Kitchener-Waterloo

Possible Cambridge supervised consumption site could face opposition from MPP

Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios says she's heard "loud and clear" from constituents that they don't want a supervised consumption site in the city. Mayor Kathryn McGarry says if the MPP opposes a site, then Karahalios needs to do more to improve treatment services.

Karahalios says she's heard 'loud and clear' people don't want a supervised consumption site

Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios says she'll speak out against the city getting a supervised consumption site because she doesn't believe people that live there want one. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

MPP Belinda Karahalios says she will be a vocal opponent of a supervised consumption site in Cambridge if the city moves ahead with opening a facility.

Karahalios, who is the MPP for Cambridge, has spoke out against the sites before. Her latest comments to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo come after city councillors voted 7-2 in favour of moving ahead with searching for a possible site location as well as setting up an advisory group to do that work.

Karahalios said she was pleased to see councillors Jan Liggett and Nicholas Ermeta vote against the motion.

"We've been hearing loud and clear that people do not want an injection site in Cambridge. I think it's been pretty apparent that this is not what people want for our city," she said.

She suggested Cambridge "take a step back" and wait to see how Kitchener's interim and permanent supervised consumption site works before setting up a site in Cambridge.

Karahalios was asked whether she would be vocal in her opposition of a supervised consumption site if the city and Region of Waterloo moved ahead with applying for one.

"I was elected to represent my constituents. If they are in opposition to this, then so too am I," Karahalios said.

"If that means speaking out against this, then that's what I will do."

More provincial help needed

But if Karahalios doesn't support a site, Mayor Kathryn McGarry she expects the MPP to do more to convince the government to do more to help people.

"They owe it to the people of Cambridge to deliver on getting the government funding that's needed for much more treatment," McGarry said in an interview.

"We've asked them for more detox or rehab beds, more mental health and addiction services, but I don't see it forthcoming."

McGarry says she's encouraging people in the city to contact their local MPP, whether it's Karahalios or Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP Amy Fee, and offer their thoughts on the sites.

She says she's received a number of emails from people advocating for a supervised consumption site.

"They want to prevent more deaths and feel that they would want a consumption and treatment site somewhere in Cambridge in order to keep people alive long enough to be able to get the help," she said. 

McGarry says she expects to meet with Karahalios in the coming weeks on the issue.

Karahalios says in her role as a provincial politician, she has been working towards other solutions to tackle the opioid crisis like outreach workers and mental health supports.

"These are things that I've been advocating for because that's the message that I'm hearing from the people that I was elected to represent," she said.

"Let's go back to the main messaging of, 'Kids, drugs are bad.' Why are we condoning the use of an illegal substance at a site funded by taxpayer dollars?"

Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios is seen here speaking at a panel on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition in June 2019. She has been a vocal opponent of supervised consumption sites, saying she doesn't believe they're the best way to help people. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Community support considered

It's unclear how much sway Karahalios's opposition to a supervised consumption site would have in any final decision on a site. Once the city chooses a location, it goes to the Region of Waterloo, which also serves as the board of health.

If the region approves of the location, then the region applies to the province and federal government for approvals.

The province would need to give the region to OK to set up a site in Cambridge. 

When asked whether Karahalios's stance would play a role in any decision, a statement from ministry spokesman David Jenson said the province takes into consideration "community support and ongoing community consultation, integration with primary care, treatment and other health services; defined pathways to addictions treatment and rehabilitation, primary care, mental health, housing, employment and other health and social supports."

Jensen also noted the government continues to accept applications for supervised consumption and treatment sites.

When Premier Doug Ford's press secretary was asked for comment on whether Karahalios's opinion on consumption sites was a problem for the party, which allows them although has limited how many there can be in the province, the question was forwarded to the ministry of health. That question was not directly answered in the statement from Jensen.

Sites steer people to treatment

Karahalios said she's also concerned a supervised consumption site won't help fix the problems the city faces.

"I do know that Vancouver has had Insite for well over a decade," she said. "If these places actually worked, why aren't they closing down? They're still open, we still see people coming in."

Since it opened in 2003, more than 3.6 million people have used the Insite location. In that time, there have been more than 6,400 overdose interventions that have prevented deaths, Vancouver Coastal Health says on its website.

Dr. Mark Lysyshyn is an overdose response physicians at Insite and a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health. He says Karahalios may not fully understand what they do and how the program works.

"Harm reduction programs are needed because the treatments that we have for addiction do not work all of the time in all people," he said. "For those people that it doesn't work for, we need to provide them harm reduction so that they can stay alive long enough to eventually seek treatments that will work for them. So that's what programs like Insite do."

He says studies around Insite show people who use the service are more likely to go into treatment than those who don't use the site.

"People who don't struggle with drug use on a daily basis don't understand how dangerous it is and how difficult it is to recover," Lysyshyn said.

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