Bill adding new safe-injection requirements receives royal assent
Registered nurse Sammy Mullally holds a tray of supplies to be used by a drug addict at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver on May 11, 2011. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, June 22, 2015 2:15PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 22, 2015 8:06PM EDT
A new law has come into effect that will force facilities wishing to open safe-injection sites to meet new requirements.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced Monday that Bill C-2, known as the Respect for Communities Act, has received royal assent.
The bill will force facilities wishing to open a safe-injection site to first meet new requirements, including consultation with community members, public health officials, local police forces, and provincial and territorial health ministers.
Applicants will also have to provide information on crime rates and public nuisances in the area surrounding the proposed site.
They will be granted an exemption from the federal government to operate only after they have fulfilled all the requirements.
"The views of concerned parents, community members, leaders and law enforcement must now be sought when groups want to allow addicts to inject dangerous and addictive street drugs in their neighbourhoods," Ambrose said Monday during a news conference.
Ambrose said the new measures outlined in the bill are in line with a 2011 Supreme Court of Canada ruling to uphold an exemption granted to Insite, a safe-injection site in Vancouver. The top court ruled against the federal government in that case.
In the decision, the Supreme Court found that Insite saved lives and provided health benefits without increasing drug use and crime in local neighbourhoods.
The top court added that the government should "generally grant an exemption" if evidence indicates that a safe-injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease in the area, and if it will have few negative public impacts.
Insite is the only supervised-injection facility in Canada. Located in the city's Downtown Eastside, it claims to have had more than two million visits since it first opened in 2003, with zero overdose deaths. The site also provides counselling, mental health support and resources to treatment and recovery programs.
Ambrose said Bill C-2 also forces facilities to prove they are offering treatment and recovery programs, in addition to safe-injection space.
Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates Insite, said Monday it is "disappointed" that Bill C-2 had become law.
"With its numerous conditions, the process outlined in the legislation is unduly onerous and will make it difficult for Vancouver Coastal Health to apply for an exemption in the future," the group said in a statement.
Vancouver Coastal Health said they received an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in March. They said next year, the process to apply for an exemption will be "extremely challenging" and involve a "significant" amount of health-care resources.
"It is our view that those health-care resources could be better spent on direct client care and addiction treatment."
VCH added the law will also make it "nearly impossible" to open new safe-injection sites.
Facilities in other cities, including Ottawa and Montreal, have expressed an interest in establishing safe-injection sites.
Earlier this month, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the city would proceed to set up a site regardless of Ottawa's opposition.
Coderre said the proposed project has already been approved by city council and the Quebec government, and local police were consulted in the process.
He added while the city will fulfill all of the legal requirements to get an exemption, Ottawa's approval should only be "a formality."
Deputy NDP Leader Libby Davies told The Canadian Press that Bill C-2 is simply a political tool to "whip up" Conservative supporters.
The Vancouver MP is a longtime advocate of safe-injection sites and says the government has passed legislation that is not based on scientific research and will create as many roadblocks as possible to block future applicants.
"The Conservatives, they did it deliberately," Davies said. "They ... consciously worked on, 'How do we make this as difficult as possible.'"
Davies added that the issue will likely be embroiled in future legal battles.
"I still think safe-consumption sites will go ahead," she said. "I think it is either going to end back up in court or a province will just go ahead anyway, in which case it may end up in court."
The Canadian Nurses Association is also against the new law, saying it contradicts the Supreme Court's ruling and will stymie the opening of new supervised-injection sites.
"Despite the evidence and the direction given by the Supreme Court, Bill C-2 seeks to impose unnecessary and excessive barriers to establishing supervised-injection facilities," the association said in its submission to the Senate legal committee.
"Bill C-2 appears to be founded on ideology rather than evidence, since it views safe-injection sites as enabling and normalizing drug use in communities rather than acknowledging them as a vital health service for vulnerable populations."
With files from The Canadian Press