Chinese community challenges city hall on safe injection sites

Members of Edmonton's Chinese community again voiced objections Thursday to the city's proposal to open three safe-injection sites in inner-city neighbourhoods.

Community feels 'insulted' by motion to create public advisory committee, one man says

Members of Edmonton's Chinese community packed the River Valley Room at city hall Thursday. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Members of Edmonton's Chinese community again voiced objections Thursday to the city's proposal to open three safe-injection sites in inner-city neighbourhoods.

City council's community and public services committee heard a report on plans for a public advisory committee on safe injection sites in a packed River Valley Room at city hall.

Committee members ultimately decided to postpone putting an advisory committee together until after the federal government has considered the city's request for the safe injection sites.

The four people who addressed the committee were less interested in talking about being part of a public advisory group than expressing their displeasure at the proposal for safe injection sites in their neighbourhoods.

City council is "putting the horses behind the buggy," said Dr. Michael Lee, chair of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton.

Lee, a dentist, said the public advisory committee should have been put in place before city council wrote a letter to the federal government in May 2016 asking it to approve four safe injection sites.

The city's proposal calls for supervised injection sites to be offered at three community agencies — Boyle Street Community Services, Boyle McCauley Health Centre and the George Spady Centre. A fourth program would be set up at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for inpatients only.

Lee called the placement of three of the safe injection sites in the McCauley and Central McDougall neighbourhoods a "road of no return." He didn't object to the proposed Royal Alexandra program.

Decision-makers are not looking at the impact the three sites could have on the community, Lee said.

Michael Lee said the location of safe injection sites near Chinatown is a "road of no return." (CBC)

"We have to balance out what kind of positive outcome can happen with what kind of negative impact these sites have overall," he said. "The existence of an entire community has to be taken into consideration."

Community 'scared' about impact of sites

Lee's concerns were echoed by Chinatown resident William Lau.

"It's not just a health services issue," Lau said. "We are scared about the impact on our community."

Lau said the community feels "insulted" by the idea of creating a public advisory committee he called "irrelevant."

"We don't want to sit down and explore the impact after the decision has been made," he said.

Coun. Scott McKeen, who represents Ward 6, which includes Boyle Street Community Services, Boyle McCauley Health Centre and the George Spady Centre, told people at the meeting he was already aware of community objections.

"I was pretty clear before today about how angry and emotional you were," McKeen said.

In June, more than 150 people rallied outside the Alberta legislature in a protest against the plan to create supervised injection sites near Chinatown.

McKeen said council's decision to pursue the safe injection sites was in the interest of saving lives. He pointed out that the three inner-city safe injection facilities would be "micro sites" that would not all operate at the same times of day.

No advisory committee before federal decision

It was McKeen who put forward the motion to postpone any decision on a public advisory committee until after the federal government has considered the city's request for safe injection sites.

After the meeting, Lee said he is optimistic that as long as no decision has been made by the federal government, there is still a chance the safe injection sites won't end up in his community.

"I believe that city council realizes that a broad consultation has to be done in order to make this decision that will have very lasting effect on the community," he said.


Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.