The House of Commons passed Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act. Pretty title, but like so much Conservative legislation, the meaning of the title, like the bill, is cruelly ironic.

What the Respect for Communities Act does is effectively ban supervised injection facilities like Insite. The bill will make it much harder for Insite to stay open, and it effectively prevents a similar centre from opening in any other Canadian city.

Insite arose as a community response to epidemic-levels of HIV and Hepatitis C infections and overdose deaths in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. A decade of research shows that Insite saves lives, and those of us close to the ground understand the central role Insite plays in the tapestry of specialized healthcare the most vulnerable Canadians need.

Despite the evidence, the site has not operated without controversy. When the last federal Conservative government refused to grant an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) that would allow Insite to keep its doors open, our community took the fight to protect Insite all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. It was only through the judicial branch that this life-saving site was able to stay open.  

The 2011 Supreme Court of Canada case Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society (2011 SCC 44) established a requirement that the Minister of Health consider whether denying an exemption to the CDSA would cause deprivations of life and security of the person, and that they must aim to strike a balance between achieving public health and safety goals. The court said Insite achieved that balance,  and that people in the community who use drugs have a right to access the safe injection facility. 

Harper’s government and the Minister of Health don’t agree with what the court said. If they did, Bill C-2 would never have been introduced. This bill turns the court’s direction on its head and says except in exceptional circumstances, exemptions will never be granted. It then sets out a laundry list of extra requirements that applicants for new centres must meet before their applications are even considered. Insite, as the only existing facility operating under an exemption, now has an additional suite of information it must submit about crime data in order to have its application considered. 

What the Harper government is trying to do is wrong. It is also unconstitutional.

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