By Jessica Murphy

An acclaimed Canadian HIV/Aids treatment centre has been given the green light to operate a supervised drug injection site by Canada’s federal government, becoming the second such approved site in North America.

Health Canada announced Friday it was granting Vancouver’s Dr Peter Aids Foundation, which operates the Dr Peter Centre, a two-year exemption from federal drug laws. That exemption prevents clients and staff from being criminally prosecuted under those laws for activities related to the service.

“International and Canadian evidence shows that, when properly established and managed, supervised consumption sites have the potential to save lives and improve health without increasing drug use and crime in the surrounding area,” the health agency said in a statement.

The authorization of the new facility by the Liberals, who won the country’s federal election in October, marks a significant shift in policy from the previous Conservative government.

The Conservatives, who had a tough-on-crime agenda, spent years trying to shutter Insite, the country’s first dedicated supervised injection facility.

Insite opened in 2003 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to help address an epidemic of HIV and hepatitis C related to crisis levels of intravenous drug use in the neighbourhood.

The Conservatives eventually lost their bid to close Insite when Canada’s supreme court ruled that closing the facility would violate Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms by preventing drug users access to health services.

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