Critics want more consultation for Toronto drug injection sites
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, March 14, 2016 4:35AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 14, 2016 7:35PM EDT
Some politicians are expressing concern about public safety and demanding more consultation after Toronto’s medical officer of health recommended the city move ahead with three supervised drug injection sites.
Proponents of the project, on the other hand, say that letting users shoot up drugs like heroin under nurse supervision will save lives and actually improve public safety.
Conservative health critic Dr. Kellie Leitch is among the critics.
"As the Official Opposition we are very concerned about what this report might mean for the law-abiding residents of Toronto,” Dr. Leitch said in a written statement sent by the Conservative Party.
“The drugs that are used at these sites, mostly heroin, are dangerous and addictive.”
Dr. Leitch said she wants “rigorous, public consolation as per the requirements of the Respect for Communities Act.”
The Respect for Communities Act was written by the Conservative government after a 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision forced them to allow an exemption to federal drug laws at the country’s first safe-injection site, Insite, in Vancouver.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, who served as health minister, also cited the Respect For Communities Act in comments to reporters Monday.
“If you … want people to be able to bring heroin into a location and shoot it up in a neighbourhood in a way they won’t be sent to jail,” Ambrose said, “there are conditions you have to meet.”
“You have to have support in place for addicts to get help, you need to have the police on board, you need to have public consultations, you need to have support of public health officials, you need to have support of the municipality and support of the province,” she went on.
“I would expect that the government would follow the law.”
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown told CTV’s Power Play Monday that he too thinks more consultation is needed.
“I think the decision has already been made; the courts have directed action from government, that this is permissible,” Brown said. “I just want to make sure we do it with the proper consultations of the neighbourhoods they’re actually going in.”
Asked whether he sees supervised injection sites as a life-saving option, Brown accused the province’s Liberal government of “underfunding drug treatment.”
Toronto City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is among those opposed at the local level.
“The drug they are injecting is illegal and purchased by desperate people without means,” Mammoliti said in an emailed statement. “This certainly leads to illegal activities such as house and car break-ins, robberies, purse snatchings, prostitution, etc., in order to obtain that drug.”
"Heroin and commercial/residential areas don't mix,” Mammoliti went on.
“If these facilities are to be allowed, they should be situated inside hospitals,” the councilor added.
At the other end of the debate is City Councillor Joe Cressy, who ran for the federal NDP in 2014 and has worked on the city’s drug strategy.
Cressy told Power Play the proposal for three drug injection sites is not just only about saving lives, but also about increasing public safety.
Cressy pointed to statistics that show 206 people died in Toronto from drug overdoses in 2013, an increase of 36 per cent over a period when Toronto’s population grew by about 15 per cent.
He said public safety will increase, by “taking needles out of the street… the parks and the laneways.”
Cressy also said injection sites can also provide “a supportive environment to help people transition off drugs.”
He added that Montreal has already issued an application for a mobile safe-injection site, and that he expects applications from Ottawa, Thunder Bay and London, Ont.
The federal Liberals have been generally supportive. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Insite during the election, and Health Minister Jane Philpott recently approved the country’s second injection site, also in Vancouver.
Toronto Medical Officer of Health David McKeown, who made the recommendation Monday, told CTV News Channel that the public should not worry about injection sites in their communities.
“If someone is injecting under the supervision of a nurse, they’re not injecting in a park or a stairwell and they’re not leaving their dirty needles in parks and playgrounds,” he said.
McKeown said there are 90 supervised injection sites around the world and they are saving lives and reducing the spread of blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis.
The report states that the federal government should support three organizations in the city are currently planning to add “small scale” safe injection sites. They are The Works program at 277 Victoria St., the Queen West - Central Toronto Community Health Centre and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.
“These organizations are well established in their communities and have been delivering harm reduction services to people who inject drugs for many years,” according to the report, which points out the three locations already distribute annually more than 1.4 million needles.
The report lists the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway and Australia as other countries where injection sites are operating.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he's looking forward to consultations, but added that it’s “clearly a problem when you have that many people losing their lives.”
“We have to do something in addition to what we're presently doing,” he added.