A B.C. judge has ruled that the federal government cannot constitutionally shut down Vancouver's safe-injection site.
Justice Ian Pitfield wrote in a 60-page ruling that "Society cannot condone addiction, but in the face of its presence it cannot fail to manage it, hopefully with ultimate success reflected in the cure of the addicted individual and abstinence."
Federal lawyers had argued addicts do not have protection under the Charter of Rights to inject illegal drugs. The judge disagreed, noting health and safety reasons.
The ruling is a blow to the Tory government, which has suggested that it may shut down InSite, a health facility where addicts can go to inject drugs in a safe environment.
Justice Pitfield has exempted the site from national drug laws until June 30, 2009.
"We're really excited. We've been trying to say this all along," Mark Townsend, the spokesperson for the Portland Hotel Society, told CTV.ca.
PHS, which operates the site, launched the suit in 2007. Townsend said the main part of the ruling has basically said InSite has a constitutional exemption from the controlled drugs and substances act.
PHS had argued that Ottawa doesn't have authority over the site, which is a health facility and therefore under provincial jurisdiction.
"InSite staff have a right to continue saving lives, getting (addicts) into detox and getting them off the streets and out of alleys," Townsend said after the ruling Tuesday.
Federal Health Minister Tony Clement released a statement that said: "We are studying the decision." In the past he has said he wanted more information about the site before granting further funding.
More than 25 studies, published in some of the leading medical journals, have shown that the site keeps health-care and law-enforcement budgets down while minimizing harm to addicts.
"Since InSite opened there have been more than 1 million injections -- (which have taken) place under the supervision of nurses. There have been close to 1,000 overdose interventions prevented, and not one single fatality," Liz Evans, the executive director of PHS said in a press release.
A report commissioned by the Conservative government and released earlier this month found that the safe-injection site has not lowered or increased crime in the area. It noted, however, the site has slightly reduced public drug use and saved taxpayers' money in health costs.
"I cannot agree with Canada's submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative," Pitfield wrote.
Townsend says he was worried about how the case would unfold because he was told Pitfield was a conservative judge. But he said community leaders with a variety of political views have backed the site.
"Really the evidence is in and we have Stephen Harper thinking the world is flat when in fact it's round ... (the prime minister) is so out of touch on this that it's becoming embarrassing."