Regional chair candidate Jay Aissa suggests mobile supervised consumption site

The four candidates for regional chair all agree there is a drug problem in Waterloo region and a supervised consumption site is needed, but they don't agree on how exactly to deliver that service.

All regional chair candidates agree there's a problem, but don't agree on solution

The four candidates for regional chair are (from left): Jan d'Ailly, Jay Aissa, Karen Redman and Rob Deutschmann. (Campaign photos)

Regional chair candidate Jay Aissa says he wants to see a mobile supervised consumption site set up to help residents of Waterloo region.

But rival Rob Deutschmann disagrees and says the best way to help people addicted to drugs is by having SCS placed in the "red zones" identified by public health, which includes downtown Kitchener and Galt.

"The mobile site is not an answer to a permanent safe consumption site," Deutschmann said in an interview with CBC K-W.

He has visited sites in Vancouver and Calgary, as well as an overdose prevention site in Hamilton, speaking with staff about the best methods.

He says that for people who use drugs, there needs to be consistency. A mobile unit would not provide that.

But he also says he wouldn't force an SCS into Galt.

"As regional chair — and the region is the public health board so there's certainly is a huge interest from the regional perspective — my view is we have to respect the lower tier municipality's wishes and work with them to get it resolved," he said.

"We absolutely need two safe consumption sites in our community right now," he said, but, "It's a complicated issue and I think there's multiple factors.

Those factors include the public's concern for safety, how police are handling the opioid crisis and whether or not The Bridges shelter may move.

Proposed sites on hold during provincial review

CBC K-W reached out to all four candidates for their thoughts on supervised consumption sites in the region.

Currently, public health has recommended two SCS sites: One in downtown Kitchener and one in Cambridge's Galt core. Those plans are on hold for now while provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott reviews whether to continue funding SCS and overdose prevention sites (OPS). 

A spokesperson for Elliott sent a statement to CBC K-W Tuesday when asked when the review would be completed.

"Minister Elliott is reviewing the latest data, evidence and current drug injection site models. She is actively involved in this process, has toured multiple sites and heard from people struggling with addiction, along with experts, health care workers, community leaders, community members, police services, business owners and other stakeholders. As this review process is completed in short order, the minister looks forward to having more to say on this matter," the statement said.

Cambridge council has already passed a bylaw banning an SCS from any core areas

When asked for his thoughts on SCS, Aissa pointed to his platform on his campaign website. In it, he acknowledges the region is "rightly recognized that opioid related deaths and related drug issues are serious problems that render unspeakable grief and cause immeasurable harm within our communities."

That's also where he suggests the mobile SCS unit rather than a permanent location.

Mobile units have been used by health care providers in London, Montreal and in B.C.

Gabrielle Bennett takes part in a rally in July. She's against putting a supervised consumption site in the Galt core. She 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 one of the proposed sites. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

SCS 'not a silver bullet'

Fellow candidate Karen Redman says other wraparound services are necessary to deal with the crisis.

"Doing nothing is not an option in my view. Safe consumption sites are not a silver bullet," Redman said in an email.

"Mental health services and housing are key components in long term solutions."

Redman says the region needs to listen to residents because "public input leads to better policies."

She says there needs to be a level of consensus when it comes to where an SCS goes in Cambridge.

"As controversial as the location of an SCS has been, it is a rare exception that any delegation fails to acknowledge that something needs to be done," Redman said.

Need low-cost housing

Candidate Jan d'Ailly says the region needs to look at the larger picture and how to help people who want to move beyond addiction.

"There's no low-cost housing for them to be able to get into," d'Ailly said in an interview.

"You have a block in the system," he added, and that creates "a huge backlog of people who don't have a path to recovery."

He says the reality in Waterloo Region is that an SCS is needed, whether it's mobile or permanent, but regional council needs to also look at a longer term solution or people will fall between the cracks.

"We do have a problem — there's no doubt about that," he said.