Kitchener mayoral candidates less polarized on supervised injection sites

As a Cambridge mayoral candidate suggests other cities including Kitchener are contributing to the opioid crisis in his city, Kitchener mayoral candidates are also discussing opioids and the related issue of supervised injection sites.

As Cambridge mayoral candidate Ben Tucci says other cities including Kitchener are contributing to the opioid crisis in his city, Kitchener candidates are also discussing opioids and the related issue of supervised injection sites.

"The reality is Kitchener has, for many, many years has been dealing with many of the social issues that the region was faced with, simply by virtue of the fact that we were the largest community in the region," says Kitchener incumbent and mayoral candidate Berry Vrbanovic.

"And as a result, many of the social agencies set themselves up in Kitchener and so we had to deal with a lot of those challenges," he said.

Myron Steinman is also running to be mayor in Kitchener. He has lived in the region for nearly 40 years and has been an advocate for better accessibility. He says he understands the hesitation some people have over an SCS but he believes they will help improve the lives of people in Kitchener.

"People are staying away from downtown Kitchener because of people with glassy eyes, people panhandling. Consumption sites would help alleviate that problem, I believe," he said.

Steinman he calls the sites "harm reduction sites" because there is more than just drug use happening at them. There also are services to help people who want to stop using drugs.

He said an SCS should not be in hospitals or in remote areas and needs to go where it will see the most use.

Narine Sookram has lived in Kitchener for more than 25 years and is also seeking the mayor's chair. He works as a job developer in downtown Kitchener. He says he sees and hears the issues surrounding the opioid crisis every day.

"We really have to look at the bigger picture," he said, calling for more consultation on the crisis.

"It is crucial that we really have empathy out of that and be mindful of other people's lives, because a life is a life, but at the same time, I think if we are going to have [an SCS], I think it is important for us to make sure that this is not just a temporary fix."

He also says businesses and neighbourhoods negatively affected by an SCS. He says to him, it's similar to a food bank.

"I've never understand the purpose of a food bank because that's just a temporary fix. My thing is, let's get deeper as to why is we need a food bank in the first place," he said.

When it comes to an SCS, "if we do put one in place, this is something temporary just to have a little bit of a safety control."

Jiri Marek is also a Kitchener mayoral candidate but was unavailable for an interview.

Provincial review

For now, the issue of supervised consumption sites is on hold as the province is reviewing whether to allow new ones to open.

The three candidates agreed the issue isn't just a Kitchener one and it will be up to the next mayor to work with regional council to come up with a solution.

"As our region grows, these issues are finding themselves in other parts of the community as well and Kitchener always has and continues to deal with its challenges in the context of the overall region," Vrbanovic said.