The Harper government is ignoring the evidence about Insite

Posted on June 4, 2008 in Health Debates – blogs/fullcomment – The Harper government is ignoring the evidence about Insite
Posted: June 03, 2008, 5:16 PM by Marni Soupcoff. Filed under: Liz Evans

I am trained as a nurse, not a lobbyist, so perhaps I was naive to think when I was invited last week to address the House of Commons Health Committee, along with a team of health and policy experts from Vancouver, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government would listen to the facts about Insite. Instead we were lectured by federal Health Minister Tony Clement about how those supporting Insite, not the government, were ideologues. Apparently, Tony Clement and Stephen Harper really care about drug addiction, whereas we are the ones who endorse suffering.

I have never been so offended on behalf of so many people. I wanted to weep at the implications of our government’s collective ignorance. The committee offered statement after statement that was plain wrong and a huge affront to the legions of researchers, public health officials, medical scientists, nurses, doctors and numerous international bodies (such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization) who have long endorsed harm reduction strategies as essential to assisting those with drug addictions.

OK, so they didn’t have to listen to me. But what about listening to one of the world’s most renowned doctors and researchers in the treatment of HIV and AIDS? Or the federally funded researcher who has produced more than 30 peer-reviewed scientific papers? What about the officer from the Vancouver Police Department, who explained that Insite and local police work together to limit public disorder? What about B.C.’s premier and minister of health, or Vancouver’s mayor and chief of police? And If not any of them, then what about the three out of every four people in the region surveyed in a recent Angus Reid poll who support Insite?

When first questioned about Insite, the Prime Minister said he would wait for word from the RCMP before commenting. When those results came in, they were not released because they were deemed to be too positive. Last year, Stephen Harper’s politically appointed expert advisory committee concluded that InSite causes no adverse affect on drug use or crime, that it acts as a deterrent to drug use and that Insite encourages users to seek detox and treatment. Eighty per cent of people interviewed thought the site should be expanded or retained and more than half of the police officers interviewed thought that Insite should remain open. How is it possible that the voluminous amounts of research and policy written over the years could be completely ignored?

Judge Pitfield of the B.C. Supreme Court, in his wisdom, understood something that Stephen Harper seems incapable of grasping: Addiction is a complex, chronic and relapsing disease. Justice Pitfield’s ruling to protect InSite under the Charter recognizes its essential role as a primary health care facility and a necessary access point to treatment for people who are clearly sick. The fact that Stephen Harper wants to appeal this decision shows he is continuing to ignore the evidence. The Harper government is displaying arrogance in the face of an issue they are clearly out of touch with.

— Liz Evans is a nurse and the executive director of the PHS Community Services Society, which operates Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, in co- operation with the B.C. government.

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