British Columbia

Injection site worries prompt Nanaimo city hall shutdown

Nanaimo's city hall was closed Thursday in response to safety concerns about an unsanctioned supervised injection site in a tent pitched in the city hall parking lot.

Municipal staff recommend closing in response to union concerns about safety

Nanaimo City Hall and adjacent Services and Resources Centre were closed Dec. 29 after staff raised concerns about the operation of an unauthorized supervised injection site in the parking lot. (CHEK News)

City officials closed Nanaimo's city hall Thursday after safety concerns were raised about an unauthorized supervised injection site operating from a tent in the parking lot.

The tent was opened Dec. 26 by volunteers, including two city councillors, to try to reduce the risk of overdoses, which have claimed at least 25 lives in the city this year.

Nanaimo City Manager Tracy Samra said the decision to close city hall and another municipal building was made after consulting RCMP, bylaw and fire services.

"I'm cognizant of the public health crisis that we have here," Samra said. "I don't want to escalate this unnecessarily but I am obligated by law to take steps to protect the public."

Samra said staff and CUPE union members raised concerns about the city's obligations to ensure a safe workplace and the potential risk of contact with drugs containing fentanyl or carfentanil.

Nanaimo's first supervised injection site was opened in a pop-up tent in the parking lot of city hall on Dec. 26. (CHEK News)

City Councillor Gord Fuller, who helped set up the supervised injection site, said he didn't understand the basis for safety concerns.

"We're right beside a bluff where there's been known drug use for years as well as homeless camps at times," Fuller said. "It's not like the issue did not exist beforehand."

Tent will remain open

Fuller said about 30 people had already used the pop-up supervised injection site Thursday by mid-afternoon.

He said it would remain in place until Island Health fulfills its commitment to set up its own overdose prevention site, as authorized by the B.C. Government in a ministerial order Dec. 12. 

Island Health stated it is seeking a location for an overdose prevention site and hopes to open it by early next week. 

The volunteer-run overdose prevention tent is equipped with a heater, clean injection supplies and naloxone kits to treat any overdoses. (CHEK News)

Meanwhile, Samra said the City of Nanaimo will try reopening city hall and the Service and Resource Centre (SARC) Friday. Security officers will be on site to respond if city employees or citizens have concerns about moving around the parking lot where the injection site is set up.

"We're also putting up signage that clearly indicates that this is an unregulated and unauthorized injection site," Samra said.

With files from Megan Thomas.