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vancourier.com, May 18, 2011

Insite activist threatens ‘civil disobedience’ in Vancouver

Community forum follows Supreme Court hearings 

If the federal government seeks to permanently shutter Insite, Vancouverites can anticipate a loud and unrelenting outcry from advocates, health care professionals and drug users who support the Downtown Eastside supervised injection site.
 
A clash over the right for Insite to provide addicts with what advocates argue is a Charter-protected health service could escalate beyond sign-holding and marching.
 
“We will see civil disobedience in our community,” activist and former addict Dave Murray said Tuesday evening in response to a question at a forum on Canadian drug policy sponsored by Pivot Legal.
 
“No one wants to see it come to that,” he said. “We would just do it. That’s what will happen.”
 
Closing Insite, “will be seen as a personal affront to the city of Vancouver,” said Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users activist Dean Wilson, noting residents in this city, including Mayor Gregor Robertson and at least four former mayors, are generally in favour of harm reduction drug treatment that includes supervised injection.
 
Wilson said underground or clandestine sites will mushroom. “I’ve got the key right here in my shoe,” he deadpanned.
 
Insite has its roots in social activism. In April 2003, an injection site opened at 327 Carrall St. under the guidance of the Coalition for Harm Reduction and the supervision of Megan Oleson, who Murray described as one “very brave nurse.”
 
Hosted by Pivot on Tuesday, the discussion Health, Harm Reduction and the Law, came the week after the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments on Insite, which has operated under a federal exemption since September 2003 and falls under provincial health jurisdiction. Insite is funded and staffed by Vancouver Coastal Health. “We’ve accomplished a revolution, a rebellion—a successful one,” said Bud Osborn, a poet, activist and former director of the Vancouver/Richmond Health Board.
 
The 350-seat Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema at SFU Woodwards was filled to capacity with a crowd generally sympathetic and supportive of supervised injection at clinics such as Insite. A current of apprehension ran through the auditorium as speakers touched on the implications of a Conservative majority government’s hard-on-crime agenda.
 
Video clips screened at the meeting showed arguments delivered by Monique Pongracic-Speier, the lawyer for the Portland House Society, at the Supreme Court. She gave the forum a brief overview of the legal case and its history and received a standing ovation.
 
Maxine Davis, the executive director of the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, said the West End clinic she oversees will remain open. The centre has never applied for an exemption but opened more than a year before Insite with the consent and support of B.C.’s nursing unions and colleges. Davis said Canadian law has yet to catch up with health care standards. She expects a positive ruling, which she said “will certainly open the door to harm reduction in towns and cities across the country. It would be only fair.”
 
A decision from the Supreme Court is expected by February 2012.

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