Health and Drug Policy

Drug policy in Canada is in desperate need of reform. Effective drug policy must empower drug users to take measures to protect their health and to reduce the harms associated with drug use. We believe that in the interest of health and human rights, the criminalization of addiction must be replaced with evidence-based policies that include effective systems of health care provision and drug regulation. Taking our lead from drug users themselves, we work for changes that will meet the most pressing needs of people living with addictions, including timely access to a range of harm reduction, drug substitution and treatment options in their own communities.


Heroin-Assisted Treatment - The goal of this project is to ensure that Heroin-Assisted Treatment (HAT) is available to all patients for whom it is medically recommended, typically people struggling with longer-term addiction for whom other treatments have failed.  Our short-term goal is to ensure that participants in the SALOME research trial who have benefited from this medical intervention have continuing access to HAT. After significant advocacy by Pivot, patients in the study, and drug user groups, Providence Health Care and the clinical physicians associated with the study began to apply to Health Canada’s Special Access Program for authorization to provide HAT to patients who would benefit from the treatment before they were cut off at the end of study. Health Canada rigorously evaluated each application and, in September of 2013, granted Special Access to 20 applicants. Federal Minister of Health Rona Ambrose immediately condemned Health Canada and subsequently introduced new regulations that will make it impossible for Health Canada to issue new exemptions or to renew existing exemptions. We have been retained by several current and former SALOME patients and are preparing to launch a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the new regulations because of their impact on the life, liberty and security of the person of SALOME patients, and because they discriminate against people who are dependent on drugs.

Bill C-2 - On June 6 2013, the Conservative government tabled the Respect for Communities Act.  This legislation would put in place over twenty new requirements for organizations or government bodies wishing to get a federal exemption to operate a supervised consumption site like Insite.  The new legislation would open the door to NIMBY opinions having as much weight as medical evidence and make it all but impossible for any new consumption sites to be established in Canada, despite the pressing public health need.  We, alongside the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and groups across Canada, are gearing up for a legal challenge to this harmful legislation if it becomes law. 

Prisons - We have recognized the disproportionate number of people who use drugs in prison and the lack of services for people with addictions inside prisons as an important public health and human rights issue. In order to address the potentially exponential growth of people with addictions in prison, in spring 2013 we launched a report looking at the impacts of the Safe Streets and Communities Act (better know as the Omnibus Crime Bill) for low-income drug users.  The report is titled, Throwing Away the Keys: the human and social cost of mandatory minimum sentences. The report, based on the life stories of drug users in Vancouver and Victoria, also includes a Charter analysis of many of the Act’s provisions. You can read about the report and download it here. We have also formed a coalition with Prisoners Legal Services and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to intervene in the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network’s lawsuit on the Charter right to clean syringes in Canada’s federal prisons. We expect to file for leave to intervene in spring 2014.

Past Victories

City of Abbotsford strikes down "anti-harm reduction" bylaw- Over the past ten years, a growing number of BC municipalities have amended their zoning bylaws to restrict access to methadone and harm reduction services. We take the position that these amendments overstep municipal zoning powers, and are discriminatory in that they distinguish health care services for drug users from other healthcare uses. The most sweeping anti-harm reduction bylaw in BC was introduced by the City of Abbotsford in 2005.  In May 2013, Pivot filed a lawsuit and human rights complaint on behalf of three people who use drugs in Abbotsford and the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, challenging the Abbotsford zoning bylaw, which prohibits all harm reduction uses anywhere in the municipality. In early 2014, the City of Abbotsford voted to amend the Bylaw before the case went to court. This is a huge victory of drug users in the City of Abbotsford and for human rights in this province.

Read more about the Abbotsford Legal Challenge

InSite Supervised Injection Facility - In 2004 Pivot received an Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights from the Canadian Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS for its work to establish the first sanctioned supervised injection site in North America. Pivot provided legal support for an unofficial safe injection site which preceded the opening of the Provincial government-funded facility. Since then, Pivot has been active in the lengthy legal battle to keep the supervised injection site open in the face of Federal Government opposition. In September of 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that InSite can continue to operate and provide life-saving health services to injection drug users.

Defending Health Services for Drug Users - In 2001, the Health Contact Centre opened at Hastings and Main to provide low-barrier medical care to people living in the Downtown Eastside. A coalition of business groups calling itself the “Community Alliance” launched a legal petition against the centre, which served many people living with addictions. Pivot represented the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) in the case. Focusing on the impact of closing the centre on its users, Pivot persuaded the Community Alliance to abandon the challenge.


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