Our national health minister, Tony Clement, has decided to make waves again by openly questioning the ethics of MDs who approve of safe injection sites for heroin addicts. This is the latest and most offensive chapter in Clement’s overriding obsession with the safe injection site known as Insite, located in Vancouver. Indeed earlier this month he took it upon himself to embarrass the country in front of the world at the AIDS 2008 Conference by (again) attacking safe injection sites as a form of harm reduction.
Clement claims that safe injection sites must be opposed because he finds them personally repulsive, a benighted point of view which accomplishes nothing but show how completely unfit he is to hold the post of Health Minister — or indeed, minister of anything — for the country.
No one’s going to stand up and declare that heroin addiction is a good thing. However, Mr. Clement has consistently failed to understand the basic fact that not having safe injection sites would in no way lead to having less heroin addicts. There will be as many addicts as before, but they will inject themselves in insalubrious surroundings and, not having access to clean needles, will most likely engage in the sort of risky activity that promotes the spreading of diseases and viruses, including the one that causes AIDS.
This is something which everyone who has studied the issue already knows. There are a number of studies that have been done worldwide and which endorse the use of safe injection sites as a harm reduction measure for those people who are unfortunate enough to be addicted to heroin.
But evidently the idea that a country’s health minister would actually inform himself about the subject instead of spouting faith-based, cretinous rethoric about the harm caused by drug use is just too much to expect from this Conservative minister.
And what exactly are Clement’s medical credentials by which he has reached his conclusions? To put it succinctly, he has none, and that’s painfully obvious. Mr. Clement is a lawyer by trade, not a doctor.
And it’s painfully obvious whenever he opens his mouth. This debate is about harm reduction given the reality that some people in the country will, no matter what else is true, inject heroin into their veins. It’s not some idiotic polyanna world where if we don’t like something, it will go away. And the fact, demonstrated again and again, that Tony Clement is either unwilling or just downright incapable of realizing what the public health issue is in this case means that he is simply unfit to be Canada’s health minister.
But this problem goes beyond Clement. Look, for example, at the case of Maxime Bernier, another Harper appointee as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and one who made the headlines ever since his appointment for his ties with a woman linked with a notorious biker gang. Eventually he was constrained to resign not because of this relationship, but because he had actually left important MoFA documents at her residence. The issue here was not that he was linked with her, but that he would be so lacking in judgement that he would routinely visit her carrying documents containing state and policy secrets, and be so careless about these documents as to leave them behind when he went home.
Likewise with Clement’s comments, which have been rightly described as “repugnant” by a BC doctor who actually works with drug addicts and IS concerned with real issues of health on a daily basis (as opposed to being obsessed with an American-imposed anti-drug agenda). Mr. Clement is entitled to his opinion. However he is supposed to be concerned with implementing measures that promote public health given the reality that we live in today. Closing one’s eyes to reality isn’t the answer to the issue, but it’s what Tony Clement has decided to do. Unfortunately it’s an attitude that not only does not help public health, it’s significantly detrimental to it. If heroin addicts do not have a safe injection site, they will shoot up in parks and in back alleys, possibly using dirty needles. This means that not only will more of them contract diseases, but they will also be leaving their dirty needles on the ground and create significant risks for non-users. Is Tony Clement simply too stupid to see that reality for what it is?
Clearly it’s time for Tony Clement to go, and time for the Prime Minster who appointed him to also be tossed out of 24 Sussex on his ear. Neither of them has shown much good judgement — Clement by ignoring public-health realities, or Harper by appointing him — and therefore neither is fit to hold the position to which each has been entrusted.