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Politics

Provincial supervised consumption services review draws hundreds in Lethbridge

WATCH: Hundreds of people were in attendance on Wednesday as a provincial committee held the first of two public engagement sessions in Lethbridge examining the socio-economic impacts of supervised consumption sites. Danica Ferris reports.

A committee formed by Alberta’s United Conservative government stopped in Lethbridge Wednesday for the first of two nights of the provincial government’s supervised consumption services review in the city.

The panel was appointed to evaluate the social and economic impacts of current and proposed supervised consumption sites in the province, and had its first session in Medicine Hat Tuesday evening.

Citizens were invited to spend three minutes at the microphone addressing the committee, with the aim of answering two focus questions:

  • How do you feel supervised consumption services have impacted this community, positively or negatively?
  • What future solutions or ideas should this committee consider that might help address some of the adverse or unintended social or economic impacts?

Those in attendance who didn’t feel comfortable speaking were invited to take part in an online survey.

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According to the province’s website, the committee brings together “experts in business, real estate, population economics, social demography, research ethics, lived experience, addiction and recovery, harm reduction, First Nations health, mental health, trauma, pain management, law enforcement, crime reduction and justice.”

Notably absent from the committee’s scope is information surrounding site benefits or harm reduction. Associate Minister of Health Jason Luan said last month — when the panel was appointed on Aug. 19 — that those aspects have been well-documented.

READ MORE: Former Edmonton police chief leads panel reviewing Alberta supervised consumption services

Committee chair and former Edmonton Chief of Police Rod Knecht said before Wednesday’s meeting that the panel is not to be mistaken for a decision-making body.

“We’ll just gather all that information together,” said Knecht. “A lot of that will take place in October, a little bit in November. We’ll do up a report and then we’ll submit that report to the government.”

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

Knecht said he was expecting a different vibe in Lethbridge compared to Medicine Hat, where a proposed supervised consumption site is on hold while the provincial government review takes place.

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READ MORE: Premier Kenney rejects Opposition attacks as Alberta halts new drug consumption sites

But as was the case in Medicine Hat, opinions of residents were fairly evenly split.

“My personal belief is that addiction, poverty, mental health crises have always been around,” said Lethbridge resident Chloe Gust, “and the supervised consumption site is a really nice scapegoat.”

While Gust said she was adamantly in favour of the site, Lethbridge mother Janessa Fyfe voiced her concern surrounding needle debris in the city after her six-year-old son was pricked by a needle this summer.

When Fyfe was asked if she saw any validity in the argument that serious drug-related problems existed in the city before the site, she said she didn’t believe that was the case.

“It wasn’t happening before the consumption site. There were not signs posted that said if you found a needle, call this number,” she said.

Lethbridge residents will get another chance to voice concerns Thursday night before the committee moves on to Red Deer and Calgary next week.

The remaining dates and locations of sessions in Red Deer, Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie are available on the province’s website.

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