Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dealing in lies

As others have pointed out, John Geddes' piece on how the RCMP was ordered not to be honest about the positive effects of Insite is well worth a read. But it's worth noting that the RCMP angle is just one piece of the story as to how the Cons have manipulated public discussion on the issue of drug policy - as one can see by examining how the groups commissioned to do the RCMP's dirty work have been treated by the Harper government.

Here's Geddes on the background to one of the flawed reports criticizing research on Insite which the RCMP acknowledged to have been improperly commissioned:
The RCMP asked for two more reports, by Garth Davies, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, and Colin Mangham, research director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, a group opposed to Insite’s harm-reduction model, founded by former Conservative MP Randy White. Both were sharply critical of the academic literature. Mangham faulted the research into Insite for failing to discuss the fact that “only a small percentage of IV drug users use Insite for even a majority of their injections.” Davies cast doubt on the statistical validity of the whole body of research into safe injection facilities, including those in Europe. But neither review was published in a peer-reviewed journal, the usual sign that an academic paper stands up to expert scrutiny.
By last October, the RCMP seemed ready to fess up to the shortcomings of its bid to generate critiques of the centre’s research. “Soon after Insite was opened, the RCMP commissioned several reviews on the impact of supervised injecting facilities, including Insite,” Harriman said in his email proposing “messaging” for a joint media release. “These reviews, conducted by Cohen and Corrado, concluded that supervised injecting facilities, including Insite, were associated with positive impacts. Subsequent reviews were commissioned by the RCMP or one of its affiliates (i.e. the Addictive Drug Information Council) to provide an alternative analysis of the existing [supervised injection facility] research. The RCMP recognizes that these reviews did not meet conventional academic standards.” Harriman’s email admits the police should never have waded into the debate: “The RCMP is not qualified to comment or engage in discussion over the merits of this research.”
Senior RCMP officers might have been ready back in 2008 to acknowledge the “extensive body” of studies on the benefits of supervised injection sites, but federal cabinet ministers have never accepted anything of the sort. A key figure in the saga is Clement. At the 2007 annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, he took the doctors to task over the CMA’s support for Insite. Clement claimed there was “academic debate going on” over the research into supervised injection, and alluded to new studies “questioning of the research that has already taken place.”

It’s likely he was referring to the critique of Insite produced for the RCMP, given that his remarks came a few months after Mangham’s review was posted on the Internet.
What Geddes doesn't cover, however, is the fact that while the RCMP has recognized that the research from Mangham and his group fell short, the Cons have done nothing of the sort after using it to manufacture dissent about the effectiveness of Insite. In fact, at last notice the Drug Prevention Network of Canada was still one of the Harper government's hand-picked participants in its advisory committee on drugs.

Which is to say that the RCMP's genuine effort to wrestle with the question of what to do about its involvement in a flawed study stands in stark contrast to what the Harper Cons have done. Indeed, this serves as another example of the Cons encouraging the development of policy by biased and well-connected parties based on inaccurate information. And there's little reason to think that the RCMP will improve their willingness to make decisions based on sound evidence as long as they're taking instructions from a government so averse to reality.

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