CMA 'deeply concerned' about tighter rules for safe injection sites
Published Thursday, June 6, 2013 10:38AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 6, 2013 6:51PM EDT
The Canadian Medical Association says it’s “deeply concerned” about new legislation proposed by the Conservative government that aims to tighten rules around the establishment of safe injection sites.
The CMA responded to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announcement on Thursday of the Respect for Communities Act, which will require applicants of drug injection sites to consult with the community, provincial and municipal authorities and law enforcement officials, before setting up new facilities.
Applicants will also be required to provide documentation showing how the site might impact crime rates in the area, as well as a public health rationale for establishing a new safe injection site.
"In a preliminary assessment based on initial review of the bill, the CMA is deeply concerned that the proposed legislation may be creating unnecessary obstacles and burdens that could ultimately deter creation of more injection sites," the CMA said in a statement.
The association said “overwhelming clinical evidence” shows safe injection sites save lives, and said the facilities should be included in a national drug strategy.
"The CMA's position is founded upon clinical evidence. Bill C-65, it would appear, is founded upon ideology that seeks to hinder initiatives to mitigate the very real challenges and great personal harm caused by drug abuse," it said.
However, Aglukkaq said that the impact of an injection site on a community is an important factor that must be considered as part of the application process.
“You have to factor…the impact this would have on a community. Not just so much on a person’s health, but broader than that,” Aglukkaq told Power Play on Thursday.
“If one is going to be in your neighbourhood, certainly you would want a say in that,” she said.
Asked if the new legislation would effectively prevent any new injection sites from opening, Aglukkaq said the application process needed to be changed to create opportunities for local voices to be heard.
“I won’t pass judgement on the individual that requires this product, but what I can say is prevention is very important,” she said. “How do we ensure that Canadians don’t get addicted in the first place?”
In a landmark 2011 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered that Ottawa to abandon its attempts to close Vancouver’s Insite clinic -- the country’s first safe injection site that opened in 2003. As many as 800 users visit Insite each day.
While the Conservatives have long opposed Insite, the clinic has been able to continue operating through exemptions from federal drug laws.
Under the new legislation, Insite will be required to meet the new requirements if it wants to continue to operate. It will also have to show how it has affected local crime rates and individual and public health.
Insite supporters say it has helped reduce fatal overdoses, curb the spread of disease and has helped addicts connect with treatment centres and social services.
Vancouver is currently the only city in Canada that has supervised drug injection facilities: Insite and the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation. At both clinics drug addicts are supplied with clean needles and a safe place to inject drugs. They are also referred to counselling services, social services and treatment centres.
In the 2011 Supreme Court ruling, the court felt convinced that the Insite was saving lives without increasing crime. Since the ruling, advocates in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal expressed an interest in establishing local safe drug injection clinics.
Advocate calls bill 'irresponsible'
Advocates for safe injection sites say the new legislation creates more obstacles and will ultimately deter health agencies from applying.
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network executive director Richard Elliott told CTV News Channel that the bill creates more barriers for those seeking to open more facilities.
“I think the bill is an entirely ill-advised and irresponsible way to go about this,” he said, adding there is now “ample” evidence showing safe injection sites provide an important public health service.
Elliott said the legislation is being introduced at a time when a number of local health agencies are preparing applications to open safe injection sites.
“I think the government is basically trying to raise a number of hurdles … before those applications land on the health minister’s desk,” he said.
Elliott said the government should be looking at ways to bring safe injection sites to the communities that need them, rather than obstructing them.
In the statement released by the Conservative government, Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatakis said that it is important for the views of front-line law enforcement to be taken into account when establishing drug injection sites.
“While treating drug addiction is an important goal, my experience in Vancouver is that these sites also lead to an increase in criminal behaviour and disorder in the surrounding community and have a significant impact on police resources, and that’s why it will be vital for the views of local police to be taken into account,” he said.