An ongoing controversy involving Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site and area businesses lead to a heated protest Saturday.
While the dispute has been going on since the site opened, it was the actions of one business owner that escalated the issue to a wider audience.
Saturday’s initial protest in support of the site was organized by the Edmonton branch of Moms Stop The Harm, a national network of mothers who have lost a loved one to drugs. Because of the atmosphere surrounding the dispute, not all members attended.
“Some of our Lethbridge members were not able to come because they felt unsafe and some have received threats if they were showing up,” said founding member Petra Shulz, who came from Edmonton for the protest. “That in itself is very unfortunate. It’s very tense here in this city.”
Amid that tension, a great number of counterprotesters came out to support Doug Hamilton, the owner of Hamilton’s Carpet One Floor and Home.
Hamilton says he has received numerous threats after posting surveillance video online from the back of his store. He says the video has captured all sorts of illegal activity, from drug use to prostitution, violence and more.
He refused to speak on camera, he says, because police are investigating the threats.
Other businesses say they’re also being impacted by the site.
“My business is down at least 40 per cent,” said Robert Bernie, owner of Bernie’s Automotive who came to support downtown businesses. “People won’t come in, people won’t walk the streets, my taxes are still here. It just worries me what we’re going to do,”
While business owners are frustrated, those on the front line say they are, too.
“I think that people are missing the baseline of the issue here, which is that people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Megan Williams, director of programs for ARCHES. “We understand that Doug has a legitimate concern that he’s addressing but that’s not what these posts and protests are about. These aren’t about the security and safety, this is about the dignity of humans.”
Amid the escalating tension between local business owners and the supervised consumption site, both parties are looking for a peaceful solution that will help both sides.