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theprovince.com, February 25, 2011

Harm-reduction groups enter legal fray over safe-injection site

The Supreme Court of Canada has allowed a group of health care, civil liberties and harm-reduction agencies to intervene on behalf of Vancouver’s safe-injection site.

Among the groups granted intervener status last week were the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, Vancouver Coastal Health, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, International Harm Reduction Association, Association of Registered Nurses of B.C., Canadian Medical Association and B.C. Nurses’ Union.

Last June, Canada’s highest court agreed to hear the federal government’s appeal of a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that permitted Insite, North America’s first supervised injection site, to continue operating.

The clinic operates under exemptions that keep its staff and clients from being prosecuted for trafficking or possession of controlled substances.

The federal government has declined to grant further exemptions, and the clinic operators want to operate without exemptions.

“Peer reviewed research has documented that Insite has helped save lives and improve conditions for hundreds of people suffering the disease of addiction and has helped many of them move on to detoxification and recovery. It is a disgrace the federal government is going to court to try to outlaw this legitimate health care service,” BCNU president Debra McPherson said in a news release.

Grace Pastine, litigation director for the BCCLA, said the association has been involved at all levels of the court process.

“The community that has to live with the serious health and social consequences arising from addiction must be allowed to respond with compassionate and effective policies,” she wrote in an email. “There is a vast body of rigorous, independent research that has shown that Insite works — quite simply, it saves lives and savesmoney.”
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