Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Nurses welcome court decision to grant them intervener status in Insite case

Nurses welcome court decision to grant them intervener status in Insite case


TORONTO, Feb. 28, 2011 – A coalition of three nursing associations representing nurses from across the country will make arguments in favour of keeping the doors to Vancouver’s Insite facility open when the Supreme Court of Canada hears the case in May.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the Association of Registered Nurses of British Columbia (ARNBC) have been granted intervener status before the high court.

“We’re extremely pleased the voice of nurses will be considered when the court begins looking into this appeal,” says David McNeil, RNAO’s president. “Nurses know that harm reduction, including supervised injection, is an essential tool in a comprehensive health-care strategy for substance misuse and addiction. Insite has a long track record of success and we believe this facility should remain open so nurses and other health-care professionals can continue to work with clients to reduce the risks associated with addiction and injection.”

Insite was set up in 2003 when the federal Liberal government was in power. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, Insite has been defending attempts to shut its doors.

Two court decisions in B.C. have upheld Insite’s ability to continue operating. However, in June 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the federal government’s appeal of the B.C. court rulings.

The nursing associations argue there is ample evidence and research that backs up the effectiveness of the Insite facility and that politics has no place in clinical decision-making to help people overcome their addictions. 

Dr. Judith Shamian, president of CNA, notes that the principles of harm reduction are aligned with the nursing values expressed in CNA’s Code of Ethics – values that consider the social conditions that can lead to inequities and risky behaviours. She says, “evidence shows that harm reduction works. It saves lives, it saves our health and legal systems money and it treats vulnerable groups with dignity, supporting a population that is hard to reach due to high levels of homelessness and mental illness.”

“Harm reduction for people struggling with addiction includes advising on safe injection practices, providing equipment to prevent infection and overdose, and helping them access treatment for their illness,” says Rob Calnan, co-chair of ARNBC. “The nurses at Insite do this every day, and in doing so, are practising in full compliance with the professional standards of nursing.” ARNBC believes that it is essential that Insite be allowed to continue to operate legally. Otherwise, Calnan says, “nurses working there will be forced to make a choice between helping ill people in desperate need in keeping with their professional standards and breaking the law. We cannot put nurses in this position.” 

Nurses with the three groups also point out that the outcome of this case goes beyond the Vancouver site because it can potentially affect the implementation of harm reduction programs in other parts of the country.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses wherever they practise in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.
CNA is the national professional voice of registered nurses in Canada. A federation of 11 provincial and territorial nursing associations and colleges representing 143,843 registered nurses, CNA advances the practice and profession of nursing to improve health outcomes and strengthen Canada's publicly funded, not-for-profit health system.

The Association of Registered Nurses of British Columbia (ARNBC) was incorporated in July 2010 and represents nurses from all service sectors and domains of practice. The Association’s mandate is to advance the profession’s perspectives in health and social policy initiatives.

The nursing associations are being represented by Rahool Agarwal, Michael Kotrly and John M. Picone from the law firm Ogilvy Renault.


To arrange an interview with a nurse or for more information, please contact:

Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO
Cell: 647-406-5605
Phone: 416-408-5605
Toll free: 1-800-268-7199 ext. 209