By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)—REAL Women of Canada has been granted leave to intervene before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Vancouver drug injection site case to be argued May 11.
The pro-family, pro-life women’s organization is the only group among nine interveners that will argue on behalf of the federal government’s position that Ottawa has the responsibility to control illegal drugs and that those laws should have a moral basis.
REAL Women’s national vice president Gwen Landolt said the offer of so-called “safe” injection sites for addicts who desperately need treatment to get them off drugs “are assisting in the suicide of drug addicts.” She warned the push for drug injection sites like “Insite” in Vancouver is part of an overall strategy to decriminalize drug use. Removing criminal penalties sends a message to society that addictive drug use is socially acceptable, she said.
British Columbia has argued the drug injection site provides health care to addicts and is thus a health issue under provincial jurisdiction.
Landolt disagrees the site provides health care. The present federal drug laws and the use of “drug courts” to force addicts arrested on possession charges to choose between treatment or a criminal charge are the only ways to help addicts, Landolt said. “Treatment is the only way addicts can get out of the horror of being an addict.”
The province has the support of groups such as the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which is also among the nine groups granted intervener status.
"The CMA strongly supports the inclusion of harm reduction tools in a comprehensive national drug strategy," said CMA president Dr. Jeff Turnbull last October when announcing the CMA was seeking to intervene in the case. “The management of a substance-addicted person through a harm reduction strategy such as Insite is a medical decision involving clinical autonomy and not an issue subject to government intrusion."
Supporters of Insite argue the site protects addicts from dying from drug overdoses or contracting HIV/AIDs or hepatitis through the sharing of contaminated syringes.
But for Landolt, so-called “safe” injection site provides no way out for the addict, whose condition gets “worse and worse until they die.”
Drug use is not, as harm reduction advocates argue, a “victimless crime,” she said. Drug addiction not only harms addicts, it harms their families and communities. The approach of harm reduction deepens drug use and offers no hope to addicts. Vancouver’s Downtown East side neighborhood, where the Insite supervised drug injection facility is located is littered with needles, and sees no reduction in crime, prostitution or drug trafficking, she said.
The addicts still need to bring their illegally obtained product to the site to inject under supervision. It costs $3 million in taxpayer’s dollars to run the site, plus the additional cost of 65 Vancouver police officers to patrol the five blocks around the site, she said. That money should be directed to treatment for addicts, she said.
Another problem with the site is that a police officer, who sees an addict going into the site, cannot lay a charge of possession, Landolt said. That undermines the principle of equality before the law. Police officers are required to escort addicts into the site. This gives the impression that the addict as the right to do drugs and sends a terrible message to adolescents that drug-taking is socially acceptable, she said.
The site has also not stopped the rising death toll from drug use, she added, noting there were 40 drug deaths in 2009 in Vancouver and the level goes up every year.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has said the case raises questions about the division of powers between the federal and the provincial governments and inter-jurisdictional immunity.