TORONTO – Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday it’s “disgusting” that NDP Leader Andrea Horwath would reference his late brother’s struggles with addiction, which she cited while criticizing his government’s decision to close several overdose-prevention sites.
“I found it so disturbing yesterday when the leader of the Opposition wanted to get personal and bring my family into discussions,” the premier said of his brother, Rob Ford, who entered rehab while he was mayor of Toronto after months of revelations about drug and alcohol use.
“That was pretty disgusting. Rob, my brother, had an issue in front of the whole world. He dealt with it.”
The province announced on Friday that while 15 overdose-prevention sites had been approved under a new model, six previously licensed sites were not given the green light – including three in Toronto. Two of the Toronto sites will start winding down operations and a third is on hold because it’s still under review.
Horwath says experts have warned that people will die because of that decision.
“For this premier particularly, who we know had a family member that had serious drug addiction problems, to turn his back on all those families who are worried about their loved ones who are going to possibly lose their lives because they don’t have access to safe facilities to utilize their drugs is absolutely, it’s horrifying,” she said Monday. “And I say shame on him.”
After Doug Ford’s response to those comments, Horwath said the entire world felt sympathy toward Ford and his family, and that’s what she meant.
Shortly after Ford spoke about it in question period Tuesday, several harm reduction workers unfurled a banner reading, “cuts will kill” and shouted, “it’s a public health emergency and we’re begging you to help us.”
They were then ejected by legislative security.
“This is a health service,” said Kelly White, a co-ordinator of one of the Toronto sites whose funding was cut. “Our budget is $20,000 a month, which for the life-saving work we do is a drop in the bucket.”
On Monday, Ford cited conversations he had with a neighbourhood association, which was concerned about four sites in close proximity, in defending his government’s decision.
“I want to try to help these people,” he said. “It’s, ‘OK, yeah, help ’em, but not in my backyard.’ That’s the reality of things.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott said not having too many sites in one area was one of the criteria she used to approve or deny applications, but she denied that NIMBYism was the reason.
“What we are looking at are where are the greatest areas of need,” she said Tuesday.
White said that the downtown Toronto area is the greatest area of need because that is where the deaths are occurring.
“We did not bring drugs to this neighbourhood,” she said. “We are here to serve these people and to save their lives.”
The latest numbers from Public Health Ontario indicate 629 people died of opioid overdoses in the province in the first six months of last year – an increase of 80 over the same period a year earlier.
There were also 6,688 opioid-related emergency department visits in the province in the first nine months of 2018 and another 1,544 hospitalizations.