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No charges laid following financial investigation into Lethbridge supervised consumption site

Click to play video 'Lethbridge police determine no criminal charges in ARCHES investigation' Lethbridge police determine no criminal charges in ARCHES investigation
WATCH ABOVE: Lethbridge police officials say their investigation into the potential mismanagement of funds by ARCHES supervised consumption site has concluded. As Emily Olsen reports, investigators have found no evidence of criminal activity – Dec 22, 2020

Police say there will be no criminal charges involving a supervised drug consumption site in southern Alberta that was forced to close after the province alleged financial problems.

The province says it still has concerns and won’t be restoring funding.

The Lethbridge Police Service said Tuesday that prosecutors supported its finding and determined there wasn’t a reasonable likelihood of conviction in the case involving ARCHES.

Alberta’s United Conservative government, citing an audit that revealed financial irregularities, pulled its funding from the centre in July. The facility, one of the busiest in North America, closed its doors at the end of August.

Read more: Government pulls grant funding from Lethbridge safe consumption site citing fund mismanagement

Click to play video 'Lethbridge ARCHES supervised consumption site closes its doors' Lethbridge ARCHES supervised consumption site closes its doors
Lethbridge ARCHES supervised consumption site closes its doors – Aug 31, 2020

A report by accounting firm Deloitte commissioned by the province said $13,000 had been used for parties, staff retreats and gift cards, and thousands more was spent on travel, including $4,300 for a manager to attend a conference in Portugal.

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It also said $1.6 million was unaccounted for at the non-profit organization which oversaw the safe injection site.

“The funds that were unaccounted for were actually found during this investigation and now they are accounted for,” police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh told a news conference.

“Police’s role in this has been to look at whether there were any criminal wrongdoings and provide the findings to the special prosecution unit. In this case, our recommendation was there wasn’t enough to proceed with criminal charges.”

Acting Insp. Pete Christos from the force’s criminal investigations unit said it turned out the money wasn’t missing it – was “misallocated.”

He said auditors for Deloitte didn’t have access to all bank accounts.

“In all fairness, the initial information that was brought forward, these individuals didn’t have access to the means that we did,” Christos said.

“We wrote production orders to financial institutions and through those records were able to account for those missing funds.”

Christos said individuals involved with the organization explained in extensive interviews with police that the cash had been put in another ARCHES account.

The police findings are to be shared with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

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In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the associate minister of mental health and addiction said Tuesday that the ministry had not yet received specific details of the investigation, but the findings do not change the government’s position on the matter.

“The Deloitte audit found poor organizational management and several instances of non-compliance with the grant agreement, including high executive salaries, significant abuse of taxpayer dollars, European conferences, and staff entertainment,” read the statement.

“As such, we will not be reconsidering our decision to end the grant agreement.”

Premier Jason Kenney said the government has no intention of restoring funding to ARCHES.

In addition to serious questions about its operations and staff salaries, some Lethbridge residents have talked about damage the centre has caused to the community, Kenney said.

“We think that management lost public confidence and certainly the confidence of government.”

A quarterly surveillance report from Alberta Health showed a monthly average of 439 clients made more than 60,000 visits to the Lethbridge site in the first three months of this year.

A report commissioned by the Alberta government released last March suggested supervised drug consumption sites have sown chaos in communities, overplayed their life-saving effects and lacked accountability.

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–With files from Emily Olsen, Global News

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