CALGARY — The Alberta government is delaying implementation of one of its new rules governing supervised drug-use sites amid a legal challenge.
Under new regulations, service providers were to collect personal health numbers from clients, which critics argue will deter people who use substances from accessing the service.
Two non-profit groups — Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society — recently filed a lawsuit against the province alleging the changes are unconstitutional and will worsen the growing overdose crisis.
Avnish Nanda, an Edmonton-based lawyer representing the groups, said service operators now won't require health numbers from clients until Jan. 3, 2022. The previous start date was Sept. 30.
Additional requirements laid out in the province's supervised drug-use guidelines, including client referrals and physical site requirements, are still scheduled to come into effect at the end of this month.
Nanda said the groups welcome the government's postponement of identification, but other changes still pose barriers.
"This doesn’t go far enough," added Kym Porter with Moms Stop the Harm, a national advocacy organization pushing for drug policy reform.
"Alberta must repeal the restrictions it has placed on delivering and accessing supervised consumption services in the province or more people will die.”
Mike Ellis, Alberta's associate minister of mental health and addictions, said in a statement the January date for compliance "has always been the case."
"Existing operators will not collect personal health numbers until they are in compliance with the Health Information Act to protect the privacy of clients," he said.
However, the January date was not publicly stated before.
A document obtained by The Canadian Press that the government gave to service providers during a June 24 information session said they had until Sept. 30 to be licensed.
The statement of claim, filed last month, alleges Alberta's rules frustrate the federal government's framework to streamline applications for and operation of drug-use sites.
It also states the medical clinic infrastructure requirements will prevent grassroots organizations like the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society from operating.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
"Alberta’s government will not be deterred in our mission to improve service quality and community safety," said Ellis.
"It is unfortunate that advocates for supervised consumption services are opposed to ensuring they meet basic quality standards to integrate into the health-care system.”
In the first five months of 2021, 624 Albertans died from accidental drug poisonings — a 41 per cent increase compared to the same time period last year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2021.
Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press