A federal court judge has dismissed an Edmonton business association’s application for a review into the decision to allow three supervised consumption sites to operate in the city’s core.
The decision means Edmonton’s four supervised injection sites, which were approved by Health Canada after meeting a number of conditions, will continue to operate as usual, subject to an appeal.
“We are very happy with the decision,” said Marliss Taylor, program manager of StreetWorks, the organization that runs the sites.
“It means we can continue doing the work that we have been doing… It is work that is incredibly crucial in light of the overdose crisis.”
Taylor said Justice Richard Mosley’s ruling would have had ramifications across the country if it went the other way.
“I think there were lots of eyes on this decision,” Taylor said.
The Chinatown and Area Business Association (CABA) was asking for a judicial review of exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act by Health Canada, allowing three supervised consumption sites to operate nearby: Boyle Street Community Services, George Spady Society and the Boyle McCauley Health Centre.
“We’re obviously very, very disappointed in the judicial review decision,” said Holly Mah with the Chinatown Business Improvement Association.
“We feel that this is a great injustice to Chinatown. We felt that our request was not unreasonable. We thought that amalgamating the three injection sites within six blocks of Chinatown could help minimize the problems it could cause to the community.
“We have plans of revitalization in Chinatown and although this is very sore setback for us, we have hope and will keep going forward,” Mah said.
She said having three sites in the neighbourhood means the perception of safety is lower and that businesses may not be as busy in the evenings.
“Our concerns have been dismissed at almost every level,” Mah said. “We feel it’s futile at this point. We would hope going forward that we have the support of the government to help heal this community because this is a very sensitive issue.
“You can’t keep inundating one particular area with these problems.”
In its request for a judicial review, CABA said it wasn’t properly consulted about the sites and the Health Canada exemption decisions. It also claimed their locations “impose an unfair burden on the community.”
However, the federal judge found “the minimal requirements of procedural fairness owed to CABA were met and the decisions were reasonable. The applications for judicial review will, therefore, be dismissed.
“The record before Health Canada provided evidence of a health need [for supervised consumption sites] and little evidence of a public safety risk that was not a result of pre-existing conditions in the area,” the court decision read.
In determining whether to grant exemptions, factors to be considered “include evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates, the local conditions indicating a need for such a supervised injection site, the regulatory structure in place to support the facility, the resources available to support its maintenance, and expressions of community support or opposition.”
Taylor said the sites, and the referral services being offered there, are saving lives.
“We’ve had about 40,000 visits to the program, a large number of referrals and services that have helped people stabilize, and we’ve also had over 300 overdoses reversed,” she said.
The latest data on all three Edmonton sites shows there have been 38,049 visits, 15,335 referrals to other services, and 420 overdoses reversed since they opened.
There is a fourth site inside the Royal Alexandra Hospital for patients.
Taylor doesn’t expect any animosity with the CABA in light of Thursday’s ruling.
“We are always going to continue to try and make sure that the communities that we’re residing in are as safe and healthy as possible. I think for the people who are using the sites, they’ve found it incredibly valuable.
“Sometimes the staff that are within those sites almost become like family, and for some people, they don’t have any other family,” Taylor added.
She admits supervised consumption sites are not the silver bullet but just one piece of the puzzle.
“Because we are placed within an area of the city that is stressed anyway — there are lots of people around, many some who are experiencing homelessness, etc. — we were never going to fix everything. I think for the people who do use drugs by injection, we have made a big difference for them.”