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Ottawa - Injection site ruling re-ignites local debate
Government The speculation that a safe injection clinic could open in Ottawa has re-ignited the heated debate in the city about such sites. On Sept. 30, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in favour of allowing Insite, Vancouver’s safe injection clinic, to remain open indefinitely. “During its eight years of operation, Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada,” the court said in its ruling.

Dr. Mark Tyndall, chief of infectious diseases at the Ottawa Hospital, says he thinks this is a very important decision. “I expected this, but not with a unanimous vote,” he says. “Not only does this decision mean the clinic should be open, but it makes drug addiction a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.”

The day the news broke about the decision, “Supreme Court” trended on Twitter. Politicians, including federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, tweeted their excitement. However, not everyone shares the sentiment. Mayor Jim Watson spoke out against the idea the day the court made its ruling. “I do not support locating a safe injection site in Ottawa, and was very clear about this in the last election,” he said in a statement released by his office. Tyndall says he believes the mayor’s comment is “purely political, his statement is driven by his desire to protect what he has said before.”

Ottawa Police Chief Vern White has called safe injection sites “absolutely ridiculous.” Barre Campbell, of Ottawa Public Health, says the ruling on Insite will not have an effect on services offered by OPH... “OPH has no plans to establish a safe injection facility, nor have there ever been plans to establish one,” Campbell said in an interview.

Centretown Community Health Centre, which offers needle exchange and safer inhalation services, declined comment. Tyndall speculates on the hesitation for organizations to speak. “There is a lot of apprehension that if people talk about it, there will be dire political consequences,” he says. “They want the time to be right.”

But, Tyndall says, people should be much more open to discussion about such sites. “People have misconceptions about what this place is,” he says. “There are people injecting in the streets, outside in the snow. A clinic gives them a safe place to do it, at somewhere that can connect them with services.” He insists that safe injection clinics are a benefit to society. “This is not a revolutionary idea,” he says. “It’s just common sense.”

Jeffory Lucas, a certified addictions counsellor and the founder of Ottawa’s Get Real counselling, says keeping Insite open was the right decision. He adds that Ottawa should definitely have a similar clinic. “Ottawa has one of the highest rates of addiction in Canada,” he says. “The government says they don’t want to put money into these clinics, but into treatment and prevention. But the people who come to safe injection clinics are people who will never go to treatment. These are people not getting health care, they are a lost community.”

Lucas says a safe injection clinic would not encourage drug use, that they are meant solely for harm reduction. He says that safe injection sites should be opened in every urban centre. “The average individual doesn’t have compassion for these people who are addicted—but someone has to.”

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