Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2017


Social Justice and Community Engagement


Social Justice and Community Engagement


Safe injection sites provide injection drug users with a safe space to inject drugs with clean supplies under the supervision of medical professionals. This study centres on a discursive analysis of newspaper representations of Insite, North America’s first supervised injection site, located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Insite opened in 2003 under an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and has provided benefits to its clients through a reduction in public injections, decreased spread of infectious disease, and by providing clients with referrals to other community and social services. Despite these accomplishments the Canadian federal Conservative government, led by Stephen Harper, engaged in efforts to close the site in 2008. This resulted in legal battles which moved through the British Columbia Supreme Court, the British Columbia Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada. This study focuses on how Canadian national newspapers represented the Supreme Court decision in 2011 that allowed Insite to remain open under an exemption. The sample included 25 articles in total from The Globe and Mail and the National Post. Through a discourse analysis situated in the Foucauldian tradition this paper seeks to answer the following research questions: how is Insite and the court case represented in newsprint media and how are Insite’s stakeholders and clients represented in news media in 2011?

The results from the analysis revealed that Insite was represented in terms of the health benefits it provides to its clients and the benefits it provides to the broader community through an increase in public order. While not spoken about equally, the smaller space allocated to discuss public order still provides the reader with the indication that the benefits to the broader community are also important to recognize when implementing supervised injection sites. Further, discussions surrounding public order and new supervised injection sites within the sample revealed that the authors of the newspaper articles believed that the readers of the articles must be provided with the benefits Insite provides to the broader community in order to justify the Insite decision. As well, the stakeholders within the sample that were relied upon were those who occupied an authoritative status, and the media also relied consistently on objective science to justify the case. The clients of Insite were represented in an overwhelmingly negative way, and consistently referred to as ‘addicts’. Further, the clients of Insite were not positioned as stakeholders in the Insite case and were not given the space to speak within the sample.

Based on these results, I argue that the reliance on the medical and criminal model and a misrepresentation of harm reduction within the sample leads to and increases the invisibility of the clients of Insite. As a result, the clients of Insite are represented in stereotypical ways where they are reduced only to their drug use, which enforces the assumption that drug use is a moral failing. I also argue that an implication of the media excluding drug users in discussion relevant to them is that drug policy will continue to present the opinions of those who are given space in the media. Further, I argue that significant attention must be paid to what is included and excluded within the media, as there is no interrogation into the systemic and structural barriers that the clients of Insite face. Finally, I argue that the representation of drug users in the media is influenced by neoliberalism and this results in drug use being understood as incompatible with everyday life. This in turns leads to drug users being exposed to efforts that encourages them to responsibilize and become rational human beings who engage in economic risk calculations in order to reduce risks to themselves and the state.

This study interrogates the ways in which the media represents supervised injection sites and concludes that the media must work to include drug users in discussions surrounding harm reduction initiatives that directly affect the lives of drug users, such as supervised injection sites.