A quick blog post on a hot topic that deserves more attention that what I have to offer. This morning the Supreme Court of Canada voted unanimously that closing the safe injection site in Vancouver called ‘Insite’ was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You can read the decision here from the SCC.

The argument about Insite (not just a safe place, but safe tools, and of course healthcare that includes recovery programs) has covered the spectrum of opinions. The question relevant to this blog and church is how are we to respond?

The polemic against safe injection sites is that it’s enabling addicts who are breaking the law simultaneously doing nothing to solve the drug users problem. The issue also had to with money–tax payers dollars are used to run Insite. However, those who are opposed Insite are also concerned about what addicts do after they leave the facility – the crimes they commit in the community.

Proponents cite empirical evidence that that the program reduces harm to the users, reduces healthcare costs to the system, and provides steps to recovery for all and especially those who would otherwise ignore treatment. To them opposition is based on highly political maneuvering and right-wing ideologies.

Fact is the two sides will never see eye to eye because they have two different sets of values. The questions need to change before any common ground is found.

But perhaps that’s the nature of the problem: there is no one size-fits all solution when it comes to dealing with addictions.

Many conservatives vocalize the moral values being compromised when drugs addicts are permitted a safe environment to shootup. Treatment programs is the name of the game where tax payer dollars should go.

If only it were that simple.

This is where the right-wing moralistic agenda gets it wrong–harm reduction IS a step in treatment. To ignore that is to ignore not only the evidence, the testimonies from working nurses, but concludes there is only one way to treat drug addicts–imprison them or get them treatment.

That would work if drug addicts were rational (remember part of the conservatie argument against Insite deals with a highly unpredictable people group thus what they do when they leave the clinic is a cause for concern,) but they aren’t and getting an addict into treatment is a long and arduous process that sometimes never happens (you can’t force people into treatment).

So how should Christians treat the ruling and the program? Should we be up in arms about the ‘enabling’, or should we be OK with a choice addicts have to temporarily reduce their harmful lifestyle?

I think the answer lies in something more than left and right wing politics or even theology. It’s about doing what’s right.

The entirety of the church is to be a participant in God’s unfolding Kingdom. That’s a fancy way to say the church (Christians) are labelled to participate in the righting of wrongs in our world. It’s not about achieving a state of good morals–rules and regulations rarely lead to love–but getting to a place where good triumphs over evil.

Some have said on one end of the spectrum, “Jesus would help addicts shoot-up.” The other end of the spectrum is what? Jesus just sits there and does nothing? Jesus ensures addicts live a sin free life? I think both sides are wrong.

Jesus would heal the drug addict, and rather than say, “go and sin no more,” would put that person in his group of followers so the community could journey alongside the person in need. Remember, this is about doing what’s right for the person and not for the state. It’s not about ensuring our rules and theologies haven’t been broken, it’s about trying to find a way to heal the person.

Is that safe injection? Could be. Safe injection not only reduces healthcare costs, it reduces overall harm. It’s irrelevant what a drug addict does when they leave Insite. For that moment in time they were offered safety in an otherwise risky life. For that moment they receive a form of treatment. But not only that, connections were made, establishing rapport is a key moment in the treatment journey that begins with the encouragement of somebody not something (like the threat of jail.)

Even with the best programs available, and more money for treatment, it’s still a the choice of an irrational drug addict to take part. But herein lies the rub that opponents may miss: Insite is treatment. To suggest all they did was help drug addict shootup demonstrates an incomplete understanding of all Insite does. Here is 1 of 3 stories from a nurse who worked there filmed by CalgaryChurch.


You can read her story on her blog or in ChristianWeek. What’s interesting here is that the rules, regulations, threats of imprisonment, all the things part of the ‘moral crusade’ are not primary tools used by nurses at Insite, yet they find success.

That’s the key, in another method of treatment (it is a crucial component of treatment) Insite is successul. Take a look at what’s happening at the House of Commons, you can see the spectrum of opinions in operation, and the sad thing is they don’t seem to see eye-to-eye. Politicians, and in this case the majority government’s position, doesn’t seem to budge. Increase money for treatment is a key component, but to completely right-off safe injection (harm reduction models) as irrelevant is a game of political ideology.

The SCC decision has highlighted concluded that we can’t rely on a one-ideology fits all approach.

It seems clear that if it’s not one-size fits all then the approach to helping addicts get clean includes a holistic approach to treatment of which harm reduction is a viable component.

To operate in exclusivity is to do more harm than good, and ultimately that’s a story about grace and not a Kingdom direction.

If you’re looking for more information on this dialogue tune into Regent’s upcoming discussion on safe injection sites. It takes places October 5th lead by John Stackhouse and Meera Bai