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.
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 facebook.com/citycaucus. This column was first published in 24 Hours Vancouver on Thursday, Oct 5th, 2011.