There are few terms so intellectually offensive to me as ‘common sense‘. Every time someone invokes ‘common sense’ in an argument, I immediately stop listening to them. What they invariably mean is “I have no evidence to support my position, so I will substitute what I think is obvious”. The problem is that there is very little that is ‘common’ between people with different perspectives, and it very rarely makes any kind of ‘sense’. If you have an argument built from logical first principles, I will be happy to hear it; however, if it’s just based on your own particular handful of prejudices, please don’t waste my time.
It’s incredibly gratifying to see that even in this day and age where ‘common sense’ has become a mantra in our political and social life, we still see examples where evidence and reason win out:
Vancouver’s controversial Insite clinic can stay open, the Supreme Court said Friday in a landmark ruling. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that not allowing the clinic to operate under an exemption from drug laws would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court ordered the federal minister of health to grant an immediate exemption to allow Insite to operate. “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation,” the ruling said, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
American liberals – our chief justice is a lady. U jelly?
A brief backgrounder – Vancouver is home to an unreal level of addiction and drug use. While most of Vancouver proper is really quite beautiful and upscale, there is one pocket that looks like a war zone – the area referred to as the Downtown East Side (or DTES). Rather than try to describe it, I’ll suggest you read this blog written by a beat cop working in that area. Insite is what is known as a ‘safe injection site’ where addicts can bring their drugs and be provided with clean needles, a place to inject, and access to health care professionals. Since it opened under a special exemption in drug enforcement law (under a much more liberal government), Insite has made life as an addict much less harrowing. It has also had the effect of drastically reducing the number of fatal overdoses, and increased participation in detox programs. Basically, it’s been a wildly effective tool in an attempt to manage the harms of drug use.
As you might imagine, the city is wildly supportive of Insite. It saves taxpayer money that would otherwise be spent on emergency hospitalizations and public order enforcement. It reduces the number of deaths. It connects drug addicts to a place where they can get treatment, should they so desire. Because health care is a provincial matter, the province is wild about it too. The federal government, however, is married to the idea of being ‘tough on drugs’ in the same way that the United States has been. They have tried to pull the exemption in municipal, provincial, and now federal court. This latest decision means that, barring some kind of miraculous legal jiu-jitsu, Insite will remain open and operating.
When I shared this story with a friend from Greece, he was bewildered: “why the hell would they want this thing shut down? It works so well!” This perfectly echoes the response from millions of head-scratching Canadians, who are baffled by the stern opposition that the federal government has stubbornly insisted upon for years now. Aside from the fact that they’re walking a weird tightrope between the two, conflicting bases of their party, their policies are almost exclusively based on ‘common sense’ approaches to problems for which the evidence suggests things that are counter-intuitive.
For example, ‘common sense’ would dictate that if you make being a drug addict suck less, people will be more likely to use drugs. After all, making something more attractive by removing a barrier will make it more popular, right? Except the evidence suggests that people are more likely to get off drugs if they go to Insite. Maybe, just maybe, people who are so addicted that they will use dirty water from puddles on the street to cook heroin aren’t chiefly concerned with safety. It’s the same argument that people use against the HPV vaccine – as though 14 year-old kids are holding off from boinking because they’re worried about the risk of cervical cancer 30 years down the road.
‘Common sense’ also tells us that taking a stance that is anything other than “don’t do drugs” represents an erosion in an anti-drug policy. Bleeding heart liberals (you rang?) are undercutting the moral fibre of our once-great society by allowing moral lassitude to pervade the minds of our children by suggesting that some people will do drugs regardless of punishment. Of course, the evidence tells us that people do drugs regardless of how tough you make the laws – that accessibility and price are much better predictors of use than likelihood of punishment. Given that people are going to do drugs, it makes nothing but actual sense to minimize the harm that they do to users and non-users alike.
It seems as though our Supreme Court overwhelmingly recognizes the strength of this argument, and has ruled that the government does not have the jurisdiction to legislate what is essentially a health care issue – which falls squarely under the auspices of the enthusiastically-supportive provincial government. Other municipalities across the country are eagerly looking into what this means, legally speaking, for their desire to open up similar facilities. For me personally, I am just glad to see another example of evidence-based health policy that will ultimately benefit us all, despite what the forces of stupid would like to see happen.
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