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Former Edmonton police chief leads panel reviewing Alberta supervised consumption services

WATCH: Supervised consumption services will be going under the microscope in Alberta, with the government launching a review. Doug Vaessen reports.

Former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht will chair a panel of experts who will review supervised consumption services in Alberta.

On Monday morning, the province unveiled the eight people who make up the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee.

The panel was appointed by Jason Luan, associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions, and will hear from Albertans on the social and economic impacts of supervised consumption services on their homes, businesses and communities.

READ MORE: Alberta government announcing consumption site review committee

The committee will hear from citizens, businesses, elected officials, supervised consumption services (SCS) operators and other key stakeholders.

Watch below: Alberta’s UCP government has unveiled the panel it says is tasked with learning exactly how supervised consumption sites impact the neighbourhoods they’re placed in. Tom Vernon reports.

UCP unveils panel that will review supervised consumption services
UCP unveils panel that will review supervised consumption services
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The panel will review both existing and proposed sites across Alberta, and use the feedback to submit a report to the government for future policy decisions, the province said.

However, the panel will consider neither the health benefits of such sites nor the social issues surrounding drug abuse.

Luan said the review will correct what he says is an imbalance in previous government policy on injection sites. He said the government already has plenty of information suggesting that safe injection sites do save lives.

Watch below: The minister in charge of looking into supervised consumption services in Alberta is in hot water over a tweet questioning the evidence supporting them. Tom Vernon explains. (Filed July 2019).

Alberta addictions minister’s tweet about supervised consumption sites draws concern
Alberta addictions minister’s tweet about supervised consumption sites draws concern

The province said the experts on the panel represent “a range of relevant views and experiences.”

“Members have lived experience with addiction as well as expertise and experience in business, real estate, economics, social demography, research ethics, addiction and recovery services, harm reduction, First Nations health, mental health, trauma, pain management, and law enforcement and crime reduction,” read a media release from the government Monday.

READ MORE: Debate over supervised consumption sites ramps up across Alberta

Knecht retired as the chief of the Edmonton Police Service in October 2018 after more than seven years as the city’s top cop.

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Knecht has previously written that supervised consumption sites should be part of a broader plan to address drug addiction.

“Supervised injection sites can, and should be, a gateway to helping addicts, who are often suffering in isolation with mental and physical illness and, most often, homelessness,” he wrote in 2017.

The NDP Opposition’s critic for mental health and addictions said she believes supervised consumption sites allow many to “find the on-ramp to treatment that they won’t find in an alley, a park or a coffee shop bathroom.”

Heather Sweet said she believes the panel will pave the way toward closing or moving supervised consumption sites.

“The direction of Premier (Jason) Kenney and Minister Luan leads to unnecessary deaths, leads to bodies on the street,” said the MLA, who is from Lethbridge, Alta., where city council was to consider a proposal to defund the community’s safe consumption site Monday.

Associate Minister Jason Luan stands with the chair and vice-chair of the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee. Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.
Associate Minister Jason Luan stands with the chair and vice-chair of the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee. Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Courtesy, Government of Alberta

In June, the United Conservative government announced it was pausing funding for proposed supervised consumption sites in Alberta.

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The provincial government has said it wants to look at the impact the current sites have on communities.

READ MORE: Amid opioid crisis, supervised consumption sites face uncertain future in Alberta, Ontario

There are currently four sites in Edmonton, and one each in Calgary, Grande Prairie and Lethbridge. Alberta also has some overdose prevention sites (OPS), which are similar to supervised consumption sites — however, OPS are temporary facilities rather than permanent sites.

The panel reviewing supervised consumption services in Alberta includes:

  • Rod Knecht, chair
  • Prof. Geri Iininaatoáákii Bemister-Williams, vice-chair
  • Dr. Charl Els
  • Joan Hollihan
  • Dr. Rob Tanguay
  • Dr. Ray Baker
  • Paul Maxim
  • Steve Cormack

Watch below: Former Edmonton police chief leads panel reviewing Alberta supervised consumption services

Former Edmonton police chief leads panel reviewing Alberta supervised consumption services
Former Edmonton police chief leads panel reviewing Alberta supervised consumption services

Albertans will have a chance to voice their opinions on supervised consumption sites through public engagement sessions and online.

Public engagement will take place over three weeks in September, in all communities with existing or proposed SCS:

  • Grande Prairie
  • Edmonton
  • Red Deer
  • Calgary
  • Lethbridge
  • Medicine Hat

Exact details on the dates and location are still being finalized, the province said Monday. More information will be released online once it’s finalized.

–With files from The Canadian Press’ Bob Weber

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