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vancouversun.com, January 15, 2010

B.C. court rules Vancouver's Insite safe injection site can stay open

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed a federal government appeal, which means InSite, the Vancouver supervised safe-injection site that was the first of its kind in Canada, will remain open.

The federal government is expected to appeal Friday's split 2-1 ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson reacted by saying he strongly supports the ruling and the continued operation of InSite to improve the lives of drug addicts.

"With this second consecutive decision in favour of InSite, I hope the federal government will drop its legal efforts so that we can go back to focusing on InSite for what it is -- a harm reduction facility that saves lives and improves health outcomes for those living with addictions," the mayor said in a statement.

Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen also praised the ruling and predicted similar safe-injection sites will appear in other Canadian cities.

"We're going to have half a dozen of these across the country," he told a cheering crowd of Insite supporters gathered outside the Vancouver Law Courts.

"It improves public health and improves public order," said the former mayor, an original supporter of a safe-injection site for drug addicts in order to reduce overdose deaths caused by intravenous drug use and the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases.

InSite was originally allowed to operate under a temporary exemption to federal drug control laws. When the temporary exemption was due to expire, the facility went to the B.C. Supreme Court and won a permanent exemption.

Dr. Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society, called Friday's court ruling "a tremendous victory for us involved in the Downtown Eastside. It sends a very clear message to [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper and his draconian policies."

Vancouver East MP Libby Davies told the rally that federal government should not waste further time and money on an appeal.

"They need to think about common sense here," she said.

InSite opened in 2003 in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside under a temporary exemption from national drug laws.

The exemption was extended twice and was scheduled to end in 2008, but a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that InSite should remain open because it provided a needed medical service.

The federal health minister and attorney general of Canada appealed that decision.

In Friday's appeal court ruling, two judges of the three-judge panel ruled against the federal government.

The decision was greeted with applause from InSite supporters crowded in the normally staid courtroom, where Chief Justice Lance Finch read a summary of the ruling.

The court also found that "The supervision of drug injection comes within the province's powers over health under Section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and the province has exercised those powers in a number of statutes related to the operation of InSite. As a result, the provincial and federal exercises of power overlap."
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