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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian government cannot constitutionally shut North America's only legally sanctioned drug injection site for at least another year, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
Drug addicts deserve access to health care treatment provided by the Insite facility in Vancouver in the same way that people who use alcohol or tobacco, British Columbia Supreme Court judge Ian Pitfield ruled.
Supporters of the facility had gone to court to block Ottawa's bid to shut down the facility, which requires a special exemption from Canada's drug laws to remain open.
Insite's current exemption expires at the end of June, and the federal government has not said if it will allow it to remain open after that. The court ruling would allow the facility to remain open until at least June 2009.
The U.S. government has urged Canada to close the project, arguing that illegal drug use should not be sanctioned, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that he personally disagrees with the facility.
Addicts using drugs such as heroin and cocaine are given clean needles to inject themselves in a room supervised by a nurse. They can then go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the street.
Insite is modeled on similar facilities in Europe. While opponents of the program say it promotes drug use, its backers argue it has cut the spread of disease through shared needles, reduced overdose deaths and helped addicts seeking treatment.
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson