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Rights + Justice

RCMP Quietly Funded Study Critical of Insite Effort

Tory minister cited report in effort to close safe injection clinic.

Monte Paulsen 8 Oct

Monte Paulsen is investigative editor of The Tyee.

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Health Minister Tony Clement.

The RCMP funded studies critical of Vancouver's supervised injection site (Insite), encouraged officers opposed to Insite to phone a popular radio talk show, and may have attempted to conceal these advocacy efforts from public view, according to allegations by the Pivot Legal Society.

"The RCMP used federal funds to finance politically motivated research," Pivot lawyer Douglas King told The Tyee.

The Harper government has repeatedly cited the RCMP-funded studies as justification for its repeated efforts to close Insite. In August of 2007, for example, Health Minister Tony Clement referred to one of the RCMP studies when he told a pivotal meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, "There has been more research done, and some of it has been questioning of the research that has already taken place and questioning of the methodology of those associated with Insite."

Together with the Portland Hotel Society (which runs Insite), Pivot is calling on Auditor General Sheila Fraser to investigate whether the RCMP acted "outside the boundaries of their statutory mandate" in paying for research "on an issue of public health." Pivot's allegations are based in part on a series of RCMP e-mails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

"The e-mails show the RCMP's true motives in funding these anti-Insite critiques," King said. "The e-mails make clear that everyone in the Vancouver drug division was informed about these activities. Whether or not Ottawa directed this operation... remains to be seen."

'Centre for Excrements': Constable

Several of the e-mails obtained by Pivot and reviewed by The Tyee were written by former RCMP Constable Chuck Doucette:

In May of 2007, Constable Doucette wrote to superior officers, "As per our request, the report has no reference to the RCMP."

Also in May of 2007, in an e-mail about a Globe and Mail article, Constable Doucette referred to the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Research as the "Centre for Excrements."

And in May of 2008, Constable Doucette informed a list of 17 recipients -- including the paid author of one of the funded studies -- that CKNW's "Bill Good is going to do another show on Insite... It would be great if you could be ready to phone in with your comments. You know the Pro Insite side will have people lined up to support it. Let's try get more calls in than they do."

The complaint to be filed by Pivot alleges that the RCMP's "E" division -- a Vancouver-based drug squad -- initially hired two sociologists to review existing research related to supervised injection sites. Pivot alleges that in the spring of 2006, the RCMP paid Raymond R. Corrado, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, and Irwin M. Cohen, a criminologist at the University of The Fraser Valley, to write and publish critiques of previously conducted research on Insite. The articles by Corrado and Cohen were "largely favorable" of Insite.

First studies 'largely favourable'

Cohen confirmed that he was paid by the RCMP in a telephone interview late Tuesday.

"The drug branch of the RCMP commissioned my company to write a review of the English-based research on safe injection sites in other countries." Cohen said the RCMP placed no conditions on his research except, "They asked that any requests about the work go through their office."

When asked how much he was paid by the RCMP, Cohen replied: "I don't recall, and if I did I wouldn't disclose it."

The articles by Corrado and Cohen were "largely favorable" of Insite, according to King.

"It would appear that the findings of the two articles were not satisfactory to the members of the RCMP who commissioned them," King said. "Why else would they fund two additional articles, by authors with ties outside academia, if it wasn't because they had failed to get the answers they were looking for?"

In the fall of 2006, the RCMP hired two additional authors, Garth Davies of the Addictive Drug Information Council, and Colin Mangham, of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, to again critique the existing research, according the Pivot complaint.

Mangham confirmed that the RCMP paid for his paper, which in January of 2007 was published in a non-peer-reviewed journal called The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice.

'It was a fair wage': researcher

"Yes, [the RCMP] did fund the paper." Mangham told The Tyee. "I was paid -- not a lot -- but I was paid," he said. "It was a fair wage for about six week's work."

Like Cohen, Mangham said the RCMP made no attempt to influence his report. He complained that he and other researchers who question the merits of safe injection are routinely attacked in the media.

"I'm an honest person and I wrote honest words and I only ask that the media and the public would go out and read my paper first, then come talk to me," Mangham said.

The Tyee was unable to reach spokespeople for either Clement or the RCMP late Tuesday night.

Erik Waddell, a spokesman for Minister Clement, told the National Review of Medicine that Clement was referring specifically to Mangham's article when he lobbied to close Insite in the fall of 2007.

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