Downtown Edmonton business group loses legal fight against supervised injection sites

An Edmonton business association that took its fight against three downtown safe injection sites to court has lost its legal challenge in Federal Court.

'The court found they were treated fairly and there was no breach of their rights'

This week, a federal court judge rejected a challenge from the Chinatown and Area Business Association in Edmonton against three downtown supervised injection sites. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

An Edmonton business association that lost its legal challenge of three safe injection sites says it won't appeal the ruling as its concerns are repeatedly ignored.

"We've been dismissed and ignored at every point. We feel it's pointless," said Dr. Holly Mah, chair of the Chinatown and Area Business Association.

"We feel our request was not unreasonable ... that three drug injection sites within six blocks in Chinatown could be amalgamated into one to minimize the impact on our community." 

The supervised consumption sites opened in the Central McDougall and McCauley neighbourhoods, after a coalition of community, academic and health groups was granted an exemption under a federal drug statute to operate them.

The sites have been visited almost 40,000 time since the first one opened last March, and more than 420 overdoses have been reversed, says Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton (AMSISE) — the group that advocated for the sites' opening.

Marliss Taylor, program manager at the safe consumption site at Boyle Street Community Services, says she was pleased by the court's decision as the sites are saving lives.

Marliss Taylor, program manager at the safe consumption site at Boyle Street Community Services, says she was pleased by the court's decision as the sites are saving lives. (CBC)

"I'm really clear that they have been running pretty quietly and pretty easily for almost a year now. I don't think ... people would have noticed much of a change. And so that's a very good thing," Taylor said.

"We are going to continue to do the things we've been doing over the past year to try and address any concerns that people may have, and to help the community be a safe and healthy as possible."

Federal court case

In the decision released Tuesday, Justice Richard Mosley found the federal Ministry of Health met its duties to the Chinatown business association.

"Justice Mosley found that concerned neighbours are entitled to only a minimal level of procedural fairness in the context of these decisions," said Nathan Whitling, the lawyer representing AMSISE.

"The court found they were treated fairly and there was no breach of their rights to be treated fairly."

In its court filings, the business association argued the country's first safe injection site in Vancouver had only one location when it opened, although the opioid epidemic was more severe and concentrated in that city.

But, Mosley found this precedent "does not prevent other cities from adopting other models."

The business association had also argued it was not properly consulted.

While the judge found that Health Canada did not provide a direct response to the association's concerns, "there is a difference ... between Health Canada being unconvinced by certain arguments and ignoring them."

Looking to the future

Taylor said the injection sites do not appear to be drawing new opioid users to the community. Before the sites opened, the organization talked to substance users who said they would not travel far to use the service.  

"Who we are getting in the services is who we should be getting — which are local folks who are using opioids in a way that puts their health at risk."

Boyle Street Community Services was the first of four safe injection sites to open in Edmonton. (CBC)

As part of their federal conditions, the organizations that run the sites must monitor and report their impact on the community to Health Canada as their re-approval depends on it in part.

But Mah, from the Chinatown Business Association, says self-monitoring is not reliable.

The community hopes the process is changed in the future.

"We hope this doesn't happen to any other community, that communities will be properly consulted and that concerns are taken into consideration," she said.

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