Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Vancouver’s safe injection site can operate indefinitely

with 10 comments

Vancouver Sun

Supreme Court Judge Ian Pitfield has ruled that Vancouver’s supervised-injection site can operate indefinitely and that it is not bound by Canada’s narcotics laws.

This is an important victory. However, just because it can does not mean it will. That is because it has to secure adequate funding, and that is the issue over which we can expect the political games to continue.

The judge also makes it clear that Insite is part of the health care of drug addicts, and that clearly if people are going to inject it is better that they do it in a safe environment than an unsafe one. You would have thought that such a common sense approach need not require a major court case to be established, but that is the result of both politicians and police officers weighing in on issues that they have pre-judged, and who prefer to either ignore evidence that does not support them or carefully distort it. Insite has been the subject of far more uncertainty and spin than any other service I can recall. Though no doubt some moral dogmatists will also object to the service that provides sandwiches to the street prostitutes.

No-one has ever suggested that Insite was of itself the solution to a multifaceted problem – or even that “harm reduction” can stand alone. In fact all the advocacy that I have seen has been about living up to our commitments to a four legged stool – or whatever that homely metaphor was. But Mr Harper is much keener on the condemnation of sin (and punishment of the wicked) than he is on helping the sinners. I do not share his faith – or indeed any – but I cannot help but think he seems to have got the essential bit of the message twisted around.

Am I being overly optimistic in hoping that another judgment will also remove all the vagary around medical marijuana?

Written by Stephen Rees

May 27, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Posted in politics

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10 Responses

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  1. I think Mr. Harper is more coloured by his desire to be seen with an approving eye by the USA than anything. What Mr. Harper may not realize is that the tide is changing in the US as well. With record prison populations and little reduction in crime to show for it, Americans are slowly realizing that tossing people in jail for social problems and tossing out the keys is not the answer.

    Ideally, marijuana would be legalized and taxed handsomely just as the other legalized drugs of tobacco and alcohol are. THC content can be regulated just as alcohol content is….and yes, do add all the gruesome warning labels we find on the cigarette packs too. This then decriminalizes what is really should be considered a benign activity in the eyes of the law and would take a lot of money away from organized crime.

    That just leaves us with the real problem drugs to deal with. Users who have their lives consumed by these drugs need to be treated the way any sick person is treated…with medical help. Its a health issue, not a criminal issue. Police should devote their resources to the criminal king pins who bring the stuff into the country or manufacture it to begin with. If the law is to be heavy handed, that is where it should be….with every last dime these people make forfeited and used to help fund treatment programs for the end users.

    Is such a strategy really that hard? Yes, it will make the Americans curse and scream and demand the borders be sealed….but I’d bet at the end of the day it is all bluster and maybe, just maybe they’ll be keeping an eye on us to see if this more enlightened approach may actually work.

    John

    May 27, 2008 at 4:55 pm

  2. While I think that the prohibition on that church providing the homeless with sandwiches was a sad spectacle, I’m sorry Stephen but I can never agree that Insite is a good idea.

    It implicitly condones the use of drugs that ruin people’s lives. While I don’t give a sh*t what the criminal code says about drug use, I can see with my own eyes what hard drugs do to these people. Allowing them to continue it through a government-sanctioned facility is madness, and will only lead to continued addiction.

    Asian countries with harsh laws and punishments for drug use and possession are far ahead of us on this.

    “You give an inch, they take a mile. This is the nature of the user.”

    Corey

    May 27, 2008 at 6:29 pm

  3. I could go both ways on insite mr.REES

    Point #1—If insite is to operate then they must supply the dope and drugs to the addicts.

    Item # 2—Here`s a scenario that happens everyday at insite.—-Good morning mr. SMITH .your table is ready, Oh I see you got the good stuff today and a healthy supply,it must have been a good night of looting and pillaging!

    14000 needles were found in eastside alleys several weeks ago during a community clean up drive.

    The majority of addicts ( they need real de-tox answeres) who attend INSITE are if females ,they work the street and prostitute (a soft crime)
    The majority of males who attend INSITE either –DEAL DRUGS–RIP OFF STUFF AND PAWN–ROB BANKS–PURSE SNATCH ETC ETC.

    Now its a crime to smoke cigarettes in or near a doorway!

    Heres my main point,just in case you haven`t noticed we have a gang problem,bodies showing up left and right!—–Why is this gang problem so bad?–Because we allow thousands and thousands of drug addicts to loot and pillage everyday and night.

    Clean up the drug addicts–First with de-tox–Second with work details–Thirdly with housing and support.

    If anyone can`t see that a large population of theiving drug addicts are the main reason we have large criminal gang presence. Its merely a supply and demand problem,get rid of the demand and the supply will dry up!

    As a final note when GORDON CAMPBELL got elected in 2001 —One of the first things he did was close down over 500 corrections units–He also closed court house (burnaby and others) I know some burnaby officers and they told me that their orders were to not arrest any minor criminals,the reason the cost–no where to send them-back logged courts,vancouver police could no longer charge addicts with possesion,in fact they can longer charge dealers! Because of insite, WHERE DOES INSITE THINK THE ADDICTS ARE GOING TO GET THEIR DOPE FROM!———

    That bring me back to my first point–SUPPLY THE DOPE TO INSITERS-OR CLOSE IT DOWN!————————–signed…………………….A lowly afghan poppy farmer

    grant g

    May 27, 2008 at 7:14 pm

  4. de-tox, work details, and housing. Even then we’d be going easy on them in comparison with many other asian countries.

    That would be a good start though.

