Health minister Elliott, Mayor Holder to meet over supervised consumption site funding rejection

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

Ontario’s health minister will meet with London Mayor Ed Holder on Thursday to discuss the planned supervised consumption site on York Street near the downtown core.

The meeting will come more than a week after it was confirmed the province had rejected the funding application for the planned site, located at 446 York St. The site is the location of a former music store.

Two officials from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care toured the site and the temporary overdose prevention site on King Street on Tuesday, according to the London Free Press.

Christine Elliott, who is also deputy premier, will also be in London for an announcement at Middlesex-London EMS headquarters on Adelaide Street South.

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

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Medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie, who will be attending Thursday’s meeting, confirmed last week that the funding application for the location had been rejected.

Mackie told 980 CFPL businesses and landlords in the area “didn’t like the site,” and added “it sounds like they’ve been quite active in discussing their concerns with the provincial government.”

Elliott told 980 CFPL’s Craig Needles that community comments did play a part in denying the application, but said the decision was based on an objective test applied to every application for a supervised consumption site.

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Despite the rejection of the funding application, Elliott stressed to 980 CFPL that there would be a permanent, long-term supervised consumption site past March 2020 when the lease for the temporary overdose prevention site 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,” she said.

The planned site location has been a contentious one. Several neighbours, including local developer Drewlo Holdings, which owns an apartment building to the north of the property, have filed an appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal seeking to block the site’s rezoning, as approved by council.

READ MORE: Health unit unaware of Amir Farahi’s involvement with Blackridge Strategy until after he took over their file

The site’s funding rejection spurred accusations of backroom dealing from a local MPP.

In Question Period last week, London North Centre NDP MPP Terence Kernaghan said the decision was another example of Premier Doug Ford “cutting deals in back rooms and meddling in municipal affairs while vulnerable people pay the price.”

Drewlo Holdings, a vocal opponent of the site, retained local political firm Blackridge Strategy in April to lobby the province on various issues, according to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner. One of those issues was the York Street site, Drewlo told the London Free Press.

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A former member of Blackridge, Patrick Sackville, now works in the premier’s office.

It was later revealed that the Middlesex-London Health Unit had hired Blackridge at the same time the firm had been retained by Drewlo. Dr. Mackie said the agency had hired Blackridge to parse through documents as the province reviewed policy surrounding the sites.

READ MORE: Blackridge Strategy defends fake campaign websites

Blackridge has been at the centre of an ongoing controversy after court documents revealed the firm’s co-principal, Amir Farahi, was involved in the creation of two fake election websites that targeted then-incumbent councillors Maureen Cassidy and Virginia Ridley.

One of the allegations leveled against Ridley was that she engaged in child abuse when she brought her son to a long budget meeting.

Farahi initially denied involvement in the websites in October when they came to light. However, following the release of the court documents the firm doubled down saying that the websites reflected “verified, albeit harsh, facts.”

With files from Matthew Trevithick and Jacquelyn LeBel

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