Court ruling on Insite ends up being a hollow victory

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Vancouver's only supervised injection site remains open after court ruling

After years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court of Canada finally ruled last week that Vancouver’s supervised injection site would remain open permanently. For the countless advocates who fought in support of the facility, it was the final chapter in a long and arduous battle.

The issue of a supervised injection site first hit the headlines when former Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Mayor Philip Owen championed it during his last term in office. In addition to his support of Insite, Owen was also instrumental in developing the award-winning Four Pillars Drug Strategy. This holistic approach to drug addiction focused equally on prevention, enforcement, treatment and harm reduction.

When COPE’s Larry Campbell became the mayor in 2002, he continued to support the Four Pillars approach as enthusiastically as his predecessor. As a former coroner, Campbell spoke passionately about the need to treat drug addiction as an illness, not a crime.24hours.jpg

The NPA’s Sam Sullivan also placed drug addiction front and centre when he was elected in 2005. Not only did he support the supervised injection site, he went one step further. Sullivan began advocating for something called chronic addiction substitution treatment. The concept was to reduce crime by having addicts replace the illegal drugs they consume each day with substitute medications.

Although Insite has proven successful at reducing harm to addicts, it was never intended to solve the crime associated with illegal drug use. As a result, many of its core users continue to break into countless cars and homes each day to help fuel their addiction.

Despite the fact Vision Vancouver politicians were lukewarm to Sullivan’s substitution treatment idea, they did commit to supporting additional injection sites in Vancouver. However, Mayor Gregor Robertson is now telling the media: “The city’s not going to initiate more sites.”

Robertson’s policy reversal shouldn’t come as any surprise to the numerous harm reduction advocates in Vancouver. That’s because after having been championed by three successive mayors, the Four Pillars Strategy has not been top of mind at City Hall these days. The stark reality is that unless your issue is cloaked in a shade of “green”, it simply doesn’t capture this Mayor’s attention.

While the court decision provided a lift to Insite supporters, it may turn out to be a hollow victory. Without a mayor prepared to put drug addiction in his list of top priorities, it’s doubtful you’ll see another facility of its kind in Vancouver anytime soon.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at This column was first published in 24 Hours Vancouver on Thursday, Oct 5th, 2011.


Columns like this are one of the reasons that we have not got anywhere with addiction in this City.

Addiction CANNOT be a political issue. Nothing ever will get done that way.

It even appears that the medical system has gone into political mode.

Waffling, enabling and not having more treatment available has taken place because every politician (including the medical political system) for the last many,many years has taken the lazy route of saying 'people won't get off drugs, let's just manage them'.

A supervised injection site is such a cop out if there is no treatment available.

I know people who were on waiting lists for treatment. Off they went (back into denial)
A couple of them are dead now.

I thoroughly disagree with the gutless hand clapping over addiction treatment.

What treatment?

Chris I dont disagree but I do think it helps with the spread of disease.I heard Portland had a forced rehab thing going on and wonder what those results have been.The thing is if someone is in the middle of the street doing the monkey on drugs do they have a mental problem.If a person is in the middle of the street doing the monkey and is not on drugs what do we do.If we want to say drug addiction is a sickness should we not pick them up and put them in a safe place to protect them and society.And should the city be responsible for the cost or the province.

chris (one of many)
I agree with you..

EVERYTHING is made into a political issue - as long as there's money to be made.

Is there money to be made in war? Build a Military–industrial complex. There's money to be made in "protecting" the environment? Build an Environmental-Industrial Complex. There's money to be made in homelessness and addiction? Build a Social-Industrial Complex.

It's a process. First, you have the "issue", then the politics comes along (like a rat looking for cheese), then finally the money makes its appearance. ohhhhhh the money. :)

I repeat: ANY issue will become political. It only depends on how much gain can be gotten from it.

If it really bothers you, and you want to support a grassroots type of operation, and you want actual PROGRESS... then support operations like the ones David Berner was involved in. I doubt he would support handing out free heroin.

