A contentious two-and-a-half-hour city council meeting took place in Lethbridge Monday night in front of a packed gallery.
Councillor Blaine Hyggen brought forward a resolution that the city direct ARCHES to stop the distribution of needles leaving the supervised consumption site and that needles only be used within the facility.
This suggestion followed months of public outcry about finding needles around town.
Mayor Chris Spearman called for the vote during the meeting: “All in favour to limit needles from ARCHES?”
Councillors Ryan Parker, Mark Campbell, Joe Mauro and Blaine Hyggen voted to pass the resolution and Councillors Belinda Crowson, Rob Miyashiro, Jeff Coffman, Jeff Carlson, and Mayor Chris Spearman voted against it.
The motion was barely defeated by a 5-4 final count. Council seemed divided over concerns surrounding how to prevent needle debris in the city.
“My gut is telling me I have to go with Blaine on this resolution, and stop the needles from coming from safe consumption site,” Campbell said.
“It’s a tough decision. A really, really hard one. As I said, I’ve changed my mind about six times.”
Contradicting articles regarding best practice for harm reduction initiatives were brought up as evidence during the meeting, with Hyggen saying there are published records citing: “If needles are kept within the site, the community will be safer,” but Crowson and Carlson disagreed.
“I will be voting against this resolution because this is out of fear — this is not factually based,” Crowson said.
“What I see in front of me doesn’t really say anything about facts or anything,” Carlson said. “It’s: ‘Let’s try stuff.'”
With his resolution defeated, Hyggen will now look to educate youth about potential dangers.
“We need to make sure our children know, and it’s really unfortunate because you look at the side of this: ‘Do I really need to tell my kids about this?’ There are so many other things you’d think are issues within the community, but we do need to make sure they know about these needles and the harm they could potentially do.”
ARCHES staff who have been on the front lines of this issue feel encouraged about Monday’s decision.
“I feel badly that it is such a divisive issue in the community,” Executive Director Stacey Bourque said.
“But obviously, we’re happy that we don’t have to continue to fight that battle.”
Bourque says ARCHES will continue to provide the services it always has.
“It’s a public health service in the community that we need to be providing to marginalized populations of people who are vulnerable,” Bourque added.
“We’re going to keep providing that service to prevent the disease transmission.”