UN body urges Ottawa to close safe injection site
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, March 7, 2008 10:33AM EST
VICTORIA - A United Nations monitoring body wants the Canadian government to close Vancouver's safe injection site and end the distribution of safe crack kits in Toronto, Ottawa and on Vancouver Island.
But while the International Narcotics Control Board is critical of Canadian drug policies in its annual report, proponents of Canada's harm-reduction approach said Thursday the board's policies are irrelevant.
Sen. Larry Campbell, a former mayor of Vancouver and supporter of the city's safe injection sites, said the UN monitoring body is picking on Canada because it borders the United States, but has a more Liberal approach to drugs.
"This organization quite frankly are simply stooges for a failed U.S. war on drugs,'' he said.
In an annual report released this week, the UN monitoring board said the distribution of crack kits in some Canadian jurisdictions contravened part of the UN's Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs.
"The distribution of drug paraphernalia, including crack pipes, to drug users in Ottawa and Toronto, as well as the presence of drug injection sites is also in violation of the international drug control treaties, to which Canada is a party,'' the report said.
The disposable crack pipe mouth pieces have been provided to addicts in some parts of Canada to avoid passing on blood-borne diseases.
Federal Health Minister Tony Clement said the government's policies on crack pipes and Vancouver's safe injection site are currently under review.
"The International Narcotics Control Board has gone on record, as it has done in the past, with the message calling upon the government of Canada to end programs such as the safer crack kits,'' Clement said.
"We are in a period of review and certainly this is additional information that we will have regard for when a decision is rendered.''
Vancouver's safe-injection site, called Insite, allows addicts to inject their own heroin and cocaine under the supervision of a nurse.
Studies in top medical journals such as the Lancet have suggested the only facility of its kind in North America has reduced overdoses and blood-borne infections such as HIV because addicts are given clean needles.
But after opening almost five years ago, Insite's fate remains uncertain because it's currently operating under an exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act while the government decides whether it should stay open.
Campbell said he will not allow the safe injection site to close.
"I will stand at the doorway if necessary when they try to close it,'' he said. "What are they going to charge me with? I'm not supplying drugs. I'm supplying health.''
Thomas Kerr, a research scientist at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS, said he hopes Canada won't base its decision on the narcotics board's report because the treaties it cites are irrelevant and were formed long before HIV and AIDS existed.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the federal Conservative government uses it as an excuse to try and continue to stop harm reduction interventions from operating and to further justify its completely non-evidenced anti-drug strategy approach,'' Kerr said.
He said the board never divulges that the international treaties allow signatory countries to deviate from some of the drug-controlled provisions for scientific and medical purposes, which allowed Canada to create the exemption for Insite.
The board's position on Canada also contradicts the opinion of United Nations lawyers who have said safe injection sites don't violate international treaties, Kerr said.
"The INCB never released that, they never acknowledge it and their position is totally disingenuous.''
Kerr said it's also interesting that while the board is urging Canada to close Insite they don't mention several other countries, such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany, with similar facilities "because these countries have been ignoring the INCB forever.''
Richard Pearshouse, of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, echoed Kerr's sentiments, saying the board's criticisms of Canada are out of step with common sense.
"The INCB report is driven more by ideology and a war on drugs ideology than the research and the scientific evidence that supports these as a public health intervention.''