Jurisdictional Justice, Democracy and the Story of Insite

Hester Lessard


Insite, North America’s first legally sanctioned safe injection site, opened its doors in 2003. It did so after several years of political struggle by a network of community groups in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), the neighbourhood it serves. The grassroots movement secured support at municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government. The latter expressed its approval by granting an exemption that protected Insite staff and patients from prosecution for possession of illegal substances under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA ). The remarkable political consensus in favour of Insite came apart in 2008 when the federal government, after the election of the Harper Conservatives, declined to extend the exemption. As a consequence, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and the Portland Hotel Community Services Society (PHS), the non-profit that operates Insite, along with two Insite clients, brought an action against the federal government in the B.C. Supreme Court. The provincial government intervened.2 The key arguments were that either the CDSA is inapplicable (and therefore the exemption is unnecessary) because primary jurisdiction over health resides with the province, or that the application of the provisions prohibiting possession in the federal statute violates the section 7 Charter rights3 of clients seeking treatment at Insite.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21991/C98W9T


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