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Stephen Harper suffers defeat, as Supreme Court rules Insite can stay open

Former Insite user Nicola Keate

Insite, Vancouver's controversial safe injection site, can stay open after a ruling by Canada's top court on Friday. Despite repteated attempts by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to shut down the clinic, which he called a "failed experiment", judges ruled unanimously 9-0 in favour of keeping Insite open.

"Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the ruling.

The ruling is anticipated to open doors for more safe injection clinics in Canada. The Court ruled that the Health Ministry "should generally grant an exemption (from drug laws)" for safe injection clinics in cities where there is no evidence that such clinics would threaten public health. Health minister Leona Agglukak said she was "disappointed" but would comply with the ruling. 

Supporters of Insite expressed relief at the ruling. Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said:  “We are absolutely delighted that we finally have a clear decision on the legal framework for Insite. Since 2003, Insite has made a positive impact on thousands of clients, saved lives by preventing overdoses, and provided vital health services to a vulnerable population. Today’s ruling allows us to continue the outstanding work Insite, its doctors, nurses, staff and partners provide.

NDP MP Libby Davies and Mayor Gregor Robertson both spoke in favour of the ruling. 

"This has been the most incredible battle," Davies told the CBC. "The Conservative government has been relentless in their opposition, so today's decision by the court just feels like an incredible victory. It feels like a great day."

The safe injection site began as a pilot project in 2003, proposed by NPA mayor Philip Owen, who was described as the "conservative" and "unlikely" founder of Insite in the Globe and Mail. 

The site was created to address the increase of drug overdose deaths in the 1990s, and was modeled on a harm-reduction strategy being pioneered in European countries such as Switzerland.

Despite ongoing political controversy over the clinic, a recent Lancet study found that overdose deaths has lead to a 35 per cent decline in drug-related deaths within 500 meters of the clinic during the years of Insite's operation.  

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