Ontario reviewing supervised consumption sites after Toronto shooting death

Click to play video: 'Vigil held at Jimmy Simpson Park for Toronto mother struck by stray bullets in Leslieville'
Vigil held at Jimmy Simpson Park for Toronto mother struck by stray bullets in Leslieville
WATCH ABOVE: Vigil held at Jimmy Simpson Park for Toronto mother struck by stray bullets in Leslieville – Jul 17, 2023

Ontario has launched a “critical incident review” of the province’s supervised consumption sites after a 44-year-old mother of two was killed by a stray bullet in Toronto’s east end last month, the Ministry of Health said Thursday.

Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones, said all consumption and treatment services are expected to comply with strict requirements and the review will start with the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, near the scene of Karolina Huebner-Makurat’s death.

Police have said Huebner-Makurat was walking in the Leslieville neighbourhood on July 7 when she was hit by a stray bullet after a physical altercation between three men resulted in shots being fired.

“We are extremely troubled by this latest development and reviewing what options are available to the government,” said Jensen in a statement.

Jensen would not answer further questions about the review, including which sites are included, when it was launched, who would oversee the review or what specifically is being reviewed. Jensen also did not expand on what constitutes a “critical incident review.”

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The South Riverdale Community Health Centre did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three people are facing charges in “Caroline” Huebner-Makurat’s death, including 23-year-old SRCHC community worker Khalila Zara Mohammed, who is charged with being an accessory after the fact and obstructing justice.

The SRCHC, which houses drug consumption and harm reduction programs, said it was distressed to learn of the charges against Mohammed, who had worked there since 2021 but was placed on leave last week over unrelated concerns.

“These allegations are deeply concerning to us and to the community,” Jason Altenberg, the SRCHC’s CEO, and Emily Hill, interim board chair of the centre, said in a statement.

“They are also devastating and disappointing to the many SRCHC staff who work professionally and compassionately every day to deliver a range of essential health and well-being services to patients and clients in the area.”

Ahmed Mustafa Ibrahim, 20, was also arrested and charged this week with manslaughter and robbery, while 32-year-old Damian Hudson was arrested last month and charged with second-degree murder. None of the charges have been proven in court and Toronto police say they are still looking for a third suspect involved in the shooting.

At an unrelated press conference Thursday morning, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said she welcomes the provincial review. “We need a place where it’s safe inside, but also safe outside. The residents deserve no less,” she said.

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A number of local residents have said the incident has magnified concerns about what they say has been a rise in violence and drug use around the supervised consumption site at SRCHC, which allows people to bring in and use illegal drugs under supervision to prevent overdoses or spread of infectious diseases.

Supervised consumption sites may also offer other evidence-based harm reduction services, such as drug checking or access to substance use treatment.

Some residents have claimed there has been an increase in concerning activity around the centre in recent months, including what they allege are drug deals outside and dealers who prey on vulnerable individuals trying to use the supervised consumption site.

Some, who have said they are supportive of the centre’s harm reduction goals, believe its staff isn’t equipped to manage safety issues, while others have said the site has helped vulnerable community members and reduced drug activity in parks.

Shortly after Huebner-Makurat’s death, the SRCHC’s board issued a statement expressing its grief over what happened and saying it was ramping up security. A town hall on community safety was held on July 26, and the centre has since created a new safety committee and contracted an alternative security company that works with people experiencing homelessness, addiction or mental health challenges.

In response to the news of a provincial review, a group of local residents who organized the town hall said in a Thursday statement that they would like to see all levels of government ensure there is “adequate management in place anywhere these programs exist” — including full reviews when sites renew their applications for exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

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“These programs are too important to allow this level of mismanagement and lack of oversight,” said Jeri Brown, a Leslieville resident who has become a spokeswoman for the resident group that says their concerns have gone unheard.

“It wouldn’t be acceptable from an airline; it should not be acceptable from a health centre — this is literally a matter of life and death.”

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