Cambridge council approves consumption and treatment site at 150 Main St.

Cambridge council voted in favour of a motion to endorse a consumption and treatment site at 150 Main St. in Galt.

'I refuse to defer this decision any longer,' Mayor Kathryn McGarry told councillors

In a meeting Tuesday night, Cambridge council endorsed 150 Main Street in Galt as a site for a consumption and treatment site. (Google Streetview)

Cambridge city council has voted to endorse a consumption and treatment site at 150 Main St. in downtown Galt.

That location was not one of the two proposed locations — 15 Easton St. and 8 Oxford St. — that councillors were set to discuss at a meeting Tuesday night. The report indicated a large majority of people who responded to a survey about the two sites opposed a consumption and treatment site (CTS) in the city.

Coun. Donna Reid brought forward the motion to endorse a consumption and treatment site at 150 Main St., seconded by Coun. Mike Mann.

Reid thanked all the people who spoke to council, wrote letters to council and who responded to a survey about potential sites.

"As I read the emails in the report, I was struck with the absolutely fear coming from some. Fear that has paralyzed their thinking. Fear that Cambridge will change in a way that they cannot abide. Fear that council will make a decision that will negatively affect them and their families," Reid said.

"Knowledge is powerful and I encourage all of you to seek information on the sites in Guelph, Kitchener, London and Hamilton ... Lack of knowledge and fear are the two most evident reasons for residents to oppose a CTS."

A third reason, Reid said, is that a CTS doesn't fit with people's political ideologies and they don't support the services in general.

"I do not believe that a political decision is appropriate for this health issue," Reid said.

Not approving site hurts city's reputation: Councillor

Coun. Pam Wolf said she's looked to experts in the field to understand whether a consumption and treatment site is necessary in the city and those experts said the city does need one.

She said numbers from the Kitchener consumption and treatment site show that it does help people, including directing people to health care and mental health services.

"Cambridge is a compassionate city that cares for all of our citizens. When we keep putting off the decision about CTS, while our neighbouring cities report success, we hurt our reputation as a caring, progressive city," Wolf said.

Coun. Scott Hamilton said he went to the Kitchener CTS last Thursday night to see the site for himself and talk to staff. Staff said they couldn't give him a tour because of privacy, but they answered his questions, Hamilton said.

"The most interesting thing, two users or clients of the site overheard what I was saying and called me over and said, 'Hey, why don't you want one of these?'" Hamilton said, adding he spoke to the people, one a young woman, for about 20 minutes. "I would say they were fully autonomous ... they were rational, they were kind, they were sensitive and at times they were even funny."

The young woman, he said, was afraid of dying and she told him that's why she used the site.

Coun. Jan Liggett (bottom row highlighted by green box) addresses her fellow Cambridge councillors during a meeting Tuesday evening where council discussed a consumption and treatment site in the city. (City of Cambridge/YouTube)

'I can support this, reluctantly': Coun. Devine

Coun. Mike Devine said "if we have to have one in the city" he would prefer 150 Main St. because he wasn't keen on the other two sites, but he said the site must come with wraparound services.

"We need some good, strong referral services," Devine said. "I can support this, reluctantly, I can support it but I think it's probably the wisest choice, to be honest with you."

He added, "let's just keep remembering: treatment, treatment, treatment, treatment."

Coun. Jan Liggett said council was sending a message to the community that the consultation meant nothing.

"We spent all this money, all this time. We promised the public that their voices would be heard, but now that you don't like what they have to say because you don't like their comments or whatever, you're saying it doesn't matter," she said.

Liggett accused her fellow councillors of discussing the consumption and treatment site in phone calls and said she wasn't included in that.

Wolf called a point of order saying Liggett's language was being disrespectful of council and Liggett argued with Mayor Kathryn McGarry before Liggett left the meeting. 

Coun. Nicholas Ermeta said he was "uncomfortable" with having a consumption and treatment site in the city.

"I still believe that Guelph and Kitchener are very premature, that we haven't seen the long-term implications," he said.

"I also believe our downtown right now is very fragile, it's on the cusp of exciting change and it does have a lot of strong potential; however, I am concerned about the impacts that this is going to have on the downtown."

He put forward a motion to defer the decision, which did not pass.

Not popular but 'right' decision: Mayor

Mayor Kathryn McGarry told council about an experience last week where she spoke with two women near 150 Main Street and both had smoked fentanyl earlier.

"The women were clearly in distress," McGarry said. She told councillors that she walked them to the drop-in centre at 150 Main St. and one of the women told her they had smoked fentanyl at that location because they didn't want to die and they knew someone would save them if they overdosed in that location.

McGarry said a worker from the drop-in came out and told her a consumption and treatment site was needed at 150 Main St. because people were already using drugs there.

"Like seatbelts and vaccines, CTSs are not popular but the evidence is clear. A Cambridge CTS site will save lives," she said.

"Many of the wraparound services are already in the 150 Main St. building. Politically, this isn't an easy process and it's not an easy decision but it's the right one," McGarry added.

"Sometimes as a leader, you have to do the unpopular thing because it's the right thing. I refuse to defer this decision any longer. I refuse to let more people die needlessly."

Council voted 7-1 in favour of Reid's motion. Ermeta was the lone vote against it. Liggett did not return to the meeting for the vote.