OTTAWA — The federal government has introduced tough new rules for supervised drug injection sites, in a move some see as an effort to deter such facilities.
The government says it’s a response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that ordered the Conservatives to keep a Vancouver clinic open against their will.
But NDP health critic Libby Davies said the government is effectively blocking any chance of setting up a new clinic.
The new legislation would require advocates of new clinics to meet two dozen specific criteria before they can apply to open a new clinic. Among other things, they would have to canvass community opinion and gain the support of provincial and municipal authorities.
The health minister would then make the final decision.
As Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq tabled her bill on Thursday, she made it clear which way she will lean.
“Our government believes that a site involving the use of illicit substances should be strictly controlled to protect everyone in the community,” she told reporters.
“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 considered.”
The Conservative Party immediately followed up with a plea to party supporters to sign a petition to “keep heroin out of our backyards.”
In a note attached to the petition, Conservative Party operations director Jenni Byrne says, “special interests are trying to open up these supervised drug consumption sites in cities and towns across Canada — over the objections of local residents and law enforcement.
“We’ve had enough — that’s why I am pleased the Harper government is acting to put the safety of our communities first.”
The 2011 court ruling has kept the Vancouver InSite clinic open, but the new rules will make it more difficult for it to stay open and for supporters to open clinics in other cities.
InSite advocates say the clinic’s presence has reduced fatal overdoses and connected drug addicts with the social services they need to improve their health. But no other city has yet set up a similar injection site.
Until now, such clinics required an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to operate.
The new rules add an additional set of requirements focused on getting input from local and provincial authorities.
Applicants must include letters from provincial ministers, local government, local police forces and provincial health authorities, as well as proof of consultation with doctors, nurses and a broad range of community groups.
They will need to show they are financially sustainable. And they will have to provide scientific evidence of medical benefits that would come from setting up a safe injection site.
Applicants will also have to predict impacts on public safety and set up procedures to mitigate the risk of harm to health, safety and security.
And they must take into account other drug treatment services available.
The Vancouver facility, if it wants to stay open, would have to meet all the new requirements and show how the site has already affected neighbourhood crime rates and individual and public health.
A spokeswoman for InSite said there was no official comment on the legislation yet, but she pointed out that the facility already meets provincial requirements for public consultation and community engagement. The facility has federal permission to stay open until March 2014, when it must apply to Ottawa again.