The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision last Friday to allow InSite, Vancouver’s safe injection clinic, to remain open is a reminder to government that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires that they take care when making decisions that seriously threaten people’s health.
InSite operates under an exemption from Canada’s federal drug laws. The Conservative government was seeking to withdraw the exemption, thereby closing InSite. The court found, however, that closing InSite would have prevented drug users from using the facility’s life-saving health services, which was a violation of their right to life, liberty and security under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As long as InSite didn’t pose a threat to public safety – and evidence said that it didn’t – and it was providing life saving services, its clients had a right to have it stay open. To sum it all up: Because of the potential impact of its decision, the government could not simply follow its own desire. Where the rights of people are affected, the government has to act more carefully than they otherwise might.
Meet Ron and Ada
Ron Plain and Ada Lockridge, our clients in the Chemical Valley case, are also challenging government decisions that jeopardize their health and the health of their community, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ont.
With the help of Ecojustice, Ron and Ada are challenging Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE) for approving pollution from a local refinery – pollution they say causes them psychological and physical harm. Sarnia is home to 40 per cent of Canada’s petrochemical industry, which neighbours Aamjiwnaang and exposes community members to harmful pollutants and stress. The level of pollution faced by residents of Aamjiwnaang is unlike few places in the country. Just last week, a World Health Organization study found that Sarnia had the worst air quality in Canada. Our case alleges that MOE’s ongoing approval of pollution in Sarnia is a violation of Ron and Ada’s basic human rights under sections 7 and 15 of the Charter.
What’s the connection?
Approving more pollution in Chemical Valley is a decision that requires careful and thoughtful consideration. Ontario’s government should have assessed the cumulative effects of pollution on the health and well-being of Aamjiwnaang community members before making its decision. Not doing so threatens the health of Ron and Ada and their community. A healthy environment, in other words, is part of their right to life liberty and security of the person.