A life by any other name
Health Minister Tony Clement wants Canada's only safe drug injection site -- in a clinic on Vancouver's tough Lower Eastside -- shut down. Last week, he announced his intention of asking Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to appeal the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision to keep Insite open for another year, giving Ottawa time to revamp drug laws to exempt the clinic. The B.C. Court says the law applied to Insite is unconstitutional under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The health minister mirrors Nancy Reagan's drug mantra, "Just say no." Meanwhile, scientists, medical professionals and social workers, who deal with the raw reality of the already addicted, fight to educate the public about the benefits of a safe injection site in providing counseling, preventing overdoses and stopping the spread of infectious diseases. Toronto is now investigating the possibility of opening its own injection clinic.
Clement rejects it all. "The evidence is that Insite's injection program saves at least one life per year. A precious life, yes. I believe we can do better and we must," Clement told the Commons health committee. He argued his job is to balance that one life against a life potentially lost because of the injection site -- without explaining how Insite might take a life.
It's difficult to imagine Clement making the same argument about a program operating within a different strata of Canadian society. Rather, it sounds like he's saying: "A precious life -- not so much."