Chinatown business community launches legal challenge of Edmonton's drug injection sites

A legal battle is brewing over Edmonton's controversial safe injection sites but the coalition overseeing their implementation says it will proceed as planned.

In federal court application, business association claims it wasn't properly consulted

Chinatown's business association has launched a legal challenge hoping to halt safe injection sites scheduled to soon open in Edmonton. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A legal battle is brewing over Edmonton's controversial safe injection sites, but the coalition overseeing their implementation says it will proceed as planned.

Chinatown's business association is challenging the federal exemption granted under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for three of the four sites in the Central McDougall and McCauley neighbourhoods.

But Shelley Williams, the chair of Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton, said the coalition still aims to begin offering services in December or January.

In an application seeking a judicial review filed on Nov. 16 , the business association is asking the federal court to quash the exemption granted last month and to return the matter to federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor for reconsideration.

Among the association's arguments, it said it wasn't properly consulted and the cluster model is untested. Consumption sites will be run out of three nearby agencies — Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and the George Spady Centre.

"The applicant challenges the fairness of the decision-making process, the lack of community consultation, the untested nature of the model that was approved for Edmonton, the unnecessary concentration and number of the sites, and the selection of the locations for the sites in Edmonton," the court application said.
Shelley Williams says Chinatown's business association was among many consulted about the injection sites, set to launch in December or January. (CBC)

The association said the City of Edmonton provided a letter of support for the proposed exemption in May "without regard to the submissions made by the community." And the health minister granted the exemptions on Oct. 17, the same day her office requested a meeting scheduled for two days later to discuss concerns with community representatives.

"The letter granting the exemption did not provide any reasons for the decision, nor did it articulate how the decision was reached or how the community's position was considered," according to the court document, which also raised concerns about crime rates and community safety.

But Williams said consultations included the business association, and were widespread.

"And the consultation was about discussions and engagement to make sure people were understanding what we were developing and why," said Williams. "It wasn't about yes I want it, or no I don't."

She said a "substantive amount of research" indicates consumption sites don't increase crime rates or draw people from outside the community, noting the services are a response to needs of local residents.

In contrast to larger consumption sites, Edmonton's "micro-sized" ones will each offer three to five booths, said Williams.

Williams said the sites will help individuals and the community in a variety of ways, by saving lives and by minimizing disease transmission rates and needle debris.

"So there is indisputable evidence that it supports community in many ways," she said.