Edmonton council throws support behind supervised injection sites

Edmonton city council has agreed to take the next step toward getting supervised drug injection sites established in the city.

Council votes 10-1 to ask the province to seek federal approval for three proposed sites

An example of the type of kit that would be handed out at supervised injection sites. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Edmonton city council has agreed to take the next step toward getting supervised drug injection sites established in the city.

Councillors voted 10-1 in favour of the move on Tuesday, with Tony Caterina the only vote against.

Bev Esslinger and Mike Nickel were absent.

The city will now write a letter to support a federal exemption application to allow for safe injection sites

The province is responsible for funding the service, but in order for the City of Edmonton to provide medically supervised injection services at any facility, a federal exemption is required under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Provincial support is also needed. Letters of opinion are required from the city and the police chief as part of the exemption application.

The 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.

After two days of council meetings Monday and Tuesday, Mayor Don Iveson said it was hard to hear so many concerns from people who live near the proposed sites. But the mayor insisted that supervised injection centres are "the way to go."

'We are not happy'

"This is a now fix," said Iveson.

He said the city will monitor how the program is managed and the impact on communities.

"We are not happy," said Fred Li, chairman of the Life Enrichment for the Elderly (LEE) Association in Chinatown. "Not just me, all the Chinese community people are not happy.
'The decision-making is going to damage Chinatown,' says Barbara Fung with the Chinese Benevolent Association. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

"We are really, really, really upset with the consultation process," said Barbara Fung with the Chinese Benevolent Association.

Both insist the city's Chinese community was not even aware council planned to discuss the letter until days before the meetings.

They fear having injection services added to the George Spady Centre will hurt property values in nearby Chinatown and drive people away.

"Where will those people get the money from for the drugs?" asked Fung. "They're going to break into somebody's house, because the government is not going to provide them the money for the drugs." 

The Chinese community will hold a meeting in the next few days to determine if there is anything that can be done to stop the plan from moving forward, Fung said.

"We put a lot of study into this proposal," said Elaine Hyshka from the school of public health at the University of Alberta. "And I'm glad council recognized that.

"We will be monitoring and evaluating the outcomes of this service. We're all committed to making sure it works for everyone."

City also needs wellness centre

The city also needs a community "wellness centre" as part of a co-ordinated inner-city strategy, Iveson said.

That would be separate from the supervised injection sites, and would be intended to stream people into supportive housing more quickly and efficiently, he said.

For the idea to work, it can't just manage "the same people the same way," he said, but should help people transition into supportive housing and treatment.

The mayor said he will introduce a motion at a council meeting next week to begin that discussion.
The areas with the highest concentration of EMS responses to opioid-related events included Central McDougall, McCauley and Boyle Street. (Supplied)