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InSite supervised injection site here to stay; other cities may now open their own

September 30th, 2011 · 26 Comments

Just had to mark this important day, when the Supreme Court ruled that Vancouver’s supervised-injection site will stay open and the federal government should be prepared to issue permits in other cities. (Stories here, here and here, from across the land.)

What a long road it’s been for those fighting for this. (And those fighting against it.)

This was the biggest story I covered for years in the early 2000s. It started when Mayor Philip Owen’s office started planning a new kind of policy to deal with drug addiction in the Downtown Eastside, in the late 1990s. It continued when I travelled to Frankfurt with a group of Canadian researchers and medical types to look at the supervised-injection sites there, spent hours visiting with people at the illegal injection site that operated temporarily, and was the first reporter into the legal one when it opened in September 2003.

It’s a testament to what it takes to accomplish something like this: Unswerving advocates who made it their priority for over a decade. Political administrations that backed in through subsequent electoral upheavals, starting with Mayor Philip Owen, who didn’t start out advocating for injection sites but ended up being a diehard supporter.

People with the political savvy to get police, the province, medical health officers, and more onside. Hours of meetings. Rallies and demonstrations and political actions to mobilize people along the way as the Conservative government emitted negative noises about it. And a public that, locally at least, continued to support it in opinion poll after opinion poll.

It’s actually exhausting to think of the effort that went into this. Some would say much of that was a tragic waste, that people shouldn’t have had to fight so hard to preserve InSite. Their energy could have gone into more useful projects. So could the money that went to federal-government lawyers.

In the end, though, it’s resulted in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that makes the project invincible and paves the way for those who feel they need a site in their cities. And, I’d argue, it did the job that good debates do — drew people into the public discussion and ensured that a new piece of public policy had been soundly tested and withstood everything that was thrown at it.

It’s an emotional day for me to watch this conclusion. I am in awe of the people who were so dedicated to their causes.

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