The Harper Index

Ideology and science

Government actions raise concerns of underlying motives.

Harper and Health Minister Tony ClementMAY 28 — The health scientists who wrote a new report on North America's only legal supervised drug-injection site say the Harper government's refusal to give long-term support to the Vancouver clinic, Insite, is driven by ideology and politics — not research. Their new study, published in a British medical journal, adds new documented proof to support the case that these sites save lives.

Last September, Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement claimed "Initial research has raised new questions that must be answered before Canada's new government can make an informed decision about the future of Vancouver's drug injection site or consider requests for any new injection sites."

Clement said "Given the need for more facts, I am unable to approve the current request to extend the Vancouver site for another three and a half years. We believe the best form of harm reduction is to help addicts to break the cycle of dependency."

Those working in the field disagree. "In the federal health minister's decision not to grant a full extension for Insite's continuation, it was stated that it remains unknown if the facility contributes to lowering drug use and fighting addiction," said Dr Julio Montaner, Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. "Insite has had a positive impact in these regards. However, the government has seemed intent on ignoring scientific evidence to pursue an ideological agenda at the expense of lives in the Downtown Eastside."

In December, 2006, the Harper government announced it would kill a safe-tattoo program for federal prisoners, despite concerns that it will increase the spread of AIDS and hepatitis C, putting both inmates and correctional staff members who supervise them at greater risk.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day announced that the Conservatives would not support the generally praised pilot program. "Our government will not spend taxpayers' money on providing tattoos for convicted criminals," Day said. "Our priority is to have an effective federal corrections system that protects Canadians, while providing inmates with access to acceptable health-care and treatment programs."

Supporters of the project call the move a big mistake, one that will cost far more than it saves in immediate costs, by the millions that will be spent treating future AIDS and hepatitis C cases.

Also, during December 2006, the government made 118 appointments, including the naming of former Nova Scotia Conservative Premier John Hamm as co-chair of Canada's reproductive technology board. The appointees to that board were condemned by critics as ideological.

The board's members include those who have spoken out against abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and the way in which stem-cell scientists operate. One of the board members named was Susanne Scorsone, who for many years worked with Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, the theologically conservative archbishop of Toronto.

Another board member, David Novak, is a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Toronto. He has written against abortion, and who publicly called for the United States to continue its ban on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.

Also named to the board was Joseph Ayoub, an oncologist at the University of Montreal. In November 2005, he was billed as a speaker at a national anti-abortion conference in Montreal.

Michael Rudnicki, scientific director of Canada's Stem Cell Network, was quoted as saying: "This committee could make life very difficult for stem cell research in Canada."

Harper Conservative vs. Public Values Frame
  Appointees / Ideological
  Science / Politics
  Enforcement, dependency / Harm reduction, saving lives

Links and sources
  Peter O'Neil, Public injection site likely reduces drug use: study, CanWest News Service, May 25, 2007
  Insite leads to addiction treatment among users: study, Vancouver, May 24, 2007
  No new injection sites for addicts until questions answered says Minister Clement, News Release Sept 1, 2006
  Tories ignoring parts of Accountability Act: Opposition, Jan 12, 2007
  Harper Conservatives kill tattoo program for federal inmates, NUPGE, Dec 6, 2006
  Human reproduction board lacks expertise, critics say, May 2, 2007
  Critics troubled by new fertility panel, The Globe and Mail, Dec 23, 2006

Posted: May 28, 2007

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