Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The question of charter rights

Does anyone know the outcome of this court action? It presents an interesting question

Addicts, operator of BC safe-injection site go to court to keep facility open
918 words
17 August 2007
The Canadian Press
(c) 2007 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

VANCOUVER (CP) _ Two drug addicts and a group that runs Canada's only safe-injection site have launched court action, saying any effort by the federal government to close the place would violate addicts' Charter rights.

Shelly Tomic and Dean Wilson, along with the Portland Hotel Society which helps operate the facility, filed a statement of claim in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday.

They want the court to declare the operation of Insite, as the facility is known, the exclusive jurisdication of the province and that the federal government shouldn't play any role in its future.

Closing it would be a violation of Tomic's and Wilson's right to ``security of the person,'' the court documents say.

Insite opened four years ago as a pilot project in the Downtown Eastside for IV drug users to inject their own heroin and cocaine with clean needles under the supervision of a nurse.
Addicts who get their fix at the site -- instead of in back alleys and the area's single-room hotels -- can also access referrals to detox and rehabilitation services.

But the future of Insite is currently in Ottawa's hands because in order for the facility to operate, it needs the federal government to grant it an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The exemption is set to expire Dec. 31 and federal Health Minister Tony Clement has been noncommital about whether it will be renewed.

``Should Insite close due to the revocation of the exemption. . . Wilson, Tomic and other users will face risk of death or serious harm to their physical and mental health,'' the court documents say.

``In particular, Wilson and Tomic will face increased risks of overdose, infection, decline in their mental and psychological well-being and other health-related complications from drug use.''
The documents go on to say the services provided at Insite are health-care matters and are therefore ``within the exclusive jurisdiction of the province of British Columbia.''

Mark Townsend, director of the Portland Hotel Society, said the ongoing uncertainty is no way to operate a health service for vulnerable people.

``It's not even funded by the federal government, it's 100-per-cent funded by the province, yet they get to give us an extension here and there to create this endless kind of worry,'' Townsend said.

``We'd rather not be in court on this issue but what we really need is just to get the clarification that, really, this is about health care,'' he said.

The site, known as Insite, is the only facility of its kind in North America.

Tomic, a 39-year-old addict with a long history of addiction issues, said she got involved in the legal action because she's seen its positive effects first-hand

``A lot of people will end up dying if they shut it down because with the fear of the police picking them up, they start (injecting) too much just to get it in them before they're caught,'' said Tomic, who was one of the first to use the facility.

Tomic said she's been taking methadone for about 10 months as part of her treatment to withdraw from heroin. And despite staying clean so far, she said she still visits Insite to talk to the staff on days when she feels like relapsing.

Dean Wilson, the other addict named in the statement of claim, credited Insite for keeping him and his two sons alive.

``This is gold-standard medicine,'' Wilson said. ``Addiction is a health issue.

``This is a life-saving measure down here. It may not be a life-saving measure in (Toronto's) Rosedale or Mount Royal in Montreal but in the Downtown Eastside, it is a life-saving measure.''
The court documents note Wilson has been addicted to herion for about 38 years, contracted hepatitis C in 1969 and has had several close calls with overdoses.

The suit says before Tomic and Wilson began getting treatment for their addictions, they stopped in at Insite to inject about six times a day for Tomic and 15 times a day for Wilson.
Dr. Evan Wood, an epidemiologist at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said 24 studies have pointed to Insite's benefits.

Since 2003, research published in top journals has stated the site reduces public injections, overdose fatalities and the transmission of blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis C, Wood said, adding crime hasn't increased in the area despite initial fears by some in the community.

``From a scientific perspective, I believe this is a health issue,'' Wood said, adding he agrees with the court action.

``(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper has failed to show any leadership on this issue and the fact that it's going to the courts now is not surprising,'' he said.

``If the facility closes and somebody contracts HIV or dies of an overdose and has a compelling argument that this wouldn't have happened to them had the federal government not removed this service, then I think that raises legal issues as well.''

Monique Pongracic-Speier, one of three lawyers working on the case for free, said her clients are merely asserting their constitutional rights regarding the use of a facility that's helped them stay alive.

``After all, Insite is about saving lives. That's the bottom line.''

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