09/20/2013 12:31 EDT | Updated 11/20/2013 05:12 EST

Toronto's Future: Safe Injection Sites Are a Win-Win

There has been much talk recently about the possibility of a safe injection clinic in Toronto. With Vancouver's Insite clinic leading the way, Canada is at the forefront of a major advance both in public health and social justice.

Drug addicted people are among the most marginalized individuals around. Measures that save their lives (and the lives of others) and simultaneously connect them with authority figures (e.g., medical) they might normally shun -- well, it all makes for an urban environment that is at once healthier and more humane.

So our mayor -- surprise, surprise -- is against it. The provincial Liberals -- surprise, surprise -- have been ducking the issue. Since the feds are not on board, the Liberals have an excuse to sidestep rather than do the right thing and speak up (which would jeopardize their share of the redneck vote). Hey, Liberals will be Liberals.

Despite such seeming setbacks, the writing is on the wall: from the Toronto Board of Health giving these clinics a nod of approval this July, to the Supreme Court itself vindicating Insite back in Fall of 2011 (essentially giving our Prime Minister and his crew a slap on the wrist) -- this approach to public health is clearly supported by those who actually know what they're talking about.

But, for a city such as Toronto, there is more at stake than social justice, kindness, health and so on -- no matter how important these things are. Like reformers in days gone by -- abolitionists, civil rights workers, suffragettes, gay rights pioneers -- the brave souls running Insite are on the cutting edge of something fantastic: giving a long neglected (and abused) segment of the population a fair shake.

History will vindicate these efforts. History will condemn those who oppose these efforts. And, for the purpose of this article: history will not be kind to those who lag, stay on the fence, and do nothing.

Toronto cannot afford to make that mistake.

Let's use an example most readers can understand with little effort. In the early days of Gay Pride, there were some naysayers. Sure, some businesses even shunned our city because we were too damned homo friendly.

But it didn't last. In the end, a good rapport with our own gay community has proven to be good for business. Yes, aside from the social justice issue, it's also good for the bottom line. Gay Pride is good for Toronto, and few downtown business owners would disagree.

Dealing intelligently with another marginalized group -- in this case people addicted to street drugs -- will also be good for any urban center that plays a leading role. It is good for Vancouver right now, and in time the benefits will accrue.

You see, a city with less homophobia is simply more respectable than a holdover town packed full of yahoos. Whether you plan to hold an academic or business conference, or make a movie, where would you rather do it?

See? It's just like that. Anyone who can't picture a decent rapport with the street drug using "community" might recall (or ask an older person) when the terms "gay" and "community" would never be used in conjunction by a representative of Toronto's police force. Now, of course, gay cops - in uniform - are part of the parade.

Toronto did itself a lot of good by being ahead of most urban centers on the gay issue, and it will do itself a disservice if it fails to demonstrate similar vision on what has become one of the most pressing - and ascendant - social justice issues of our time: treating those with street drug addictions like human beings.

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