Main navigation english

Canadian Public Health Association

CPHA supports the Supreme Court of British Columbia's ruling

CPHA commends and supports the Supreme Court of British Columbia's ruling granting Insite, Canada's first supervised injection facility (SIF), a constitutional exemption from the application of sub-section 4(1) and 5(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).  Although this landmark ruling is specific to one geographic location, its implications are of national significance.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling reinforces the argument that illicit drug use and addiction are issues of health and not criminal justice. The ruling also emphasizes society's responsibility to protect the health of all Canadians. The ruling acknowledged that the scientific evidence supported three incontrovertible conclusions:

  1. Addiction is an illness.
  2. Controlled substances such as heroin and cocaine do not cause infectious diseases.  Rather, it is the unsanitary equipment, techniques and unsafe procedures that lead to infection and transmission of disease from one individual to another and into the community.
  3. The risk of morbidity and mortality associated with addiction and injections is lessened in the presence of qualified health professionals.

Two of the principles within Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms upon which the judgement is based (risk to life and risk to security of the person) are fundamental to public health.

CPHA acknowledges the Government of Canada's concern for this issue as demonstrated by the establishment of the Expert Advisory Committee (EAC) on Supervised Injection Site Research. The EAC's final report concluded that SIFs users are more likely to seek counselling, detoxification and treatment; that Insite demonstrated a reduction in crime rates in the surrounding area; and that SIFs aided in the prevention of infectious diseases, namely HCV and HIV.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling and the EAC's Final Report as well as the wealth of scientific evidence accumulated on Insite should be taken into consideration when making the decision about extending the federal exemption beyond June 30, 2008. Both expressed a commitment to an understanding about the determinants of addiction and the urgency of putting into place and nurturing a supportive environment for a continuum of service (prevention, care, support and treatment) of which a harm reduction approach is a key element.

The goal is to keep drug users alive and reduce harm and risk to life, to contain the communicable disease epidemics and associated risks to the community, to treat addiction where possible, and to stop others from being infected and affected.