The supervised injection site, the only one of its kind in North America but one of about 90 around the world, has been a target of the federal Conservative government since it came to power in 2006. In 2008, then federal health minister Tony Clement called Insite, “a failure of public policy, indeed of ethical judgment.” Since then a succession of ministers including current Health Minister Rona Ambrose have been consistent in their opposition, saying it diverts finances from treatment, legitimizes illegal drug use, encourages others to inject drugs, is a magnet for crime and threatens neighbourhoods.
While Insite as the full backing of the city of Vancouver, its police department, public health officials and the B.C. government, the constant federal attacks resulted in the facility becoming one of the most studied health initiatives in Canadian history. More than 40 peer reviewed studies have been published in Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal among others, concluding that the facility, and other harm reduction strategies like free needle exchanges, have slashed HIV infections and overdose death rates, have increased the number of people seeking treatment without contributing to an increase in crime, notes Kerr, one of the lead researchers.
The federal government’s determination to close Insite by refusing to renew its exemption from existing drug laws, was fought all of the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, only to lose in 2011 in a unanimous decision. The high court’s conclusion in ordering the federal government to allow the continued operation of the facility: “Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada.”