In September, an eagerly-awaited Supreme Court ruling allowed Vancouver’s Insite injection clinic to remain open indefinitely. And now, Quebec is joining the ranks of Canadian cities with safe-injection sites.
Yves Bolduc, Quebec’s Health and Social Services Minister, in October announced his support of an initiative to open injection clinics in Montreal and Quebec City. While Insite is a large facility at one location, Quebec will have a series of smaller sites in an effort to make the program more “socially acceptable” in communities.
Like Insite, Quebec’s facilities will offer a place for drug users to safely and cleanly receive injections, instead of taking drugs in public places or unsanitary conditions. There will also be services in place to monitor the health and safety of people visiting the clinic – namely, observing clients for signs of overdose post-injection – and information and encouragement provided for seeking detoxification and rehabilitation.
Chantal Gilbert, a local city counsellor, is against the project in Quebec City.
“If [this area] is targeted as a location, we’ll have to ask the opinion of [residents],” Gilbert said after a council meeting earlier this fall. “People send their children to school. There is still a neighbourhood life.”
Cactus is a non-profit organization that aims to help those who use drugs and those with potentially risky sexual behaviour to reduce the risks associated with those practices. Among other services, the organization currently offers needle-exchange programs in Montreal; in fact, when Cactus Montreal was founded in 1989, they became the first needle-exchange program in North America.
Quebec City’s Point de Repères also offers needle-exchange programs. The organization wants to set up their clinic on a commercial street near the Old Quebec district of the City. Gilbert said that the facility does not belong in this area, where there was recently a multi-million dollar improvement project.
It’s for reasons like these that Balduc says that certain conditions need to be met before Quebec’s injection centres can open. Local residents have to approve them, and as mentioned, there can’t be a large centre like Insite.
Currently, the Quebec government spends $80 million per year on programs to combat drug abuse. Bolduc says that part of this money will now be directed to setting up the injection clinics, as well as new services for drug abusers.
Critics of the clinics say that they don’t want their tax money used on opening and running the clinics, while supporters counter that the clinics will save money in other areas — namely, health-care costs and justice costs.
With September’s Supreme Court ruling instituting a permanent exception for Insite to the Controlled Drugs & Substances Act, the fight against injection clinics is getting more difficult for opponents. But for those in favour of the clinics, it’s great news—the ruling has opened the doors to more safe injection sites across Canada. The ruling also stated that exemptions must be put in place to protect drug clinic staff from prosecution for drug possession and trafficking.
“Supervised injection sites save lives and allow people who inject to have the dignity to which each person has a right,” Darlene Palmer, rep for the addiction advocacy group ADDICQ, told Canoe News. “Approximately 10 million people who inject drugs can be infected with hepatitis C worldwide.”
While September’s ruling opened the doors to possible other safe-injection sites in Canada, it’s hard to say how soon this will become a reality. Ottawa’s mayor and police chief recently voiced their opposition to clinics in their city, and an ongoing study of the possible benefits of Toronto clinics is still not completed.