Ontario rejects Toronto’s call for supervised drug injection site
Board of health’s landmark request meets prompt refusal, despite Supreme Court ruling allowing such facilities where public safety isn’t at risk.
Toronto’s board of health voted 6-2 Wednesday to ask the provincial government to open a supervised injection facility for the city’s drug users — a landmark proposal promptly dismissed by the province.
“Given that the federal government’s approval would be a prerequisite, at this point we have no plans to move forward with supervised injection sites,” Samantha Grant, press secretary for Health Minister Deb Matthews, said in an email later in the day.
The Conservative federal government is opposed to such facilities aimed at harm reduction, which allow addicts to inject illegal drugs using clean equipment under the supervision of nurses. Both Police Chief Bill Blair and Mayor Rob Ford are also opposed.
Dr. David McKeown, the city’s chief medical officer, is strongly in favour. The board heard Wednesday — from a unanimous parade of doctors, harm reduction workers, academic experts and drug users themselves — that the facilities prevent deadly overdoses, reduce health-care costs, and help connect addicts with services they need to improve their lives.
“I’m just really tired of watching people die,” said Dennis Long, executive director of Breakaway Addiction Services.
McKeown said Toronto is the first health board in Ontario to endorse a supervised injection facility.
The board’s proposal asks the province to fund at least one supervised injection facility, on a trial basis, within an existing provincially funded clinic that already offers services to drug users. Provincial approval, however, is not actually required for a facility to open.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the federal government must allow a Vancouver facility to continue operating. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for the 9-0 court, said Insite “has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada.”
The court told the government to authorize new injection sites wherever “there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety.” But the government responded with legislation, not yet passed, that would make it even more difficult for applicants to obtain the required exemptions from drug laws.
Councillor Raymond Cho and citizen member Suman Roy were opposed to the motion. Councillors Gord Perks, Joe Mihevc, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Sarah Doucette were in favour.