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Court to hear urgent appeal on Alberta ID policy for supervised drug-use site

Needles and supplies ready to be used by clients at the supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. (CREDIT: Alberta Health Services)

Alberta’s top court will hear an urgent appeal by harm reduction advocates who want to stop a provincial policy that requires supervised drug-use clients to identify themselves.

The rule, set to come into place on Jan. 31, requires people who are using substances to show their personal health care number to access the sites.

Harm reduction groups argue the requirement could increase barriers to the service and increase the risk of overdose.

The Alberta Court of Appeal is to hear the appeal Jan. 27.

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Earlier this month, an Alberta judge dismissed an injunction that would have delayed the implementation of the new rules.

Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Mike Ellis provided a statement to CityNews following the dismissal:

“I am pleased that this court decision has come forward and that this much-needed regulation can move forward. These quality standards were introduced with the intention to improve community safety in the areas surrounding supervised consumption sites, improve the quality of services that are being offered to people with addiction, and ensure that clients are better connected to the healthcare system.

“We will not allow our communities to become chaotic and disorderly and we must ensure that while we treat addiction as a healthcare issue, we are keeping communities safe. That is exactly what these quality standards will do and why they are essential to safe and orderly provision of high quality supervised consumption services as part of a recovery-oriented system of care.”

Non-profit societies Moms Stop The Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society filed a lawsuit against the Alberta government in August saying its new rules will have life and death consequences.

“We have evidence and we have spoken to people who told us they will not seek out supervised consumption services if they have to provide identification, including healthcare numbers,” said Moms Stop the Harm Society co-founder Petra Schulz.

“There was research done on this topic as well, and the findings show that over half of those surveyed would either be hesitant to use the service or not use it at all.”

Edmonton-based lawyer Avnish Nanda, who is representing the plaintiffs, says the expedited appeal hearing could prevent unnecessary deaths.

– With files from CityNews’ Saif Kaisar