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QUEBEC CITY — A neighbourhood in Quebec City is divided over a proposed safe-injection site for drug users, as the Supreme Court of Canada hears an appeal by the federal government to shut down the pilot project in Vancouver.
Public hearings are underway over the Quebec site that would offer intravenous drug users access to sterile syringes, health care services and addiction resources. Drug users would be free to inject themselves under the supervision of nurses.
The site would resemble Insite, a supervised injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
"When I saw that on the news in Vancouver… around the injection centre, it's like a ghetto," said Stephane Champagne, a chocolate shop owner in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood where the site is proposed.
Champagne said he is conflicted over the injection site, because he is concerned about the neighbourhood returning to the state it was in before it was revitalized.
"The project is good for the people -- but the place is not."
Addicts seek site
Quebec City's longtime needle exchange is the proposed site for the injection centre. It provides 350,000 sterile syringes per year.
Recovering addict Stephane Anger-Hearns, who visits the needle exchange, said the staff there is helpful.
"You're better treated there than at a hospital," he said.
Users at the injection site would bring their own drugs, and would be given a clean needle, sterilized water and a mirrored, stainless alcove where they are supervised by nurses.
Besides responding to emergencies such as overdoses, the staff can also provide health and counselling services and even let users stay in a "chill out" room before they leave.
Businesses urge government to block project
Business owners, however, are pleading with Health Minister Yves Bolduc to block the project.
"There's a very, very small number of people using heroin. Other cities have that problem. We don't," said Stephane Sabourin of Quebec's Downtown Business Association.
The Quebec coroner's office reported 76 accidental opiate overdose deaths throughout the province in 2008. There were more than 200 heroin deaths in Vancouver alone in some years before Insite opened.
Insite has proven to be effective in curbing heroin deaths in Vancouver; after it opened, the study found that fatal overdoses dropped 35 per cent in the surrounding area, compared to 9 per cent in the rest of Vancouver.
As opposed to the site in Quebec City, Vancouver's Insite was opened in 2003 in response to a heroin crisis, where the explicit open-air drug market had already driven businesses away.
An estimated 5,000 of the notorious Downtown Eastside's 12,000 residents are thought to be heroin users.
Supreme Court of Canada weighing in on Insite
Bolduc said he is waiting on the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the controversial Vancouver injection site.
The court is deciding whether or not the controversial clinic will continue to operate as a health-care facility run by the province, or whether it should be controlled by the federal government, which has hinted it may shut the facility down.
According to a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet medical journal last month, the clinic has indeed had a significant impact on the number of drug-related deaths in the impoverished 15-block neighbourhood around the clinic.
But the governing Conservatives have long argued that the site actually serves to encourage addiction.