Quebec Expecting Federal Approval for Supervised Injection Sites

While Stephen Harper's Conservatives adamantly opposed allowing the opening of supervision injection sites in cities across Canada, Quebec health care workers are hoping that the new Liberal government will permit Montreal to become the second Canadian city to run the controversial harm-reduction program.  So far, Vancouver remains the only city in North American offering supervised injection under medical supervision , the Insite clinic in downtown Vancouver.   Despite numerous court challenges by the Federal government, the clinic continues to service thousands of chronic drug users every year and remains a model for harm reduction advocates from around the world.

Shortly before leaving office however, the Conservatives passed tough new legislation creating significant  legal hurdles for applicants seeking to opening similar centres in other cities.  One application  by Cactus Montreal seeks to open three fixed safe-injection sites in the city along with a mobile unit.    Since launching North America's first needle exchange program in 1989, Cactus Montreal has been at the forefront of health care for drug users and sex workers endangered by blood-borne diseases.  

While attempting to open a safe injection site since 2010, efforts have been stonewalled by the Federal Conservatives.  Now seeking approval for their application by the new Liberal government, Louis Letellier de St-Just, a founding member of Cactus Montreal is hoping to have their new sites up and running by next fall if approval comes quickly enough.  "The project will certainly get the go-ahead from the (new) federal health minister so we are thrilled," he said in an interview with CBC News.

But Montreal mayor Dennis Coderre may not be willing to wait that long.   In a joint news conference with then-Liberal leader Justin Trudeau last September, Coderre said that he will give the Federal government until the end of the summer of 2016 to approve the new clinics.  If approval fails to come, he vowed to open the clinics anyway.  "It's about public safety," he said. "It is about public health. And all we are asking is to be consistent with what the Supreme Court has said."   As for Justin Trudeau, he had nothing but praise for Coderre's determination and stated publicly that he looked forward to supporting him if the Liberals formed the new government. 

Still, despite the apparently unanimous support for the new sites, Health Canada refused to comment publicly on Montreal's application or how the new sites would be funded (Vancouver's Insite program is funded by the province).    

In September 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Insite should remain open since it saved lives and improved health without leading to higher crime or drug use in the surrounding areas.  As for future safe injection sites, the government was authorized to grant an exemption to federal drug laws if evidence indicates that new sites would cut the risk of death and disease with little impact on public safety.  

Along with Montreal, the new Liberal government will eventually be expected to approve similar sites across Canada.

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