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Health Minister defends rejection of York St. application but promises permanent supervised consumption site for London

In Dec. 2018, city council rezoned the York Street address of a former musical instrument shop to allow for a supervised consumption facility.
In Dec. 2018, city council rezoned the York Street address of a former musical instrument shop to allow for a supervised consumption facility. Middlesex-London Health Unit/Regional HIV/AIDS Connection via City of London Planning and Environment Committee report

A day after London’s medical officer of health confirmed to Global News Radio 980 CFPL that the province rejected a funding application for a permanent supervised consumption facility at 446 York St., the province’s health minister is defending the decision while also promising that a permanent site is still in the works.

READ MORE: Ontario to reject funding for 1 of 2 London supervised consumption sites

On Monday, medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie noted that businesses and landlords in the area around 446 York St. “didn’t like the site” and that “it sounds like they’ve been quite active in discussing their concerns with the provincial government.”

“I have great respect for Dr. Mackie,” minister Christine Elliott said on The Craig Needles Show on Tuesday, “but this was not a situation where there was any lobbying that was done. This was done on the basis of the same criteria that everyone else is subjected to.”

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Elliott also addressed suggestions that the province was overriding a municipal decision.

In a statement on Monday, Mayor Ed Holder noted that the location was selected after “more than a year’s worth of consultation and public input” with support from local police and the health unit.

In Question Period on Tuesday, London North Centre NDP MPP Terence Kernaghan called the decision another example of the Premier “cutting deals in back rooms and meddling in municipal affairs while vulnerable people pay the price.”

Elliott did confirm that community comments played a part in the reason for denying the application for York Street, but said that the decision was based on an objective test applied to every application for a supervised consumption site.

“A lot of it has to do with community comments and we have heard from some community members that would prefer the King Street site over the York Street site,” she said.

“We do hear from other people within communities that are not necessarily represented by their councillors and so we need to listen to all of those voices.”

READ MORE: Canadian life expectancy has stopped rising because of the opioid crisis: Statistics Canada

Despite the rejection of the York Street application, Elliott stressed that “there will be a permanent site, long-term, past March” which is when the lease for the temporary overdose prevention site (TOPS) on King Street expires.

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“I can’t tell you exactly at this moment where it’s going to be because those discussions are still ongoing but there will be a site open. I know that it’s important for the people of London, it does save lives, and it does help get people into rehabilitation and treatment so I am committed to that.”

Holder released another statement on Tuesday, where he confirmed that he and Elliott discussed the decision on Monday evening. He said he’s been assured that “the province remains fully committed to funding the cost of at least one permanent supervised consumption site in London” and that the minister agrees that “there must be no gap in service” between care currently provided at the TOPS and the launch of a permanent site.