More than 150 protesters gathered outside the Alberta legislature today contesting the plan to create supervised injection sites near Edmonton's Chinatown.

"We want our rights," the group chanted in unison.

In February, officials with Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton (AMSISE) announced a plan to embed safe injection sites into four community centres downtown:

  • The Boyle McCauley Health Centre
  • Boyle Street Community Services
  • Geroge Spady Centre
  • At the Royal Alexandra Hospital (for inpatient care)

The proposed sites are all in the Central McDougall neighbourhood, overlapping into Edmonton's Chinatown.

"Our livelihood, our security, has not been taken into consideration," Michael Lee, chair of the Chinese Benevolent Association, told CBC News Saturday.  

The protest

More than 150 people showed up to ask city council for a voice in the consultation process. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

report released by Alberta Health in May said the rate of opioid drug overdoses was highest in central areas of downtown, but said that 84 per cent of all deaths in the Edmonton area occurred outside the city's core.

In 2016, There were 443 confirmed drug overdose deaths in the province — 68 per cent of which were opioid-related.

'People are dying'

Registered nurse Heather Stanchfield said the debate needs to end in all levels of government so the safe injection sites can be set up.

"Bodies are dropping. People are dying. And we're still here talking about the politics of it," Stanchfield said Saturday. "These sites need to be put in now."

'Bodies are dropping. People are dying. And we're still here talking about the politics of it.' - Heather Stanchfield, registered nurse

City council approved the location of the injection sites in May, but they still need approval from the federal government.

Consultation process 'flawed'

The City of Edmonton held 70 public consultations to decide the location of the proposed injection sites.

Bernise Tallin, president of the Central McDougall Community League, said the consultation process was "flawed" and it was "more like information sessions" for community members.

Tallin said community members are concerned because all four injection sites are in their neighbourhood and close to elementary and high schools.

MP for Edmonton-Griesbach Kerry Diotte represents the community federally. He said constituents told him they felt they weren't consulted enough before safe injection sites were approved.

"The fact that the process is tied up means maybe the federal government is having second thoughts," Diotte said Saturday. "It's clear that several communities believe they haven't had their voices heard, so that's what they're trying to do."

Injection sites

Lee argued the concentration of the supervised injection sites in the downtown area will have a "multiplying effect," making businesses in the Chinatown neighbourhood less favourable.

Michael Lee

Michael Lee, chair of the Chinese Benevolent Association, said the safe injection sites could make Chinatown less desirable. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

However, Stanchfield said the city is placing the injection sites in the best locations based on need. Although the downtown core is largely affected by overdoses, Stanchfield noted other areas of the city also require services.  

"I believe every neighbourhood should have safe injection services embedded into clinics, into pharmacies," she said.

Tallin and Warren Champion, the Central McDougall Community League's past president, have been working with the city to determine the number of injection drug deaths in their neighbourhood, but with no success. They believe more deaths are happening elsewhere in the city.

Alberta Health's report said 194 opioid-related calls out of 736 made to emergency services in Edmonton came from the Eastwood area, which is northeast of the Central McDougall neighbourhood.

There is no discussion so far on creating more safe injection sites, but Stanchfield said she believes the city will be open to discussing it "once society sees the benefit" of them.

While supervised injection sites would be new to Edmonton, the concept of safe needle use is not. Needle exchange service Streetworks, created in 1989, installed 15 safe needle disposal boxes around the city to prevent the spread of HIV among injection drug users.

The city is hoping to open the new safe injection centres by next year.