Spurred by a favorable court ruling in May allowing Vancouver's safe injection site, Insite, to stay open, health officials in Quebec say they are preparing to open a safe injection site in Montreal in coming months, and there could be many more to follow in the province.
"There is a team in Montreal looking at the feasibility and acceptability of all this, but there is no date set yet," said public health director Alain Poirier. "We're working on it at the moment and we hope there will be one soon."
Vancouver's Insite, which was set up as a pilot project five years ago, operated under a limited exemption from Canada's drug laws. With the Conservatives controlling the federal government, Insite's future was precarious, but in May, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that Insite is a health facility subject to provincial -- not federal -- regulation and thus constitutionally exempt from federal drug laws. That ruling has cleared the way for other provinces to ponder starting similar facilities.
"It's an interpretation that views injection sites as health services and those are under provincial jurisdiction," Poirier said, referring to the ruling. "We're the ones who pay for the treatments of (addicts), we pay for their care if they contract HIV. It short, it falls under the panoply of preventive services."
But the Conservative federal government continues to oppose safe injection sites. Earlier this month, it announced it would appeal the BC Supreme Court ruling. Health Minister Tony Clement has repeatedly claimed that safe injection sites don't work.
"We don't consider it the best health outcome to keep people in a position where they continue to use the illicit drugs, to inject the illicit drugs," he said in May.
Quebec has already embraced harm reduction strategies to combat the ills of drug abuse. The province boasts nearly 800 needle exchange locations. Poirier said establishing safe injection sites was the logical next step.
"We can't do this in hiding without saying or announcing anything," Poirier said. "The public has to be aware that this is one step more. We'll probably start in Montreal, then look at Quebec City's downtown area," Poirier said. "We haven't ruled out other cities being chosen. We would like to have sites where they are justified by the need."