UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Fighting addiction's death row: British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield shows a measure of legal courage Small, Dan

Abstract

The art in law, like medicine, is in its humanity. Nowhere is the humanity in law more poignant than in BC Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield's recent judgment in the legal case aimed at protecting North America's only supervised injection facility (SIF) as a healthcare program: PHS Community Services Society versus the Attorney General of Canada. In order to protect the SIF from politicization, the PHS Community Services Society, the community organization that established and operates the program, along with two people living with addiction and three lawyers working for free, pro bono publico, took the federal government of Canada to court. The courtroom struggle that ensued was akin to a battle between David and Goliath. The judge in the case, Justice Pitfield, ruled in favour of the PHS and gave the Government of Canada one year to bring the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) into compliance with the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If parliament fails to do so, then the CDSA will evaporate from enforceability and law in June of 2009. Despite the fact that there are roughly twelve million intravenous drug addiction users in the world today, politics andprejudice oards harm reduction are still a barrier to the widespread application of the "best medicine" available for serious addicts. Nowhere is this clearer than in the opposition by conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his faithful servant, federal health minister Tony Clement, towards Vancouver's SIF ("Insite"). The continued angry politicization of addiction will only lead to the tragic loss of life, as addicts are condemned to death from infectious diseases (HIV & hepatitis) and preventable overdoses. In light of the established facts in science, medicine and now law, political opposition to life-saving population health programs (including SIFs) to address the effects of addiction is a kind of implicit capital punishment for the addicted. This commentary examines the socio-political context of the legal case and the major figures that contributed to it. It reviews Justice Pitfield's ruling, a judgment that has brought Canada one step closer to putting a stop to addiction's death row where intravenous drug users are needlessly, for political and ideological reasons alone, forced to face increased risks of death due to AIDS, hepatitis and overdose.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)