Alberta’s highest court will hear an urgent appeal from harm reduction advocates who want to end a provincial policy that requires supervised drug clients to identify themselves.
The rule, which is due to come into effect on January 31, requires people who use substances to show their personal health number to access the sites.
Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society, which are the two nonprofits challenging the Alberta government, argue that it could increase barriers to drug use sites and increase the risk of overdose.
Personal health numbers required at supervised consumption sites in Alberta until the end of the trial
The Alberta Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear the appeal on January 27.
Earlier this month, an Alberta judge rejected an injunction that would have delayed the implementation of the new rules.
In his ruling, Judge Paul Belzil said the injunction would have limited Alberta’s ability to formulate drug policy.
However, Belzil also concluded that “irreparable harm will occur to some illicit drug users” as a result of the application’s failure.
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Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda, who is representing the plaintiffs, said a major error in the court’s findings is that it did not sufficiently weigh drug addicts’ right to life.
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Nanda said he was “hopeless” the appeal would be heard, but the rare and swift reconsideration decision has invigorated his clients to continue their fight.
“In the normal course, it would take months – up to six months sometimes – to find a court date for an appeal hearing,” Nanda said. “It breathes new life into our attempt to stop what experts and the House of Justice have recognized (could) cost addicts human harm.”
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ID requirements are just one part of the United Conservative Government’s new regulations for existing and future supervised drug consumption sites.
It also requires service providers to develop “good neighbor agreements” to support community integration and to keep strong records of clients, adverse reactions to substance use, and treatment referrals.
If operators do not meet the standards, they will not be able to receive provincial funding.
The nonprofits filed a lawsuit against the Alberta government in August, claiming its new rules will have deadly consequences as overdose deaths hit record highs.
Nearly 1,400 people died from substance-related overdoses between January and October 2021, a 26% increase from the prior year period.
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The statement also alleges that the province’s rules thwart a framework established by Ottawa to streamline applications and site operations. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The Canadian Press has contacted the Alberta government for comment.
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