Edmonton’s Chinatown mobilizes against plan for supervised injection services

About 200 people gathered in downtown Edmonton Saturday morning to take part in a march and rally expressing concern and anger over city council's decision to plan for concentrating supervised injection sites north of the downtown core. Julia Wong/ Global News

Around 200 people marched through downtown Edmonton on Saturday to show their disapproval of city council’s decision to move forward with its plan for supervised injection sites.

On Tuesday, council voted 10 to one to write a letter of opinion to seek a federal exemption to bring the services to Edmonton.

The Chinese Benevolent Association said that decision left them “very upset.” The group organized Saturday’s protest, which saw people carrying signs with slogans such as “Listen to us,” “Save Chinatown” and “Keeping our kids safe.” Other signs read “Where are our rights,” “Why weren’t we informed” and “We deserve to be heard.”

READ MORE: Opponents of safe injection services near Edmonton’s Chinatown plan protest

The majority of the protesters were part of Edmonton’s Chinese community. The four sites being proposed in Edmonton would surround the city’s Chinatown – the Royal Alex, Boyle Street Community Services, the George Spady Society and Boyle McCauley Health Centre.

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Michael Lee, chair of the benevolent association, said he is against the concentration of the sites as well as how the consultation was executed.

“People have not been informed or consulted about the proposal. We are not happy with the decision,” he said.

“A safe injection site in the inner core, where people are already stressed and disadvantaged, will only degrade the quality… of those facilities.”

Protesters wound their way from Canada Place, past the Chinatown gates to city hall.

“Part of it is, let’s be frank… you don’t want it to be in your backyard. No community should be bearing the full force of it,” Lee said.

Rachel Luo does not live in Chinatown but wanted to show her support by participating in the march.

“When I just moved to Canada, Chinatown [was] the place that [made] me think of my home. Now I don’t want it to be… We don’t want [Chinatown] to be damaged,” she said.
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“All the Chinese people, when they hear this, it’s sadness for sure. We wish all the communities know… we don’t want it to be damaged.”

Fellow protester Andy Chan said he feels Chinatown has been forgotten by the city.

“For every one step they take forward, it seems they’re taking two steps back. This whole revitalization of downtown… a wrench has been put into it,” he said.

“I just think we’re a nice scapegoat if anything.”

Chan admitted the idea of supervised injections is not a bad idea, but he still has reservations.

“It’s to reduce risk and harm. But I think for them to, let’s say, add as many [sites] as they want to add – I think it’s going to create a larger issue in the long run.”

Ward 7 Coun. Tony Caterina was present and spoke at the rally. Caterina was the lone vote against the city writing a letter of opinion.

“The consultation process was extremely flawed and given the pressure that these three communities have been under… the concentration of the four sites in the same area really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said, adding he feels the city rushed the process.

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Shelley Williams, chair of the group Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services (AMSIS), responded to Saturday’s protest by saying people deserve to be heard. But she stressed the sites will save lives.

“It’s proven to prevent other infections like HIV, hepatitis C as well as reduce public injecting. When these services have been developed in other communities, it has absolutely been proven that it hasn’t increased drug use in that particular community,” she said.

Williams also refuted the idea the consultation was flawed, saying discussions were held through doorknocking around the service locations, community sessions and meetings with community leagues.

“Are we able to talk to absolutely everyone? No, we’re not able to do that. It’s impossible to do that. The consultation is around the opportunity to educate and communicate with people around the service, what the evidence [is] and how this has worked in other communities, how we’ve designed it here for Edmonton,” she said.

Caterina said he was concerned the sites could further stigmatize the inner city.

“The issue is the concentration of the sites in one area really goes against what we’re involved in discussing over the last couple of years. Concentrating anything is not necessarily the right thing to do,” he said.

Williams shot down the idea that the sites should be dispersed across the city.

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“The evidence suggests this is where the highest-risk population exists. This population, the high-risk population, is a population… [with] chronic addictions, often homeless and [they] inject in public. That’s the target population for this kind of service,” she said.

The decision is ultimately up to the federal government while the provincial government would be responsible for funding the sites.

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