Controversial injection site exempt from drug laws: SCC

Canada’s top court has ruled that Vancouver’s supervised injection site for drug addicts should be exempt from federal drug laws.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal in Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society and ordered the minister of health to grant an immediate exemption to the safe injection facility.

Insite has been in operation since 2003, offering a supervised environment for drug users without the fear of prosecution. In 2008, the federal government refused to extend Insite’s exemption from criminal laws outlined in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The SCC ruled that the minister of health’s refusal to extend the exemption was in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Joseph Arvay, who represented PHS Community Services Society, expects the ruling will pave the way for other supervised injection sites in Canada.

“In so far as there is a similar need in other parts of Canada and in so far as the supervised injection sites are going to be operated in the same excellent way that Insite has been operated, there’s no reason for the government to deny an exemption,” he tells Legal Feeds.

In the decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote: “The notion of a supervised injection facility, although politically contentious in North America, has precedent elsewhere. Supervised injection sites have been used with success to address health issues associated with injection drug use in other parts of the world. . . .These sites are evidence that health authorities are increasingly recognizing that health care for injection drug users cannot amount to a stark choice between abstinence and forgoing health services.”

The Attorney General of Canada was hoping that the top court would overturn the British Columbia Court of Appeal’s ruling on the case, which upheld the trial judge’s decision that Insite should be exempt from federal drug laws.

Most importantly, says Arvay, the ruling means that lives will be saved.

McLachlin agreed. “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernable negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation,” she wrote.

“The effect of denying the services of Insite to the population it serves is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.”

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