Harm Reduction Journal

, 9:34

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Canada’s highest court unchains injection drug users; implications for harm reduction as standard of healthcare

  • Dan SmallAffiliated withPHS Community Services SocietyDepartment of Anthropology, University of British Columbia Email author 


North America’s only supervised injection facility, Insite, opened its doors in September of 2003 with a federal exemption as a three-year scientific study. The results of the study, evaluated by an independent research team, showed it to be successful in engaging the target group in healthcare, preventing overdose death and HIV infections while increasing uptake and retention in detox and treatment. The research, published in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, also showed that the program did not increase public disorder, crime or drug use. Despite the substantial evidence showing the effectiveness of the program, the future of Insite came under threat with the election of a conservative federal government in 2006. As a result, the PHS Community Services Society (PHS), the non-profit organization that operates Insite, launched a legal case to protect the program. On 30 September 2011, Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Insite and underscored the rights of people with addictions to the security of their person under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter of Rights). The decision clears the ground for other jurisdictions in Canada, and perhaps North America, to implement supervised injection and harm reduction where it is epidemiologically indicated. The legal case validates the personhood of people with addictions while metaphorically unchaining them from the criminal justice system.