Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Retired officers head to Ottawa to fight for Insite

OTTAWA — The organizers of Vancouver's safe-injection site took retired policemen from Australia and Britain - as well as a retired Vancouver officer - to Ottawa yesterday to plead for an extension of the site's licence.

With the June 30 expiry looming, Insite is trying to drum up support for its continued existence as a place in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside where addicts can inject their own illegal drugs in clean, supervised conditions.

The three retired policemen told reporters that closing the site would mean more deaths among the most vulnerable members of society - the poor and the uneducated - and would cost the criminal-justice system untold dollars if police were left to deal with overdoses.

"I have travelled halfway around the world to ask the Canadian government to allow the Vancouver safe-injection site, Insite, to keep operating," said retired officer Christopher Payne, formerly a detective sergeant with the Australian federal police in Sydney.

"Shutting down centres that do such good work would, I suggest, be just another heartless decision in what seems to be an endless war on drugs. It would be just another kick in the guts for people who need the most help, the addicts."

Tom Lloyd, a retired chief constable from Cambridge in England, said: "Put quite simply, if it's kept open, lives will be saved. If it's shut, people will be condemned to certain death."

But federal Health Minister Tony Clement, who has yet to make a decision on the site's future, fought back.

Before the news conference had ended, his office gave reporters contact information for Canadian police officers who oppose continuation of the site.

One of them was Superintendent Ron Taverner of the Toronto Police Service. He called Insite's operations a de facto legalization of street drugs.

Supt. Taverner said he would prefer to see funds directed to treatment programs because there is only so much government money to go around.

He is also concerned that crime around the site could increase, although studies have not supported that conclusion.

Mr. Clement has said he is keeping an open mind. When asked yesterday why his office would then provide rebuttals to arguments in favour of Insite, his spokeswoman said it is important that reporters have access to both sides of the debate.

"Illicit drugs take a terrible toll on human health," Laryssa Waler said in an e-mail, "which is why they were made illegal in the first place, and evidently, our Canadian police support keeping them illegal."

But some, such as the Vancouver Police Department, have endorsed the safe-injection site.

And Libby Davies, the New Democratic Party MP from Vancouver East, said it is inappropriate for Mr. Clement to provide counterarguments to the extension of the site's licence while saying he has yet to decide.

Ms. Davies accused the Health Minister of playing games with those who are working to keep the site open, and urged him to announce his decision immediately.

The police officers at the morning news conference, meanwhile, offered a passionate defence of the facility and strongly urged the elimination of laws prohibiting drugs such as heroin.

"We know that somewhere between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of all property crimes are committed by drug addicts to fund those addictions. We know that while drugs remain illegal, criminal gangs and organizations will continue to reap enormous amounts of money and they will defend their territories, killing anyone attempting to move in," said Tony Smith, a retired Vancouver police officer.

By handing over the drug distribution system to criminals, the government has ensured that the illegal substances are available to everyone, right down to primary-school children, he added.

Meanwhile, he said, addicts need help.

"Insite is the first and only Canadian site to realistically aid these individuals without condemning them.

"It's prevented hundreds of overdose deaths. It's provided medical assistance to those in need of it and it has assisted those who wish to get clean, to get drugs out of their lives."
source: The Globe and Mail