Insite Saves Lives: An Interview With Liz Evans

Liz Evans. (Courtesy of Am Johal)

Liz Evans is the executive director of P.H.S. Community Services Society, which operated Insite, Canada's first supervised injection site, in partnership with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

A British Columbia judge ruled late last month that Insite could stay open another year even without an exemption from current drug laws. Its current exemption was to expire at the end of June.

Evans corresponded with Am Johal in Vancouver.


What is your reaction to the B.C. Supreme Court decision that grants provincial jurisdiction to Insite? Was the decision expected?

The odds were against us. We had a team of volunteer lawyers up against the very well financed Hunter Litigation firm. We knew, however, that the evidence presented in Justice Pitfield's court clearly demonstrated that Insite is a health care facility which is proven to save lives.

Are you expecting this to go to the Supreme Court of Canada?

It is unclear on what reason the Harper government will base its appeal. Our lawyers never disputed any of the government's evidence during the court proceedings. We accepted that narcotics are both dangerous and illegal. What we argued, though, was that because of those facts, Insite is a crucial access point to health care and treatment. And the judge agreed.

Are you still perplexed at the Harper government's indecisiveness on the issue of Insite?

Well, it seems they are being decisive now, and it looks like the wolf has shed its sheep's clothing revealing the Harper government's ideological bias on this issue. It is quite astonishing, though, in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that Insite does save lives, and links people to treatment.

Last week, 100 users of Insite visited the B.C. legislature to see the introduction of the private members bill from Jenny Kwan designating Insite as a provincial health responsibility. Can you talk about the support from users of Insite?

It was quite amazing to be there in the Victoria legislature as the visitors' gallery filled with low-income Downtown Eastside residents, received a standing ovation from both government and opposition members. Drug users have fought long for harm reduction measures, and it's inspiring to see that fight continue to retain and expand life saving programs such as Insite.

Do you expect more supervised injection sites to open in Vancouver and in other cities in Canada, such as Victoria, Toronto, and Montreal?

It is up to each community to determine how they should respond to drug addiction. In Vancouver, Insite is supported by the community, including local merchants as well as the mayor, police chief, B.C.'s health minister and premier. In cities where a similar consensus is found, there is a strong possibility more facilities like Insite may open.

Can you speak to the Four Pillar Approach, and why it has never been comprehensively implemented since it was released?

Unfortunately, the Harper government's reluctance in granting Insite a renewed legal exemption has been a distraction from the many other actions that need to be taken to address the crisis of drug addiction. We desperately need more treatment and effective prevention programs.

There has been some progress. Last fall we opened Onsite, which is located above Insite, providing 30 beds to addicts seeking detox and treatment services. Onsite proves that none of the other pillars, whether prevention, treatment, or enforcement, are mutually exclusive of harm reduction. In fact, all four pillars stand in equal support of the solution, each complementing the other as important pieces of a comprehensive plan to address addiction.

Anything else?

Insite has broad public support in British Columbia with three out of four people surveyed in a recent Angus Reid poll declaring their support for the injection site. Insite continues to rely on that public good will as we begin a new campaign to uphold the B.C. Supreme Court decision. We are urging all those who support the injection site to write Stephen Harper and urge him to do the right thing, and let Insite keep saving lives.