VANCOUVER — The federal government is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada to try to shut down Vancouver’s supervised drug-injection site, but British Columbia’s health minister says Conservative politicians should get past their ideological opposition to the facility.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Tuesday in Ottawa that the Jan. 15 B.C. Appeal Court ruling affirming health care — and therefore control of the injection site — is provincial jurisdiction wasn’t unanimous, opening the door to an appeal to Canada’s highest court.
“There was a dissenting opinion in the B.C. Court of Appeal, and the government of Canada believes it is important that the Supreme Court of Canada be asked to rule on this matter,” Nicholson said.
The recent ruling said the site that allows addicts to inject their own drugs under a nurse’s supervision provides health services and that the provinces, not Ottawa, have control over health care.
“This case raises important questions regarding the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity and the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments,” Nicholson said.
He said the federal government agrees that addicts need help but believes the safe-injection site, called Insite, isn’t the right solution.
“Our national anti-drug strategy focuses on prevention and access to treatment for those with drug dependencies,” he said.
But supporters of Insite say the federal government is wasting its time and taxpayers’ money by trying to close down a facility that helps addicts.
Kevin Falcon, British Columbia’s health minister, said Ottawa’s decision to file another appeal against Insite is the wrong way to go.
“I’m disappointed because this is a program that has received very widespread independent medical journal support for the outcomes and the efforts they are making on a medical basis to treat some of the most difficult addicts you can imagine,” he said.
Falcon said he was once a skeptic of Insite and considered it a licence for addicts to use drugs but that the medical literature he read in highly regarded journals such as The Lancet persuaded him to change his mind.
He said he hopes Nicholson would also make his judgments after considering the evidence.
“I would really encourage him to read the medical journals that have independently evaluated the program and have shown, in a very comprehensive way, that it is achieving results,” said Falcon.
“As ministers of the Crown I think we ought to, as best as we can, be guided by the evidence and the facts. And I understand the ideological hesitation, no question about it. I’ve been there.”
Insite opened as a pilot project in 2003 under a federal exemption of Canada’s drug laws. Last year, the provincial government spent $2.8 million on the program.