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Ottawa Votes Blog: O'Brien takes another stab

Larry O'Brien says a supervised drug injection site could be coming to a neighbourhood near you. What's worse, the province knows where, but won't tell us until after the election.

Here's an excerpt from his news release, titled "PROVINCE SITTING ON DRUG INJECTION SITE STUDY":

"Today, Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien called upon researchers studying the potential for multiple drug injection sites in the City of Ottawa to release their report before the October 25th municipal elections in Ottawa and Toronto. O'Brien stressed the need for Ottawa's residents to know which neighbourhoods are being considered for these sites, and to have the opportunity to determine where Council and Mayoral candidates stand on the issue.

"I am shocked to learn that this report, originally scheduled to be released in the spring of 2010, is being held back by the Province until after the October 25th elections," said Mayor O'Brien. "Our residents have the right to know if one of these sites could pop up in their community...I'm concerned that this report is being held up until after the elections in Ottawa and Toronto so that the province can once again impose their policies on our cities without the community input that debate during this campaign would allow," said O'Brien.

Turns out just about everything here is wrong. There is a study. That much is correct. But the province's involvement is peripheral. The research is funded through the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, a not for profit group that gets its money from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The Network put the funding call out in 2007, and researchers affiliated with St. Michael's Hospital's Keenan Research Centre and the University of Toronto were awarded the $292,312 grant. Their study is titled "Safe Consumption Sites: Potential Impact and Cost Effectiveness in Toronto and Ottawa." One of the co-principal investigators, Dr. Carol Strike, says they're looking at three issues: Whether supervised injection sites encourage a reduction in drug use; how residents feel about the sites; and what "types" of locations would be suitable, and how many...if any.

So, why the delay? Simple, says Strike: "We're not hiding anything. We're just not done." The researchers continue to compile data, and don't expect to release their finding until next year. They say that was always the intended release date. No part of their findings has been released to anyone, including government.

So why would O'Brien make the claims above, before making a few simple phone calls? The research has been going on for two years. Members of the city's Police Services Board have been interviewed for it. Faculty at the University of Ottawa have been involved. Did O'Brien really find out about this "a couple days ago," as he claimed this morning?

As wedge issues go, there are few more divisive than harm reduction programs that, from some perspectives, appear to value the comfort of the addicts over the well-being of the community. Remember the great crack pipe debate? This of course plays right into O'Brien's public safety pledge. "My responsibility is for the safety of the citizens...the men and women and families of the city," he said this morning. "I'm not as interested in the safety of the drug users."

Another thing: The federal government, not the province, will ultimately decide where supervised injection sites go. Under this government, they're not likely to go anywhere. It certainly won't be decided before October 25th.

By the way, the banner on O'Brien's website is worth a look. It shows a glum-looking Jim Watson, a "Top Secret" folder, and a map of Ottawa dotted with needles. You can find O'Brien's full statement on the matter there as well.