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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

More on InSite

Recently our friends at the Cardus Centre for Public Renewal published an edition of their legal journal, LexView, that criticizes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on the InSite case.

I like a lot of what Cardus does. But I’m certainly disappointed by this take on the InSite decision. Some have asked me to respond to it, and here’s what I wrote Peter Stockland today:


Dear Peter,

Having defended InSite in my weblog and in print and in a recent public lecture at Regent College with a nurse who has worked there, I am deeply disappointed that Cardus is taking a position hostile to it.

Moreover, I found Mr. Boonstra’s response to be an impressive exercise in prolixly missing the point, even as it misrepresents both the situation at InSite and the place of harm reduction in the context of, and not as a replacement for, other strategies to respond to drug addiction. (For example, his article betrays no knowledge of the work of OnSite, one floor above InSite, as an addiction counseling and detox facility, nor does he refer to the “Four Pillars” strategy that makes much better sense of InSite’s role.) As a scholar who is not averse to reading long, complicated arguments, I confess I found Mr. Boonstra’s article painful to read in its sustained efforts to avoid the fundamental point: Human beings will die needlessly if InSite is closed. Of course more must be done. But not less.

I reiterate that this is not a complex situation, despite Mr. Boonstra’s verbose discussion and the Conservative government’s indefensible prolongation of this matter. Addicts cannot be helped if they are dead. They cannot detox, or get converted, or find new support groups, or embark on any other healthier set of choices if they are dead. And there is no doubt in the minds of those who have studied InSite and published their results in dozens of reputable journals that addicts would be dead without InSite.

Again, InSite was never intended to be a stand-alone response to drug addiction. And of course it isn’t “safe” in any absolute sense, as Mr. Boonstra takes extravagant pains to point out. But it is quite a bit safer than using a shared needle and alley water, and shooting up with no one around to help with overdosing or with rape, theft, assault, or murder when one is high.

InSite is only a harm-reduction centre whose awful work has been necessitated by, among other things, the failure of the Liberal government of British Columbia and the Conservative government of Canada to adequately care for mentally ill, sexually abused, and otherwise deeply damaged Canadians who have turned to strong, illegal drugs as a terrible last resort. (I voted for both of those governments and am dismayed by their subsequent attitudes toward this obvious need.)

I do not defend the Supreme Court’s judicial logic. I defend their humanitarian and realistic judgment that InSite does a necessary thing in a horrible situation. I would like to have thought Mr. Boonstra, and the Cardus Centre, would agree with that basic truth and develop your thinking accordingly. I am deeply disappointed in you that you did not.

Happily, we agree on a great many other matters and I will continue to support your work. But as a friend of Cardus, I simply must register with you, in these very strong terms, my dissent from this regrettable position.



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