Wednesday, December 13, 2006

In which I argue against a national bureaucracy

I know, it's a bit of a surprise to me too.

But the news that the Mounties-Canada's national police force-have decided to fight against the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver has me in a decentralizin' sort of mood. The programme, which provides drug users with a safe place to use illegal drugs they've previously obtained, is supported by the city government, the Vancouver Police Department and the Canadian Medical Association, who recently published a study concluding that the site "has been associated with an array of community and public health benefits without evidence of adverse impacts." It seems to me that if a project like this can get the support of both the CMA and the local police force, that ought to be enough for outsiders, such as the RCMP and the federal government.

The RCMP, though, is concerned that "when the perceived risks associated to drug use decreases, there is a corresponding increase in number of people using drugs." This is, I don't doubt, true-it's probably the best argument against the legalization or decriminalization of hard drugs. It seems to me, though, that in the case of programs like Insite the choice is between providing a harm reduction strategy for a dedicated minority of drug users or leaving these drug users to shoot up in less safe conditions elsewhere. I strongly, strongly doubt that anyone on Vancouver's Eastside is taking up heroin because they know they can shoot up at Insite without worrying about getting HIV.

I don't want to read too much into the RCMP's opposition to the Insite programme-it's hardly surprising that a police organization is opposed to a programme making it easier to use illegal drugs. I find it troubling, though, that attempts to mitigate the misery, disease and death associated with drug abuse are seen by the RCMP as harmful to preventing drug abuse down the line.

Ideological arguments with the professionals about how best to treat drug addiction aside, though, my chief concern is that this appears to be a situation where everyone who actually has a stake in how the situation in East Vancouver shakes out is overruled by federal bureaucrats and politicians. We ought to be looking for crime and drug control solutions that work, not for ones that make us feel righteous.


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