    Corey

    May 27, 2008 at 7:30 pm

  5. There are a lot of drugs. Some are legal, some are not. In terms of the damage they do to the people who use them – and their families – there is not much to choose between them. Alcohol and tobacco are both deadly. The state collects massive amounts of taxation from both, and spends only small amounts of that on “harm reduction”. Prohibition did not work in the case of alcohol and was ended in a relatively short period of time.

    If the answers to the multiple and interwoven problems of drug abuse, mental illness, crime and human degradation were as easy as some of these comments suggest, why do we still have problems?

    We have shown that we are incapable of interdicting effectively the traffic in narcotics. I think part of that may be due to the pointless pursuit of drugs which are not actually dangerous or addictive – the cannaboids. That is not to say they are harmless – but then neither is caffeine. Insite means that some people get to avoid some of the potential dangers of injections. No, it is by no means an adequate or even a good idea, but it seems to be a step in the right direction. Some people who use Insite have asked for help to deal with their problems, just because there are people there who can actually help. Unlike the streets and back alleys.

    It is a bit like legalised abortions. I don’t like the idea, but it is a lot better than any of the alternatives.

    And why would anyone think that punishment is an appropriate response for people who are ill? Punishment does not work as a deterrent for crime – and the states that have the harshest regimes seem also to have higher crime rates. There are reasons why some people turn to drugs as there are for them to to turn to crime. And prisons – or hanging and flogging – make no difference to those reasons. And we seem to have done a really good job of separating ourselves from those afflicted with addictive personalities – even exploiting them by opening ever grander, state sanctioned casinos – as well as those who fall victim to the “try the first one free” scam that has been around for centuries.

    I think we need to start thinking outside the conventional responses, as those clearly have not and are not working. Insite does not do very much, but it does reduce some harm, and has got some people out of the downward spiral. Not much else that has been tried can claim that much.

    Stephen Rees

    May 27, 2008 at 7:54 pm

  6. You have an excellent point in there Stephen. Many (asian mainly but also others) countries with extremely strict enforcement regimes for drugs also have very low rates of addiction and abuse, and not only because of the threat of heavy punishment. But they have another thing working in their favour: a very intact society still centred around traditional values with relatively few (compared to us) broken families. In my view our version of this traditional society is now comparatively much weaker.

    We should be looking closely at the causes of addicts’ problems rather than the right treatment. What has changed in our society to make it susceptible to such rampant drug use?

    However I still don’t believe that we should condone hard drug use as a legitimate treatment for their hurt.

    Corey

    May 27, 2008 at 8:52 pm

  7. In Vancouver, we are ostensibly operating under the four pillars approach: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. Insite is pretty much mostly harm reduction with referrals to treatment programs. The real problem is that we are not spending nearly enough resources on prevention and treatment.

    http://vancouver.ca/fourpillars/index.htm

    Sungsu

    May 27, 2008 at 10:41 pm

  8. Sungsu makes a very important point. There is a treatment facility connected to Insite, but it is hardly adequate. This is the pillar that needs much greater emphasis by officials.

    At least Insite gets a significant proportion of addicts inside to a supervised environment away from the dealers, and from injecting puddle water from the alleys. Further, it has saved many, many lives from overdoses, has measureably slowed the spread of AIDS, and has led many addicts into albeit limted treatment.

    Addicts are not just spectors buzzing around the DTES; they are sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, mothers and fathers. What I like about the program is not just its oft-ignored scientificly-proven benefits, but the fact it is not judgmental and punishment oriented.

    Corey, since when has our demographis maintained a “traditional” form? The patriarchal nuclear family structure went out with Leave It To Beaver. Over half of adults in all age groups are today single, unlike the 50s and early 60s. Extended families with non-relations have as much or more importance to many individuals as their immediate family.

    Moreover, when conservatiive evangelicals portray single-parent families as “broken”, this does not reflect the reality that many people leave relationships that were previously broken or dysfunctional to begin with, and care not to falsely maintain outward appearances of being “traditional” while also being dysfunctional. In fact, many single-parent families are more loving and caring and stress-free once an abusive partner was dumped.

    Alcoholism has arguably done far more damage to our society than hard drugs ever will, yet that has not generated anywhere near the level of vociferous calls for boot camp treatment programs and homilies about “tranditional values”.

    Meredith

    May 28, 2008 at 11:49 am

  9. A LOT OF SOFT TOUCHES IN THIS TOWN!

    One thing I do know is that if you live in a circus the odds are you are goona be a circus performer!

    Withdraw pains are painful ,people have to be isolated from drugs and dried out- thats step 1
    Step 2 –keep people away from the drugs for at least 6 months,a little supervised work and or work training would be helpful!

    Step 3–Now you have someone you can work with, supply decent housing ,support,a job,counsilling —-If you do all those things you have a chance!—-But if you do what some enablers suggest it will never end! ——You certainly cannot give them a room in a run down SRO,a meager cheque and a good luck kiss—The eastside circus must end!

    90% plus of these addicts will not ask for help or even think they need help, but sure as god made little green apples if you dry these addicts out and put them on the road to recovery,they will thank you over and over again.

    TOUGH LOVE –it won`t be cheap but its better than just suppling popcorn and peanuts to the circus performers!————————-signed……………………………………………..BARNUM AND BAILEY

    grant g

    May 28, 2008 at 3:29 pm

  10. No, I’m saying that our society’s families haven’t maintained their traditional form, and by traditional form I mean an extended family (of the type found all over Asia) with various levels of support from not just parents, but also grandparents and other family members. These truly traditional family structures are arguably much better than the nuclear family or its disintegrated descendant that we have now when it comes to raising healthy members of society.

    The “Leave it to Beaver” family was, in my opinion, just the start of a very long fall for the structure of our families, with deep and long lasting impacts for our society.

    Corey

    May 28, 2008 at 3:45 pm


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