Kitchener-Waterloo·In Depth

No Cambridge mayoral candidates want supervised consumption site right now

Of the five people running to be mayor in Cambridge, none would support putting a supervised consumption site in the Galt core right now.

Harm reduction advocates says candidates's stance on SCS makes voting all the more important

Kolby Thompson-Latimer holds a sign during a protest in Cambridge in July where residents told city officials they don't want a supervised consumption site in the downtown Galt core or near their homes. There was also a counter-protest of people who support an SCS. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Of the five people running to be mayor in Cambridge, none would support putting a supervised consumption site in the Galt core right now.

Region of Waterloo Public Health has recommended placing a supervised consumption site (SCS, sometimes referred to as a supervised injection site or SIS) in Galt, but all candidates told CBC K-W there are many things to take into consideration before a location is chosen — and that's only if an SCS is even needed in the city.

'Firm no now'

"It's not no forever," said Ben Tucci, a former city councillor with experience working in the financial sector, "but it's got to be a firm no now." 

​"It appears to me Cambridge has reacted to the situation as opposed to being proactive. And when you're reactive to any situation, it's less effective and it's more expensive to deal with than being proactive."

He wants a survey done of those who would use a Cambridge SCS, because he said he doesn't believe people who are using drugs in Cambridge are all from the city. 

"We have people coming in from Toronto and Brampton and other areas and we have to get a handle on the demographics and only then can we determine what the best ... solution's going to be," he said.

'You won't get cured'

Candidates Colin Tucker, a landscaper, and Randy Carter, a roofer-handyman, questioned the usefulness of the sites.

"They do save lives, which I agree with, but they don't stop the issue of people doing drugs," Tucker said. "You won't get cured. You won't get better."

He's also concerned about the impact the site would have on downtown businesses, criticizing public health for not consulting business owners when it picked the recommended locations.

"They're not the ones who are suffering because of the safe injection sites. They have no idea how it affects these poor people who put their heart and soul and all their money into a business and it goes under because of the SIS."

Carter said he has spoken to residents about SCS and nobody he's heard from wants one.

"I don't agree with the safe injection sites, it's just going to bring more people to Cambridge," he said, suggesting people from outside the city will move into the city just for the service.

"I think we should get them help instead of giving them more drugs."

At a meeting in November 2017, residents gather at a church in Galt to hear about the growing opioid crisis in the city. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Need a local solution

Kathryn McGarry, who worked as a nurse prior to a career in politics, stressed the city needs to find its own solution, one that is "best for everyone" and "is focused on prevention, on treatment and balancing the needs of the community, residents and businesses, along with the homeless."

She flagged other factors that prevented her from taking a firm stance on SCS, including that the province is reviewing SCS and overdose prevention sites, that the city enacted a bylaw in April to prevent an SCS in the core areas and that the Bridges shelter may be looking for another location.

"Any definitive answer isn't really possible until we see the outcome," she said.

Residents don't want SCS

Incumbent candidate Doug Craig is proposing Safe City, an initiative that would bring together local politicians who would look for ways to use social funding and support from all levels of government to curb the crisis.

He wants to see more outreach workers that could help eliminate the homeless camps that have sprouted up in the city this summer.

He'd also like to see more police in the core areas of the city and for officers to respond more quickly to calls to help people feel safe.

But there is no question in his mind about SCS.

"The people of Cambridge do not want to have an SIS site in their community for a number of good reasons," he said.

"No question in my mind … this is the majority of Cambridge very clearly sending a message both from a business community and from the people who are walking on the streets, walking on our trails, that have told me repeatedly we can't have these in our city."

Shannon Downey and Ryan O'Hagan were part of a counter-protest in July and showed support for a supervised injection site. O'Hagan is also running for council in Ward 1. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

'Basically, we're at a standstill'

With all five mayoral candidates voicing concerns over the proposed SCS, those who promote harm reduction say October's election will be one where every vote will count. 

Shannon Downey is a member of Working Towards a Cleaner Cambridge, and has helped clean up needles, hand out water to people who are homeless, and take supples to The Bridges emergency shelter. 

"Working at this for the last year, I've realized it's not just one municipality or it's not just one level of government that can solve this," said Downey said.

She encouraged voters to ask candidates — including their mayoral candidates — what they think about harm reduction, SCS and the new rapid access addiction clinic in Galt. 

"Basically, we're at a standstill," she said.

"If these services align with what you want to do, you need to get out there and vote, because your vote is actually going to change what you want to see in Cambridge," she said. "Your vote actually does matter."