Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province could relocate some supervised drug consumption sites.
The United Conservative government appointed a panel last summer to look into the socio-economic impacts of the sites on communities and businesses.
Kenney told reporters in Calgary that he has seen the panel’s preliminary report which reinforces the government’s concerns, adding neighbourhoods with consumption sites have seen an increase in crime and property damage.
“I think it underscores the concerns that we have had about the negative impact on people and on communities as a result of at least some of the drug injection sites,” Kenney said.
“They’re now more than injections, by the way — they’re just illegal sites that do all sorts of drugs, not just injectables.”
There are currently seven supervised consumption sites in the province between Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, and proposals are in for one in Medicine Hat, Red Deer and another location in Calgary.
Kenney said the UCP isn’t opposed to harm reduction or helping those battling addiction, but said the government wants to “see if there’s a better way of doing harm reduction.”
“We must place a much bigger emphasis on opportunities for detox, treatment and recovery,” Kenney said. “Basically, what the previous NDP government did was they shifted resources from treatment and recovery with an obsessive focus on so-called harm reduction, including these drug sites. We think that is imbalanced.
“We think that folks facing addiction need to know there is a way out, that’s why we’ve put an additional $150 million, even in tough fiscal times, into mental health and addictions and it’s why we announced that we’ll be opening at least 4,000 additional addiction and recovery spaces in the system.”
Kenney said it’s not the government’s intention to close all of the supervised consumption sites, but officials are “taking a very close look at the data.” He said he expects the full report to be released in the next couple of weeks.
Lethbridge NDP legislature member Shannon Phillips said closing the site in her city would be devastating.
“People would die,” Phillips said.
“I live downtown, and before that supervised consumption site, we often had overdoses in alleys and elsewhere. Hundreds of lives have been saved by that supervised consumption site.”
Phillips said disruption to the surrounding community would be much worse if the consumption site were shuttered.
“There are still people there with complex health needs and addictions,” she said. “People don’t go away just because the premier has an ideological flight of fancy.”
Calgary model ‘may have been a mistake’
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said simply closing or moving the city’s supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in the Beltline won’t solve the issue of social disorder in the area.
“We have to understand that the social disorder that is caused by people with addiction – it’s not caused by the supervised consumption site, it’s caused by the fact that there are meth addicts,” Nenshi said.
“What you don’t want to do is take the social disorder away from two blocks in the Beltline and put it somewhere else downtown.”
Nenshi admitted that, in hindsight, opening one supervised consumption site when Edmonton opened three “may have been a mistake.”
“It is very, very, very clear that we need a supervised consumption site in the city,” he said.
“I have always been open to saying: ‘Maybe that’s the wrong location.’ There are a lot of reasons to have it in a health-care facility – most of them are not within health-care facilities. So if it’s a matter of trying to find a better location, that’s certainly a conversation I’m willing to have.”
The mayor said his solution would be to expand the program to see more locations across the city.
“To me, the right answer is actually to have more than one of them,” Nenshi said. “We’ll have to see what the report says.”
— With files from The Canadian Press