This week, the Harper government showed Canadians they’re serious about “respecting communities,” but not quite as serious about respecting the health of every Canadian living in those neighbourhoods.
Earlier this week, the House of Commons passed Bill C-2, known as the Respect for Communities Act, a piece of legislation that will add more red tape and bureaucratic hurdles to the implementation of new supervised injection clinics in Canada. Putting these restrictions in place, and the Conservative Party’s continued opposition to these clinics, flies in the face of numerous studies and research supporting its existence.
Unfortunately, this bill is just another example of the Harper Government ignoring scientific research and prioritizing its traditional values and ideology over the health and well-being of Canadians.
InSite, a safe injection site already operating in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, has been an easy target for its critics. After all, a safe injection clinic provides a space for drug use and clean needles, but also for addiction treatment, mental health counselling and immediate first aid, if necessary. Despite the treatment available, its use is prime fodder to be twisted into an unfair narrative of state-sponsored drug enabling.
But these clinics don’t supply drug users with their fix. Rather, it gives them a safe place where overdoses and addiction can be treated right away. The availability of these clinics should expand across the country as a positive harm reduction tool for those in need. Instead, Bill C-2 puts that expansion in jeopardy.
This comes after the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in 2011 to grant InSite an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow drug possession on its premises, would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So it’s unlikely InSite itself will shut down anytime soon. But new services will need to go through the added steps of providing 27 pieces of information to the federal Minister of Health, including letters from provincial cabinet ministers and criminal background checks for everyone working at a potential clinic.
It’s still possible for new safe injection clinics to set up, but it’s now a more cumbersome and lengthy task to do so. For Canadians who could use the service to prevent an overdose from happening when they’re alone and far from any medical treatment, prolonging their prevention from using one of these sites could mean the difference between life and death.
The Harper Government is supporting this bill to continue to show Canadians it always takes a tough-on-crime stance and a strict anti-drug policy, even when that stance is also against a potentially vital health service for some citizens. The Conservative Party is looking at this issue from a public safety perspective, imagining that the implementation of this clinic will enable or normalize drug use in a community. But conservative politicians should place greater emphasis on the health benefits of these clinics. If a space like InSite needs to be implemented, it’s likely the neighbourhoods they’re situated in are already rife with drug use, just like Vancouver’s DTES.
Bill C-2 is just another unfortunate example of the Harper Government ignoring research already conducted on an issue that contradicts its conservative values. InSite has successfully saved lives, reduced needle-sharing and even, ironically, made the DTES look a bit more respectful with less needles littering the ground. Scientific evidence supports the use of InSite and safe injection clinics like it, and so does the Supreme Court and the World Health Organization. But none of this is seemingly enough to persuade the Conservative Party from their hard stance against any even marginal consent to allow drug use.
What point is there even for any sort of scientific or academic research to take place if it’s not going to be used to improve the way society is governed and the way we live? By ignoring the evidence in favour of InSite, the Conservative government tells Canadians that ideology trumps science. Until a damning, inarguable study of the ill effects of InSite on a community is published, there’s no reason to ignore its benefits and prevent its expansion.
It’s commendable and expected to have an anti-drug, tough-on-crime government in some cases. But that should never extend to a government that’s tough-on-science and anti-drug user. Many Canadian citizens are grappling with drug addictions everyday, and placing these barriers between them and care will do nothing to help them or improve communities.