New law could kill any hope for safe-injection site in Ottawa

The federal government has signalled when the city of Ottawa will be able to open a safe-injection site for intravenous drug users. It’s called never.

Little attention was paid when the House of Commons passed Bill C-2 in late March. Drug addicts are like prison inmates: They make poor lobbyists. The law is called the Respect For Communities Act, one of those Orwellian names — like the Safe Streets Act — cooked up by the short-pants in Mind Control.

The act is a response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in 2011 to uphold the existence of Vancouver’s Insite drug clinic because it delivered health benefits without substantial negative effects on the community.

But the new law makes future applications so burdensome, not to mention politically charged, it’s doubtful any would ever be approved.

“Should Bill C-2 become law, it will be extremely difficult to open a supervised injection anywhere in Canada, including in Ottawa,” said Lisa Wright, a PhD candidate and an organizer with the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites.

Those who’ve studied the new law say there are more than 25 requirements, some of them highly detailed, to accompany any new application. Among them must be a letter from the mayor, the police chief, the chief medical officer and the relevant provincial minister.

The act does not say these authority figures must “approve” of the site, but it does seek opinions. It also asks for background checks on staff members and scientific evidence about the worthiness of the plan.

In Ottawa, both the mayor and police chief have stated their opposition to a safe-injection site and the public health department has remained neutral, saying it is monitoring the issue.

Wright, one of several members of the grassroots group, says it is obvious the Conservative government has politicized the issue, pointing to the involvement of law enforcement in what should be a health decision.

“If we conceive of drug use as a health issue, it should be within the purview of health authorities. We don’t need the police chief to be a part of it, or a mayor’s politicking.”

This is, indeed, the classic disagreement in how drug addiction is viewed and treated: either as an illness that needs medical treatment or a selfish indulgence in an illegal product that needs to be caught and criminalized.

Thus, the chasm over the state being involved in providing a safe place for illegal drugs to be used under medical supervision.

The bill’s preamble lays out both sides, including this graphic reference: “Whereas the money that is used to purchase controlled substances that are obtained from illicit sources often originates from criminal activity such as theft, and that money, in turn, often funds organized crime in our communities …”

Wright also believes the act is in direct opposition to the spirit of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, which held that Insite, a North American first, was providing a health benefit and could be legitimately exempted from federal drug laws.

“The experiment has proven successful. Insite has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area. It is supported by the Vancouver police, the city and provincial governments,” reads a portion of the ruling.

Like other advocates, Wright is realistic. She does not believe the federal opposition will clear until there is a change in government.

“(We) are all holding our breath for the election.”

The local campaign believes there may be as many as 5,000 intravenous drug users in Ottawa. Supervised sites not only reduce the number of fatal overdoses, but the provision of clean needles and counselling reduces the spread of diseases such as hepatitis and HIV, thus saving the health-care system.

A university study released in 2014 estimated it would cost $4 million to operate two safe-injection clinics in Ottawa, but this would result in annual savings of $5 million by avoiding nine HIV and 88 Hep-C infections.

It will probably never happen. The feds clearly hate the idea and the local movement lacks a champion with any heft. Seriously, who is going to fund and run the clinic?

We’re busy, meanwhile, trying to put beer and wine in grocery stores and turning marijuana into medicine for the masses.

Politics and poisons: not a healthy mix.

By Kelly Egan
Source: Ottawa Citizen