Legal challenge launched against Alberta government over changes to supervised consumption sites

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A lawsuit filed against the Alberta government alleges new regulations to supervised consumption sites will increase barriers and have life and death impacts to substance users.

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Joint plaintiffs Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH) and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society (LOPS), represented by Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda, are taking legal action over regulations laid out in the Recovery-Oriented Overdose Prevention Services Guide, introduced by the province in June.

Some of the new rules introduced include requirements to collect personal health numbers from clients using safe consumption sites and implement a “good neighbour agreement” to support “successful integration of a site with the surrounding neighbourhood and community as a whole.”

They allege the new rules will reintroduce barriers to establishing supervised consumption sites that the federal government removed in 2017, as well as breach sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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“The regulations imposed by (the province) are intended to limit the number of supervised consumption sites and discourage people living with substance use disorder from accessing supervised consumption services in Alberta,” the statement of claim reads.

“Further, or in the alternative, the new regulations are intended to provide a uniform licensing regime for supervised consumption sites in Alberta but have the effect, intended or otherwise, to limit the number of supervised consumption sites and discourage people living with substance use disorder from accessing supervised consumption services.”

Statements of claim contain allegations that have not been proven in court. A statement of defence has not been filed.

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The statement of claim asks the court to suspend the use of the guidelines until proceedings are concluded.

Nanda also wrote a letter to Jill Clayton, Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner, on behalf of MSTH, LOPS and individual substance users asking her to review the new regulations and the impact they will have on users’ privacy interests.

“Our clients have specific concerns on the requirement in the guidelines that the personal identifying information of substance users accessing supervised consumption sites in Alberta be collected, stored, and disclosed to others without first obtaining the informed consent from substance users,” the letter reads.

In response to the lawsuit, NDP critic for addictions and mental health Lori Sigurdson said in a statement Albertans should not have to go to court for life-saving health care services.

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“The UCP’s reckless and ideological decision to erode and remove supervised consumption services only leads to greater loss of life,” she said.

“We cannot continue on this path, losing more than four Albertans every day to preventable fatal overdoses. I appeal to Jason Kenney and the UCP to listen to these families, listen to these experts and change course.”

Postmedia has reached out to the Alberta government for comment.

Between January and May of this year, 624 Albertans died from accidental drug poisonings, a 41 per cent increase over the same time period in 2020.

— With files from The Canadian Press

More to come

ajunker@postmedia.com

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