March 14, 2016 4:53 pm
Updated: March 14, 2016 7:28 pm

Liberals stick with existing rules to approve safe-injection sites, for now

WATCH: Toronto's top medical health officer says drug overdose rates are at an all-time high and more people will die unless the city opens safe injection sites. But as Allison Vuchnich reports, the decision isn't in the city's hands.


The federal government says it will stick to the existing set of rules for approving safe-injection sites in Canada for the time being, in spite of criticisms that those rules are overly onerous.

A spokesperson for the office of Health Minister Jane Philpott said that as of right now, there are no plans to repeal Bill C-2, a controversial piece of Conservative legislation that came into effect last year.

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However, the spokesperson added that Philpott’s office “will continue to assess the effectiveness of the legislation as applications are received and reviewed.”

Bill C-2 — the Respect for Communities Act — was widely panned by supporters of safe-injection sites, who argued that it made it next to impossible for such facilities to gain the federal approval they need to operate. Before a site can set up shop and allow intravenous drug users to inject illegal drugs under the supervision of a nurse, each site must be granted an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

READ MORE: Toronto’s top doctor calls for 3 safe-injection sites in city

The Respect for Communities Act forces potential injection-site operators to provide the government with letters from their city’s mayor and police chief, crime statistics and other neighbourhood data, as well as criminal background checks of potential employees and an accounting of any local opposition to the project before an exemption can be granted.

The recent approval of an application for an exemption by Vancouver’s Dr. Peter Centre, “demonstrates that we can work with the existing legislation,” Philpott’s spokesperson suggested.

There are currently only two safe-injection sites in Canada, both in Vancouver.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his support for safe-injection sites during the election campaign, leading many advocates to request that the new government move quickly to repeal the Conservative law. Those calls have only grown louder in recent months as a number of cities have expressed their desire to open facilities in their jurisdictions.

Montreal’s outspoken mayor, Denis Coderre, made waves last year when he declared that his city would move ahead with four supervised sites with or without the Conservative government’s approval. He recently expressed optimism that Montreal’s clinics would be given the green light by the Liberals.

On Monday, Toronto’s medical officer of health released a report that urged city council to support efforts to open three to five safe-injection sites.

Supporters of the facilities say they reduce the number of overdose deaths, prevent dirty needles and other drug paraphernalia from ending up scattered throughout neighbourhoods, and cut down on the transmission of blood-borne diseases.

Opponents, meanwhile, have argued that the sites encourage illegal drug use and compromise the safety of neighbourhoods. Conservative health critic Kellie Leitch released a statement on Monday afternoon in response to the public health report in Toronto.

“As the Official Opposition we are very concerned about what this report might mean for the law-abiding residents of Toronto,” Leitch wrote. “The drugs that are used at these sites, mostly heroin, are dangerous and addictive.”

Leitch said that greater efforts should be made to help people shake their addictions.

“If the City of Toronto decides to move forward with an exception application to the Federal Minister of Health and open injection sites, we as the Official Opposition encourage them to conduct rigorous, public consultation as per the requirements of the Respect for Communities Act.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

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