George when I said it helps with the spread of disease I was wrong,after thinking about my statement and looking back at personal experience I know it matters not to a junkie,their not going to wait until the clinic opens, they will do whatever it takes to get a fix.But what I do know is if they can get strait for one day and look in a mirror they will make an effort to get clean.Ive known people who have had a heroin addiction for 40yrs and gone to work every day living a very normal life but I know more people that I have had to bury.One thing I do know is the government has been sorely lacking in protecting the public and the sick.But Im torn because I really believe people should be responsible for themselves.

thank you for posting this link...

It's funny, when I responded to chris I started to answer to you as well, but I held back to think about funny you post this reply to me..I had the same thoughts...if a junkie is in the area, sure they will use the services..who wouldn' coffee, donuts,a chill room, sun deck on the roof..I have a homeless friend I often write about he was given money by PHS to buy drugs so they could film him shooting was in the Province newspaper, and was also used for their National Geographic spread..he is still homeless...and addicted..
Here is something I posted on Frances Bula's site last week..I've edited a bit to make it relative to this thread..

My brother was a junkie, he got addicted after a major car accident that broke every bone in his body 3 times….one leg ended up being pushed up into his body by 2 inches. His pain was incredible, and the drunk driver that hit him had no insurance. He became addicted to heroin to deal with the pain.
He finally had to get clean by going to a strange city by himself and going cold turkey.. he had to leave all the triggers and familiar areas that he could score, far behind…that was 35 years ago..
I personally quit a 30 year pot addiction, and trust me when you live with chronic pain(I'm missing several disks,lower lumbar region) I know you’ll do anything to kill the pain..pot is very much addictive. I was lucky Alex Tsakumis helped me get clean.
I still live with debilitating pain but I have learned to manage my pain with healthy substitutions. Meditation, exercise etc…
I’m a senior that due to my disability has no pension or money squirreled away. there are many like me.
What frustrates me is the enabling of addicts.. I don’t see the the up side of insite. The stories I hear from addicts that sometimes use insite are not good…they tell me if they use insite just so they don’t get hassled by police…or for the feebies..
I feel the money could be better spent on treatment, and as awful as it sounds I believe in forced treatment. The people I see that are beyond understanding their situations need to be helped…there isn’t rational thought process for some that are so far gone.
To be really honest, it would shock you if you knew how much of the million dollars daily being spent in the DTES is wasted…you would be appalled, that is what I meant when I made my original statement…if the money were better spent, there would be many social ills that could be taken care of.
Right now most of the money is being spent on unqualified staff paid union wages..people not trained in addiction treatment.
We are catering to the addicts by giving them fancy digs to do drugs and clean pipes to smoke crack…it just doesn’t make sense to me..
I know this sounds cold, but it appears that addicts don’t care if they live or die…I would love to see hard numbers on how many have actually gotten clean because of insite…hard numbers..they have NEVER been produced, but the win today guarantees more funding for those union wages doesn’t it..

George I watched Brener talk and there isnt much I disagree with,I hope your brother is doing ok,it always gets better.Ive Given it a lot of thought and cant really talk about this subject its just to close.Sorry

As I recall the research that suggested that INSITE was a successful approach to the user health issues assumed that injection sites would be no more than 500 metres from users. This was one reason why so few actually use INSITE - its too far from users who won't walk more than 500 metres to get their safer injection.

Operating safe injection sites no more than 500 metres from users means a LOT of sites will be needed! Vancouver will be swamped with such sites - and many more will be required for the Metro Vancouver region, and many more in BC cities, towns, villages and reserves.

No wonder Robertson doesn't want more sites! very sorry...but my story has a very happy ending, 35 years and never looked back, he met a wonderful woman and they were very happy.

This is just forcing people into a location at tax payers cost. In order to avoid punishment by law or a safe ride there.
Four Pillars, hah, Mixed Message.

Do we get "safe strip clubs" "safe sports bars" "safe tobacco smoke rooms" "safe night clubs" "safe comedy clubs"? Seems everyone has to pay sin taxes legal stuff to pay for the illegal stuff.

Why waste money on rooms of people who do not care about their health only what cops will do?

I say stop cops from using the Mental Health Act, stop some forced drugging.



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