Region of Waterloo committee votes to put supervised consumption site plans on hold

The region's community services committee has voted unanimously to hold off on any plans for supervised consumption sites until after the province completes a review. That means all public meetings will be postponed if regional council ratifies the vote.

Waterloo region's supervised consumption sites in limbo after committee vote

The region's community services committee has voted in favour of putting plans for two supervised consumption sites on hold. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Members of the Region of Waterloo's community services committee have voted unanimously to pause work on opening supervised consumption sites, where drug users can use illicit substances with health staff nearby, in the region.

The committee will now recommend to regional council that staff hold off on any public meetings as well as pause any plans to move forward with finding locations for supervised consumption sites until after a provincial review.

That review is expected to be completed in September.

The committee voted on a motion put forward by Regional Chair Ken Seiling to put plans on hold after a heated debate over the issue at a meeting Tuesday morning.

Regional Chair Ken Seiling put forward a motion to "pause" finding a location for the supervised consumption sites. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

"It became very clear that the provincial government, which is critical to these sites operating, has put on hold any future decisions until they come up with any policy decisions on safe consumption sites," said Seiling.  

"Until we know what the ground rules are going to be and whether they're going to approve anything, it seems more appropriate to stop the process of actually locating sites," he said. 

Staff had presented a report requesting to add two new locations for consideration in Kitchener. That would bring the total to five possible sites: three in Kitchener and two in Cambridge.

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig argued his city doesn't want any sites in the Galt core.

"We came here and asked you to not put a site in the limited area of Galt and in fact you went ahead and did it anyway," Craig said. 

"Even when the interim bylaw was put in place, we still see it in the charts," he said. "And you wonder why people in Cambridge are upset. They don't want it there, it's that simple." 

Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic disagrees with Craig's argument. 

"It saddens me that's the direction the municipality chose to go because if we all do that, quite frankly, we're going to be in a world where we're not caring for the people that we need to care for in this community," Vrbanovic said.

"We can't just look at solutions that are potentially just trying to move the problem away," he said. 

The vote by the committee, which still needs to be ratified by regional council, would mean all public meetings planned for August and September would be postponed.

The region's chief administrative officer, Mike Murray, said staff will continue to do "background" work on the project such as looking at potential costs, and deciding on what the facility would look like, what type of services would be available and how that would be provided. 

"I think what council was trying to do today was keep that ball moving without creating unnecessary divisiveness in the community," Murray said. 

The province pressed pause on approving any new overdose prevention sites last Friday.

Ontario's Health Minister Christine Elliott said she will be reviewing overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites and plans to release her findings next month.