Challenging the closure of supervised consumption sites

Community groups opposed to life-saving supervised consumption have long been a barrier to setting up these sites across Canada, which are already inundated with numerous bureaucratic and political roadblocks. In December 2018, Pivot represented our allies at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition to intervene in a case before the Federal Court of Canada. In that case, an Edmonton-based business association challenged the decision of the Minister of Health to approve three life-saving supervised consumption sites in downtown Edmonton, claiming that because it was not adequately consulted in the Minister’s decision, the sites should be shuttered. We opposed the submissions of the business association. Under the law, third party non-applicants are not entitled to “procedural fairness” in the case of supervised consumption site approvals. These decisions are principally health care decisions, and a community organization is not owed the right to weigh in on such matters.

The Court agreed with our submissions and dismissed the business association’s application, citing directly from our submissions. This ruling is significant, as it was the first time the provisions of law governing the approval of supervised consumption sites were tested in court and interpreted by a judge. The favourable outcome sets an important precedent adding greater protection for desperately-needed health services that are too often the target of community stigma and intolerance. It affirms that public health remains the key consideration for Minister’s tasked with approving supervised consumption sites.