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Court backs drug injection facility

North America's only legal drug injection facility saves lives and should stay open, Canada's Supreme Court has ruled.

The court's decision could facilitate the eventual opening of other facilities in different cities but the court's ruling applied only to the site in Vancouver.

The facility called Insite was promoted by its founders as a safe, humane space for drug abusers. Canada's Conservative government said it aids drug abuse but the court ruled the government should stop interfering in the controversial clinic.

The top court issued its 9-0 decision in a landmark case that received international attention.

As of 2009, there were 65 injection facilities in 27 cities in Canada, Australia and western Europe, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The World Health Organisation has called them a "priority intervention" in slowing the spread of Aids via infected needles.

Addicts are given clean needles and sterilised water in which to mix their drug. They bring their own drugs and inject at 12 stainless steel alcoves with mirrors on the walls so nurses on a raised platform can see them.

Defenders of Insite - a taxpayer-funded operation in a drug-infested district of Vancouver, British Columbia - said the facility is providing a form of healthcare that is a provincial matter under Canada's constitution. The Canadian government countered that because heroin is a federally-banned substance the national law should trump provincial rights.

The court ruling said the government's previous decision to end the drug-law exemption threatened injection drug users' health and their lives.

Insite lawyer Joe Arvay said it means the facility can remain under a permanent exemption from Canada's criminal drug laws. He said they lost on the jurisdictional issue but won on the right to continue with the exemption.

Conservative health minister Leona Aglukak said in Parliament that although they are disappointed with the ruling, they will comply. Ms Aglukak said the system should be focused on prevention and treatment as the best ways to combat drug addiction.

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