The Alberta Court of Appeal has reserved its decision on an emergency application to stop a government policy that requires health-care numbers be shown to access supervised consumption sites.
The provincial policy change is set to come into effect next week and requires site operators to request Alberta health care numbers from clients. The Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society is asking the Alberta Court of Appeal to impose an injunction on the provincial plan.
"There are more overdose deaths in Lethbridge than there are on Vancouver's east side," Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda, representing the overdose society, told the panel of three judges Thursday. "More than four Albertans die a day.
"This will further entrench this poisoning crisis."
He pointed to an affidavit filed by a Calgary man who is a regular safe consumption site user, identified only as T.F.
The 37-year-old said that he consumes crystal meth and uses the Safeworks Safe Consumption Site in Calgary on a daily basis. He also admitted he's overdosed "numerous times" at Safeworks but said the staff there has been able to revive him. T.F. said he's never been asked to provide his name or health-care number, and would stop going if he's required to provide that information.
"I would rather take the risk of using substances in an unsupervised, unsafe manner," he wrote.
"I know that means that I am more likely to die…but I would rather take that chance than access supervised consumption services from a provider that collects and shares this information with others."
After the hearing, Nanda told CBC News he believes there's a lot at stake.
"I fear mass death," Nanda said. "I fear overdose deaths increasing significantly and I fear that it will be too late to turn back the clock because once it's entrenched that supervised consumption sites will take identification … it's going to take a long time to restore trust in people."
Alberta government lawyer Nathaniel Gartke told the panel of three judges that the province's overall goal is to reduce deaths.
"The injunction would harm Alberta's ability to reduce opioid deaths," Gartke said, asking the appeal court to dismiss the application.
Thursday's fast-track hearing was held after Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paul Belzil refused to impose an injunction. His written decision was issued on January 10.
The Court of Appeal did not indicate when it would issue a decision.
An Alberta government spokesperson said the change would be made next week with or without a ruling.
"Operators that are custodians under the Health Information Act will begin the process of asking clients for their personal health numbers on February first if they are not already, which many are," said press secretary Eric Engler with the Mental Health and Addictions ministry.