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Insite Battle Intensifies as Opponents Square Off in Court

The federal government launched an appeal today to overturn a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that last year gave Insite, a supervised injection facility for illegal drugs in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, a constitutional exemption to remain open. Lawyer Robert Frater, arguing for the government before a panel of three judges and a court room packed with Insite supporters, said that the previous ruling was in error when it held that federal drug laws against possession and trafficking by Insite users were unconstitutional.

"There is no constitutional obligation for the state to provide injection sites or drugs," Frater said. "The government is not obliged to provide safer ways of breaking the law...it [the decision] is essentially arguing that if one becomes addicted and can't obey the law, the law should adjust itself to accommodate the person."

The B.C. Supreme Court decision had no business trying to create public policy for the problems plaguing the Downtown Eastside, Frater said. The responsibility for drafting the laws governing drug use in Canada, Frater concluded, belonged to Parliament.

The ruling by B.C Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield last year granted the PHS Community Services the right to operate Insite in the absence of a Health Canada exemption from drug laws. Pitfield provided the government of Canada a year to change existing legislation to allow for medical applications of illegal drugs if these were part of a health care program.

Legal representatives from a variety of groups were also on hand, including the B.C. Attorney General, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, PHS Community Services Society, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, and the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation.

According to Maxine Davis, the Executive Director of the Centre of Excellence for HIV/AIDS, “Most, but not all, of our clients have problematic substance use – either illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol."

The Centre works in collaboration with the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, a non-profit organization specializing in health care services and programs for people with HIV/AIDS. “We feel this practice is critical to our ability to engage and treat people with HIV/AIDS who are homeless and struggling with a host of health issues," said Davis.

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