Corrections sought by Canadian groups over false statements in Drug Consumption Rooms debate

Representatives from a number of Canadian organisations have called for the UK drugs minister, Victoria Atkins, to correct statements she made about Vancouver’s Safer Injection Facility in a Westminster debate on Drug Consumption Rooms (DCR).

The Canadian group (from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy ) have asked Minister Atkins to publicly correct her statements, which misled Parliament about the status of the Vancouver DCR known as ‘Insite’.

The Minister made the statements – described by the group as “neither factually nor legally accurate” – during a Westminster Hall debate about DCRs on January 17th.

DCRs are being proposed in a number of places in the UK, notably in Glasgow, to combat record levels of drug deaths and an HIV epidemic.

Transform, a drug policy think-tank, claim the Minister was trying to justify the UK government blocking the use of DCRs across the UK – which will certainly result in more drug-related deaths.

In the debate, Atkins stated:

“Canada has kept its provider, Insite, not because of the evidence that the services provided by Insite work, but because the users of Insite brought two court actions, and the Canadian Supreme Court ordered the Minister who wanted to close them to grant an exception to Insite in order to respect the constitutional rights of facility users and staff. I read that, with my legal hat on, not as an endorsement of the effect of DCRs but as a constitutional issue.”

The Canadian experts’ letter describes the Minister’s statement as “neither factually nor legally accurate” and goes on to say: “It is therefore disingenuous and misleading to assert, as you have done, that it was simply a court order, and not evidence of effectiveness, that underpin Insite’s continued existence.”

Richard Elliott, Executive Director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, which intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in the litigation over Insite said:

“It is deeply troubling to see a UK government minister misrepresent the facts about Insite, and to suggest that it is operating solely because of a court order and not because there is evidence that it works.

In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada compelled the government of the day to extend Insite’s exemption from Canada’s drug laws, based on solid human rights grounds and an extensive evidentiary record. The Court stated plainly in its ruling: ‘Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven.’

The Canadian Supreme Court judgement directly challenges Minster Atkins’ misleading statement:

“The record supports the conclusion that… the health professionals who provide the supervised services at Insite will be unable to offer medical supervision and counselling to Insite’s clients. This deprives the clients of Insite of potentially lifesaving medical care, thus engaging their rights to life and security of the person…Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernable negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.”

Click here to read the letter to Minister Atkins

Click here to find out more about the debate