges to public health care providers in Canada posed by rising rates of HIV infection (and yes, they are related to use of contaminated needles) are being ignored.
And ironically, that kind of moral indifference and obstinacy may be the undoing of Canadian communities light-years before safe injection clinics.