Premier’s office accused of interference in Richmond, B.C. drug site decision

Click to play video: 'Allegations of political interference in Richmond supervised consumption site decision'
Allegations of political interference in Richmond supervised consumption site decision
The premier's office is being accused of political interference in the February controversy over discussions about opening an overdose prevention facility in Richmond. Richard Zussman reports – May 29, 2024

The B.C. Premier’s Office is being accused of playing politics with the now-sidelined proposal to consider an overdose prevention site in Richmond earlier this year.

Richmond City Councillor Kash Heed is levelling the allegations after documents relating to the decision came to light through a freedom of information request by Glacier Media.

The documents show that the premier’s office drafted a statement for Vancouver Coastal Health stating the controversial facility would not be moving ahead, while the proposal was still being debated by the city council.

Click to play video: 'More protests over Richmond’s safe consumption site proposal process'
More protests over Richmond’s safe consumption site proposal process

“The Premier’s Office has directed us to direct VCH to issue a statement to quell some of the misinformation,” states one email from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions communications team.

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“Even before the vote there was interference by the premier’s office,” Heed told Global News.

“If you look at some of that material. It says that they were trying to clear up some of the misinformation. They weren’t clearing off the misinformation. Matter of fact, they were intervening in something they should not have intervened in, and that caused some of the chaos.”

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The proposal to explore the possibility of a supervised consumption site at Richmond’s hospital became a flashpoint this winter.

Hearings over the matter drew large crowds to city hall where Mayor Malcolm Brodie had to at one point rebuke the gallery amid chants of “no drugs!”

Councillors ultimately voted 7-2 in favour of exploring the idea.

Click to play video: 'Richmond residents react to safe injection site plan'
Richmond residents react to safe injection site plan

Heed said the city thought it had the health authority’s backing on the matter, citing a letter of support from its medical health officer.

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But the following day Vancouver Coastal Health — which holds the ultimate authority on the idea — issued a statement saying no such site would proceed.

“Based on the latest Public Health data, a stand-alone supervised consumption site is not the most appropriate service for those at risk of overdose in Richmond,” the statement read.

Just one day prior, the government sent an internal email to the health authority using similar language.

“At this time we don’t believe a stand-alone overdose prevention site is the best option to support people struggling with addictions in Richmond,” the email states.

Kevin Falcon, the BC United leader of the Official Opposition, said the emails showed the province inserting itself in what should have been a local decision.

Click to play video: 'Second night of debate in Richmond'
Second night of debate in Richmond

“By directly telling them how they need to respond to what is a political pressure, as opposed to what they wanted to do, demonstrates that once again David Eby and the premier’s office is getting directly involved in these issues,” he said.

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“That just undermines confidence.”

The premier responded to the allegations Wednesday, saying the health authority should have better communicated that it didn’t back the hospital site and that his office’s involvement was appropriate.

“People were really divided,” he said. “There were a lot of hateful comments and they had decided they were not going ahead.”

Heed said he believes the NDP intervened because it worried about the potential of losing seats in Richmond in the upcoming provincial election. The governing party currently holds three of the four ridings in the city.

He said council is now unsure about how to proceed with what he believes is a needed health facility for the city.

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