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Speak up for science 2013: Dr Thomas Kerr’s speech excerpts

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Dr Thomas Kerr is first on the left among the standing scientists

Dr Thomas Kerr is first on the left among the standing scientists

Last September several scientists gathered on the step of the Vancouver Art Gallery to speak up for science, joining other similar demonstrations across the country.  Among them was Dr Thomas Kerr, and I have reproduced excerpts of his speech below.

The speeches are as relevant now as they were four months ago, unfortunately.  So I’ve collected some excerpts that I’d like to share for the next few posts. My first post of this series was about what Sarah Otto had to say.

Dr. Thomas Kerr is the co-director of the Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (Division of AIDS), as well as a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar.

Here is some of what he said:

Our story isn’t about funding or being muzzled. It’s about very high level interference in what should be the natural development of policy. A story about immense human suffering, an effective public policy response and government interference at the highest levels.

Ten blocks from here, in 1996/97, a public health crisis occurred, one of the most explosive spreads of HIV outside of subSaharan Africa. At the same time, there was an increase in the fatal overdoses from heroin, about one person dying in the province each day. The Vancouver Richmond health board was swift in its response: harm reduction with a needle and syringe exchange and a supervised injection site. These interventions worked and there are volumes of research documenting this. In the downtown eastside, HIV infection rates plummeted. So did the epidemic of fatal overdose. How did it happen? Local governments looked at the best available evidence and enacted it here. The WHO and joint UN program on AIDs also call for harm reduction.

Despite the experience in Vancouver, the federal government renamed Canada’s drug strategy as the anti-drug strategy and, for the first time, removed harm reduction as a potential component of the strategy

Then it went to great lengths to close Vancouver’s supervised injection site. After losing decisions in the BC Supreme Court and the BC Court of Appeal, they used your tax dollars to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court judges ruled 9-0 in favour of the continued operation of the supervised injection site. It’s benefits have been proven. Overdose deaths were reduced by 35% in the area.

It’s a very sad in Canada when we have to rely on Canada’s highest court to set evidence based policy for Canadians.

Other cities have planned supervised injection sites, but the federal government tabled Bill C-65 which introduces new requirements that must be fulfilled to open an injection site. The requirements are onerous. They must obtain permission from neighbours and the police. It puts NIMBYism in front of public health and charges police with making key decisions about public health. It needs to be revised to protect human rights of people who inject drugs.

Harm reduction is a rare opportunity to enact policy that is fiscally sound, compassionate, and backed by high quality evidence. We must call for an end of political interference in the natural development of evidence based policy.

The consequences of a failure to do so are obvious. We will bear witness to immense human suffering and death. For this, we will be condemned by future generations.

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3 Responses

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  1. […] collected some excerpts to share in this blog; the last two featured exceprts from Sarah Otto and Thomas Kerr.  The bulk of the material comes from the Vancouver […]

  2. […] to share for the next few posts. Previous posts include excerpts from the speeches of Sarah Otto, Thomas Kerr, and Alexandra […]

  3. […] to share for the next few posts. Previous posts include excerpts from the speeches of Sarah Otto,Thomas Kerr, Alexandra Morton, and Lynne […]


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