Insite: Pioneers in harm reduction

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

Liz Evans is the Executive Director of PHS Community Services Society which operates Insite, Canada's first supervised injection site, in partnership with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. Liz corresponded with Am Johal in Vancouver.

Am Johal: What is your reaction to the B.C. Supreme Court decision that grants provincial jurisdiction to Insite? Was the decision expected?

Liz Evans: The odds were against us. We had a team of volunteer lawyers up against the very well financed Hunter Litigation firm. We knew, however, that the evidence presented in Justice Pitfield's court clearly demonstrated that InSite is a health care facility which is proven to save lives.

Are you expecting this to go to the Supreme Court of Canada?

It is unclear on what reason the Harper government will base its appeal. Our lawyers never disputed any of the government's evidence during the court proceedings. We accepted that narcotics are both dangerous and illegal. What we argued though was that because of those facts, InSite is a crucial access point to health care and treatment. And the judge agreed.

Are you still perplexed at the Harper government's indecisiveness on the issue of Insite?

Well, it seems they are being decisive now, and it looks like the wolf has shed its sheep's clothing revealing the Harper government's ideological bias on this issue. It is quite astonishing though, in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that InSite does save lives and link people to treatment.

Last week, 100 users of Insite visited the B.C. Legislature to see the introduction of the private member's bill from Jenny Kwan designating Insite as a provincial health responsibility. Can you talk about the support from users of Insite?

It was quite amazing to be there in the Victoria Legislature as the visitors gallery filled with low-income Downtown Eastside residents, [who] received a standing ovation from both government and opposition members. Drug users have fought long for harm reduction measures, and itâe(TM)s inspiring to see that fight continue to retain and expand life saving programs such as InSite.

Do you expect more supervised injection sites to open in Vancouver and in other cities in Canada such as Victoria, Toronto and Montreal?

It is up to each community to determine how they should respond to drug addiction. In Vancouver, InSite is supported by the community including local merchants, as well the Mayor, Police Chief, B.C.'s Health Minister and Premier. In cities where a similar consensus is found, there is a strong possibility more facilities like InSite may open.

Can you speak to the Four Pillars approach and why it has never been comprehensively implemented since it was released?

Unfortunately the Harper government's reluctance in granting InSite a renewed legal exemption has been a distraction from the many other actions that need to be taken to address the crisis of drug addiction. We desperately need more treatment and effective prevention programs.

There has been some progress. Last fall we opened OnSite, which is located above InSite, providing 30 beds to addicts seeking detox and treatment services. OnSite proves that none of the other pillars, whether prevention, treatment, or enforcement are mutually exclusive of harm reduction. In fact, all four pillars stand in equal support of the solution, each complementing the other as important pieces of comprehensive plan to address addiction.

Anything else?

InSite has broad public support in British Columbia with three out of four people surveyed in a recent Angus Reid poll declaring their support for the injection site. InSite continues to rely on that public goodwill as we begin a new campaign to uphold the B.C. Supreme Court decision. We are urging all those who support the injection site to write Stephen Harper and urge him to do the right thing, and let InSite keep saving lives.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.