Alberta advocacy groups ask Ottawa to intervene over providing health ID at supervised consumption sites

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Alberta advocates are asking the federal minister of mental health and addictions to intervene following a court ruling that allows supervised consumption sites to ask users for personal health care numbers.

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In an open letter , co-litigants Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society, along with 10 allied co-signatories, are asking Minister Carolyn Bennett to write to her Alberta counterpart to “assert federal jurisdiction over the regulation of supervised consumptions services in Canada … and amend class- and individual site-exemption letters issued to service providers to clarify that the mandatory collection of personally-identifying information is prohibited within federally exempted supervised consumption services.”

The advocacy groups are also asking Bennett to issue an immediate nationwide exemption on criminalization for simple drug possession, and for her to meet with the groups.

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The letter comes days after Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Belzil dismissed an injunction application against the Alberta government over new rules that include asking clients for personal health care numbers at supervised consumption sites. The groups argued that some clients will be deterred from using the sites, leading to an increase in overdoses.

Belzil wrote that although he believes some clients will experience “irreparable harm” by having an overdose — some of which may result in death — as a result of the new rule, it doesn’t outweigh the need for the provincial government to be able to make policy decisions.

In a statement, Moms Stop the Harm co-founders Petra Schulz and Kym Porter called the decision by the Court of Queen’s Bench “incredulous.”

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“We are angry, we are confused, we are beyond dismayed and most importantly, we fear for the lives of the people who will now no longer have the low barrier access to supervised consumption services that are so essential to saving lives,” they said.

“We need to meet people where they are at as well as establish trusting relationships. Substance use is highly stigmatized and considered a crime in Canada, and people who use have had negative experiences with the health system. Asking for identification is driving people away from the services that save their lives. This, in turn, removes the opportunity to make necessary connections to saving lives.”

Timothy Slaney, co-founder of the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society, which formed following the closure of Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site, said volunteers understand how fragile trust can be between people who use drugs and the government.

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“This decision, which acknowledges the loss of life sure to follow but considers it of secondary importance to the government’s agenda, only reinforces the belief that to those in power in Alberta, some lives are only worth saving if they adhere to a limited, paternalistic, and above all moralizing ideal of recovery,” Slaney said.

“This decision only affirms to us that our mission and tactics are necessary, and we stand with the growing number of Canadians who recognize our right to provide care for our neighbours when our elected leaders refuse their obligations.”

ajunker@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JunkerAnna

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