For over a quarter of a century, interveners like myself have walked the lengths of the streets they serve in order to exchange, with addicts, dirty needles for clean drug paraphernalia.
It’s all part of a strategy of reducing negative outcomes, both for the user as well as for society in general. Just think, for example, of the sexually transmitted and blood-borne diseases (hepatitis C and HIV) that users carry, and pass on to other users, as well as the public at large.
The two places where Health Canada has now chosen to open supervised injection sites (SIS) are in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and the Downtown sector. These places weren’t chosen at random. The Cactus and Dopamine organizations who operate these sites are pioneers in this type of intervention.
And we won’t be sending people to a new neighborhood to shoot up. These sites are in the places where addicts already go.
In 2003, Vancouver opened the first SIS in North America: Insite. The interveners who supported the project fought hard for this. And they’ve had to carry on the struggle since to keep it open.
In 2008 Stephen Harper’s government tried to close Insite. This, despite opposition from the B.C. government, their health minister, the city of Vancouver and the Vancouver police. A court battle lasted three years, going all the way to the B.C. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Canada. Harper’s effort failed, and the site remained open.
In 2011, this judicial saga forced Quebec’s health minister, Yves Bolduc, and Premier Jean Charest to step back from their plans. Only in 2017, 6 years after Harper’s lawyers had lost in court, did Philippe Couillard’s Quebec government to finally authorize the opening of three SIS in the province.
A victory for common sense.