Ottawa's Board of Health is recommending the temporary supervised injection site at 179 Clarence St. get a separate exemption from Health Canada so it can stay open as long as it takes to evaluate the need for a more permanent site.

Dr. Isra Levy, the city's medical officer of health, said it amounted to a technical detail in the exemption from the federal government that allowed Ottawa Public Health (OPH) to open the Clarence Street location while waiting for the permanent site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to open.

Levy said the current wording of the exemption would force the Clarence location to close as soon as Sandy Hill opened, despite the Board of Health's instruction to evaluate it after four months of operation.

"The original intent was that we do do that, we show up here again with recommendations based on data, based on our experience in the first four months," Levy said. " We didn't want that to be interrupted based on a technical administrative issue."

OPH told the board there were 82 clients and 359 encounters at Clarence Street in its first 26 days of operation. 

"We've had excellent interactions with people," Levy said. "We've been able to suggest to people a different way of doing things in the future, including receiving medical and, specifically, treatment services. So, so far, so good."

Sandy Hill site delayed

Rob Boyd, Oasis program manager at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, said he doesn't know when the permanent site will be open.

"To be this close in the midst of the crisis and not to be operating is a very frustrating place for us to be in," he said. "We want to get this up and operating as soon as possible."

Back in July, Boyd had set a target of early October for the site to open, but on Monday night he said he's reluctant to set a new target date.

Sandy Hill Community Health Centre

Health Canada granted an exemption that paves the way for Ottawa's first supervised injection site to open at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in July, 2017. (CBC)

"I don't want to make any more predictions as to when we could open. We've been told it could be any time now that we could get the approval from the ministry," she said.  

That would be followed by putting out a tender, construction, and another final inspection from Health Canada before the site could open.

A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said the province has "flowed" more than $1 million to the Sandy Hill site and is working with the federal government and the city to make sure the approvals happen as "smoothly as possible."

Over the weekend, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins wrote to his federal counterpart in support of a new supervised injection site operated by Inner City Health.

Mobile injection site questions

The report on the Clarence Street site also noted that OPH had advised the city's fleet management service that there could be a need for a three-quarter tonne van for a mobile supervised injection site.

Sean O'Leary, executive director of We The Parents, said suburban parents in his organization are opposed to the idea of a mobile injection site. His group has been advocating for more detox and treatment facilities for teenagers who have opioid disorders.

Levy said there was no current proposal to have a mobile site and that public health had to notify the fleet department of the possibility, should his department want to move in that direction at any point in 2018.

Ottawa Board of Health

The Ottawa Board of Health discussed applying for a separate exemption for the supervised injection site at 179 Clarence Street on Monday, Oct. 30. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"It's still very much in the air. We haven't come to any kind of real suggestion around what an operation model of what that will look like, let alone what it will cost, let alone made a policy recommendation," he said.

OPH currently operates an on-call harm reduction service that provides needles and other services, but does not offer supervised injection. Levy said he is supportive of combining those services in some way.

The city report said any permanent use of the Clarence Street site or development of a mobile injection site program would require separate approvals and applications from other orders of government.