SCC Decision on Insite

Omar Ha-Redeye at the B.C. Court of Appeal during the Insite hearing

The Supreme Court of Canada released its decision today on the Insite clinic in Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services,

[148] The infringement at stake is serious; it threatens the health, indeed the lives, of the claimants and others like them. The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for Insite cannot be ignored. These claimants would be cast back into the application process they have tried and failed at, and made to await the Minister’s decision based on a reconsideration of the same facts. Litigation might break out anew. A bare declaration is not an acceptable remedy in this case.

[149] Nor is the granting of a permanent constitutional exemption appropriate where the remedy is for a state action, not a law. In any event, such exemptions are to be avoided: R. v. Ferguson, 2008 SCC 6, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 96. Moreover, the Minister should not be precluded from withdrawing an exemption to Insite should changed circumstances at Insite so require. The flexibility contemplated by s. 56 of the CDSA would be lost.

[150] In the special circumstances of this case, an order in the nature of mandamus is warranted. I would therefore order the Minister to grant an exemption to Insite under s. 56 of the CDSA forthwith. (This of course would not affect the Minister’s power to withdraw the exemption should the operation of Insite change such that the exemption would no longer be appropriate.) On the trial judge’s findings of fact, the only constitutional response to the application for a s. 56 exemption was to grant it. The Minister is bound to exercise his discretion under s. 56 in accordance with the Charter. On the facts as found here, there can be only one response: to grant the exemption. There is therefore nothing to be gained (and much to be risked) in sending the matter back to the Minister for reconsideration.

[151] This does not fetter the Minister’s discretion with respect to future applications for exemptions, whether for other premises, or for Insite. As always, the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter.

[152] The dual purposes of the CDSA — public health and public safety — provide some guidance for the Minister. Where the Minister is considering an application for an exemption for a supervised injection facility, he or she will aim to strike the appropriate balance between achieving the public health and public safety goals. Where, as here, the evidence indicates that a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption.

[153] The CDSA grants the Minister discretion in determining whether to grant exemptions. That discretion must be exercised in accordance with the Charter. This requires the Minister to consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The factors considered in making the decision on an exemption must include evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates, the local conditions indicating a need for such a supervised injection site, the regulatory structure in place to support the facility, the resources available to support its maintenance, and expressions of community support or opposition.

Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services

Liberal Minute Special Report #1 – Insite by JasonLamarche