Protesters demonstrate at Cambridge recommended safe injection site
People worried about plans for a proposed safe injection site in Cambridge rallied in Galt on Friday evening.
"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."
"I think there should be the orange boxes on every corner so that they can dispose of their own needles."
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."
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."
"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.
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.
"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.