Kitchener-Waterloo

Protesters demonstrate at Cambridge recommended safe injection site

People worried about plans for a proposed safe injection site in the Galt area of Cambridge made their concerns known Friday evening.

People worried about plans for a proposed safe injection site in Cambridge rallied in Galt on Friday evening. 

Approximately 100 protesters — and counter protesters — gathered outside the Region of Waterloo Public Health building at 150 Main Street, one of the two locations recommended as a potential location for one of the planned supervised injection sites in that city.
'There's a school across the street and I'm becoming a mom and I wouldn't want my kids to go to school across from an open space [where] people are allowed to use drugs,' said Kolby Thompson-Latimer. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)
Kolby Thompson-Latimer, visibly pregnant and carrying a sign that read "I want my baby to grow up in the safe Cambridge that I did," said Galt has changed, and not for the better, since she was a teen.

"My fear in regards to the safety of downtown is that if there is a safe injection site it will just encourage more drug users to come to our city, to use our safe injection site. And, in turn, it's not a place for them to live, it's not a place for them to get help, it's a place for them to use and then they're right back out on the streets again making non-users feel unsafe in our city."

"I do agree with the needle exchange, to keep the needles off the streets," conceded Thompson-Latimer. "But what I don't agree with is why should taxpayers dollars provide a safe place for somebody to do something that's illegal in the first place."

Discarded needles has been an ongoing problem in Cambridge, something that Colleen Nolan says needs to stop. She says her daughter, 14, shouldn't have to fear walking through needles around their home in Churchill Park. 

"I think there should be the orange boxes on every corner so that they can dispose of their own needles."

Colleen Nolan says the are needles 'everywhere' around her home in Churchill Park and she doesn't like the idea of her 14-year-old daughter coming across used and possibly contaminated syringes. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

She says there is a double standard on enforcement, and feels public alcohol consumption is much more enforced than drug use.

"If I walk down the street drinking, I get put in jail. But if you walk down the street and you're high as a kite, they say they can't do anything. I really have an issue with that." 

"So if they're telling me you can have a safe injection site, then they can walk out, walk down the street, fall over and I disagree with that. They should have a rehab centre or something set up that if they want to get help, they can. But there's a wait list so long, by then they don't want to anymore."

'Right idea, wrong place," said Brad Thompson. He said he wants to see public dollars spent on rehabilitation centres, not safe injection sites. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Many protesters, including Brad Thompson who lives on Westriver Road in Cambridge, felt a rehabilitation centre and addiction services were a better strategy than a safe injection site. 

He feels something has to be done but that public dollars should not support something that's illegal. 

"Why are you enabling an illegal act?," he asked. "Enabling them may lead to rehab, but people will only be rehabilitated if they want to."

"Right idea, wrong location," said Thompson. "This community has been suffering for decades. I've lived here all my life and in the past 40 years this city has tried  — unsuccessfully — to recover from the downturns in economy, big box store buildings, the development of shopping areas outside the city core and the city core is dying." 

"And to create an injection site in an area where businesses want to flourish, just isn't the right place." He says he knows two business owners planning to close over the safe injection site proposal. 

"It's sad."

Gabrielle Bennett says she has sympathy for people trapped in addiction, but also for parents whose children go to Central Public School, which is just 200 meters from the proposed safe injection site. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Gabrielle Bennett said she straddles the line between the protesters and supporters. 

"We have a lot of excellent local businesspeople and we want to attract more of those, and this kind of thing is a negative aspect in the optics of it ... [but] we could save lives, and that's paramount to any cause. And I think tax dollars are well spent on something like that."

But the proposed location at 150 Main St. is around the block from the Ainslie Street bus terminal and within a few minutes walk of Central Public School, located at 175 Main St. and that's problematic, says Bennett.

"I do feel the concerns of the young families whose children have to walk by this area and who are going to be exposed to an element that isn't conducive with your early years."

On the other side of the roadway access to the Waterloo Region Public Health centre on Main Street, almost the same number of counter-protesters gathered, including Shannon Downey, a current drug user and founder of the Cambridge Harm Reduction Alliance. 

Shannon Downey and Ryan O'Hagan were part of a counter-protest, in support of a safe injection site in Galt. O'Hagan said what concerns him most about the discussion surrounding the site is the saturation of myth and absence of facts. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

"The whole reason I'm here is I want to give a voice to current and former drug users," said Downey, who is working to get off cocaine. 

"I still struggle with relapse, I still struggle with current use. I'm still trying to connect with certain resources... but I'm still currently using."

She says when she sees protesters like those down the street, she worries they don't have enough information to make an educated choice about the proposed safe injection site. 

"They haven't looked at enough evidence-based research," said Downey. "SIS does work. It has been in Vancouver for almost 20 years." 

And the location, she says, is perfect. While close to the school, 150 Main St. is also the existing headquarters for the Cambridge branch of Waterloo Region Public Health and around the corner from existing mental health services. 

"It's building upon services, so it's meeting people where they're at in terms of their addiction and their recovery and getting connected to other resources in the community and because it's within a 30-second walk to addictions counselling it makes the most sense to put it there, because it's so close."

She says she is also worried by the city's needle problem — that's why she started the alliance and why she's trying to kick her cocaine addiction.

"Just being out in the community, kind of like pushed me in the right direction of 'you need to get sober and you're spiralling and it could be a lot worse.'"

Another round of public stakeholder consultations will be held before any final decisions about a location is made.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Sharkey

Associate Producer, CBC KW

Jackie Sharkey has worked all over the country with the CBC over the past decade, including Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU. She frequently reports on the arts and is particularly interested in stories where consumer and environmental issues intersect.

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