05 Feb 2018
UK Drugs Minister Misled Parliament Say Canadian Lawyers & Scientists
Canadian lawyers, scientists and drug policy experts have declared that the UK Drugs Minister, Victoria Atkins, misled Parliament about the status of the Vancouver drug consumption room (DCR) known as ‘Insite’. The Minister made the statements - described by Canadian experts as “neither factually nor legally accurate” - during a Westminster Hall debate about DCRs on January 17th. DCRs are being proposed in a number of places in the UK, notably in Glasgow, to combat record levels of drug deaths and an HIV epidemic. The minister was trying to justify the UK government blocking them - which will certainly result in more deaths.
The Canadian experts (from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy ) have asked Minister Atkins to publicly correct her erroneous statements. They have also invited her to visit the Insite DCR, and numerous others now operating in Canada, to see them in operation. Minister Atkins has already been challenged in a Point of Order by MP Ronnie Cowan, who led the Westminster debate, to correct her inaccurate statements. Thus far she has refused to do so.
In the debate, Atkins stated:
“Canada has kept its provider, Insite, not because of the evidence that the services provided by Insite work, but because the users of Insite brought two court actions, and the Canadian Supreme Court ordered the Minister who wanted to close them to grant an exception to Insite in order to respect the constitutional rights of facility users and staff. I read that, with my legal hat on, not as an endorsement of the effect of DCRs but as a constitutional issue.”
The Canadian experts’ letter describes the Minister’s statement as “neither factually nor legally accurate” and goes on to say: “It is therefore disingenuous and misleading to assert, as you have done, that it was simply a court order, and not evidence of effectiveness, that underpin Insite’s continued existence.”
Martin Powell, Transform Head of Campaigns said:
“Alternative facts have no place in British politics and especially not in parliamentary debate. The drugs minister has a duty to provide genuine evidence to parliament and a moral obligation to serve the needs of the public. Victoria Atkins has done neither. We are facing a crisis with record levels of overdose deaths. DCRs are proven to save lives but the government is blocking them with entirely false claims regarding their effectiveness in protecting people’s health.
“This isn’t the first time that government has deliberately kept evidence out of the public domain in order to prevent reforms that save lives. This time it has overstepped the mark and deliberately misled parliament about another country’s initiative. And it is absolutely right that they are challenged and made to correct their misleading statement.”
Richard Elliott, Executive Director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, which intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in the litigation over Insite said:
"It is deeply troubling to see a UK government minister misrepresent the facts about Insite, and to suggest that it is operating solely because of a court order and not because there is evidence that it works.
In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada compelled the government of the day to extend Insite’s exemption from Canada’s drug laws, based on solid human rights grounds and an extensive evidentiary record. The Court stated plainly in its ruling: ‘Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven.’ In the past, government ministers in Canada have been misleading about supervised injection sites; how unfortunate that such misinformation is being replicated in the UK.”
Excerpts from the letter:
“This statement, however, is neither factually nor legally accurate… Ms. Atkins, you are simply incorrect to state that Canada has kept Insite “not because of the evidence that the services provided by Insite work,” but solely of the court actions and decisions. In fact, the Supreme Court’s ruling was inextricably tied to the fact that, as amply demonstrated on an extensive evidentiary record, Insite is “potentially lifesaving medical care.”
The letter then quotes the Canadian Supreme Court judgement directly to challenge Atkins misleading statement:
“The record supports the conclusion that... the health professionals who provide the supervised services at Insite will be unable to offer medical supervision and counselling to Insite’s clients. This deprives the clients of Insite of potentially lifesaving medical care, thus engaging their rights to life and security of the person...Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernable negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.”
The letter then concludes that:
“It is therefore disingenuous and misleading to assert, as you have done, that it was simply a court order, and not evidence of effectiveness, that underpin Insite’s continued existence.”
“As the Minister for drugs policy in the UK, we hope that you will publicly correct your statements that inaccurately portray Insite and the hard-fought legal case, that recognized for the first time in Canada, the relationship between lifesaving medical interventions for people who use drugs and human rights.”
Martin Powell, Transform Drug Policy Foundation 07875 679 301 firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Rolles, Transform Drug Policy Foundation 07980 213 943 email@example.com
Janet Butler-McPhee, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, +1 416 595 1666 (ext. 227), firstname.lastname@example.org
Signatories to the letter include:
Richard Elliott, Executive Director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network which prepared some of the most detailed analyses of legal issues related to DCRs in Canada, and was an intervener before the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2011 case.
Donald MacPherson, Executive Director, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC), a national umbrella coalition of organizations across the country advocating for evidence-based, public health responses to drugs
Daniel Werb, Director & Scientific Board Chair, International Centre for Science in Drug Policy
2. Letter from Canadian Groups to Victoria Atkins MP can be downloaded here
3. Drug Consumption Rooms Debate, Westminster Hall, 17/01/18 https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-01-17/debates/1681A3C1-E6A4-4E10-8E38-8B4B240D5B67/DrugConsumptionRooms
4. Ronnie Cowan MP, SNP, Point of Order, 24/01/18 https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-01-24/debates/BF85A456-C128-4D3A-AFAE-59700BAB7079/PointsOfOrder#contribution-0884724C-9624-4EC0-BCD8-E6A5F63D8BA3
5. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a UK and Mexico based think tank campaigning for the legal regulation of drugs www.tdpf.org.uk