British Columbia

'Far too slow': 7 B.C. applications for supervised injection sites awaiting federal action

One year after B.C. declared a public health emergency due to the opioid crisis, no new supervised injection sites have been approved by Ottawa — despite seven applications.

'A year into this crisis, there have been no new ones approved to date'

The Canadian Public Health Agency says overdose deaths may lower Canada's life expectancy. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Nearly one year since B.C. health officials declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency, none of the applications for new supervised injection sites from around the province have been approved by Ottawa, says the chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health.

"The federal process for obtaining exemptions to operate these sites is far too slow," said Dr. Patricia Daly on Wednesday at Vancouver city council.

Vancouver Coastal Health, which saw the lion's share of the province's unprecedented 922 illicit overdose deaths last year, asked for two supervised injection sites last October, which have not been granted exemptions by the federal health minister, said Daly.

There are also applications province-wide that are waiting as people die, Daly said.

The Fraser Health Authority has applied for two sites in Surrey, Vancouver Island Health Authority has applied for one of three proposed sites in Victoria, and Interior Health is asking for sites in Kelowna and Kamloops.

"A year into this crisis there have been no new ones approved to date," said Daly. 

"So that needs to change."

Daly said decisions on sites should be made at the provincial level, to be more "nimble."

13 applications waiting

The Liberal government has pledged to speed up approving what it calls "safe consumption sites" and has introduced Bill C-37 which would streamline the process.

"We need to turn the tide on this crisis as quickly as is possible," Health Minister Jane Philpott said two weeks ago to the senate committee now considering the bill.

"The evidence is abundant that when properly established and maintained, supervised consumption sites save lives, without increasing drug use and without increasing crime in the surrounding area."

In the meantime, Philpott has directed officials to process applications "as quickly as possible without undue hindrance or delay," said her press secretary Andrew MacKendrick.

Still, 13 applications from across Canada are in the queue for review, including seven in B.C.

  • Vancouver - 2
  • Surrey - 2
  • Victoria - 1
  • Kelowna - 1
  • Kamloops - 1
  • Toronto - 3
  • Ottawa - 2
  • Montreal - 1 mobile site

Applications from both Surrey and Victoria have enough information to move to a more formal review, as of mid-February. Vancouver submitted further information in February, which Health Canada is reviewing.

In February, Philpott approved three new supervised injection sites in Montreal, after a lengthy approval process.

The applications were first submitted in May 2015, and it took a year and nine months to satisfy the 26 current requirements for a federal exemption on a site.

Those criteria, which critics have called unnecessarily onerous, were brought in by the Conservatives and the Liberals have said they will be repealed under Bill C-37.