Manitobans who want safe injection sites don't count as expert research, Pallister says

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister shot back at the implication he's arguing against expert-endorsed safe injection sites by citing research that says something different. 

Consequence of controversial harm-reduction approach includes youth overdosing, premier tells CBC

A syringe.
There's no evidence to support a supervised consumption site in Winnipeg, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister shot back at critics of his position on safe injection sites, saying his opposition is based on research, rather than public opinion. 

"I don't make my decisions willy-nilly based on polls, as you well know," Pallister told CBC Manitoba's Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. "If I did, I wouldn't have advanced a flat carbon tax proposal, would I?

"I think that acknowledging there's lots of research on this and saying some people locally want to have an injection site is not research," he added. "Research has been done all over the world and there's no one else who has opened a safe injection … site solely for meth."

In a radio segment that aired Friday morning, Manitoba's premier again dismissed calls for a safe injection site.

Province liable if youth overdoses: Pallister

He also used the interview to defend himself after a CBC News story quoted the office of B.C. Premier John Horgan, saying that Pallister mischaracterized their conversation about supervised consumption sites. Pallister told question period earlier this week that B.C.'s premier warned him about the "unintended consequences" of such facilities. 

Pallister said an example of those consequences is liability, which he said he spoke about.

"Taxpayers would be on the hook if a young person wants to go into a consumption site, then subsequently overdoses and the state was involved in the provision of the drugs or assisted in the administration of the drugs," Pallister said.

"I understand the B.C. premier's office has domestic concerns about perceptions that I would be trying to say they're against consumption sites — that's not at all what I communicated," he added, "but there is the issue of unintended consequences that we have to be aware of."

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is worried about the liability if something goes wrong at a supervised consumption site inside his province. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

A supervised injection site, sometimes referred to as a safe injection or consumption site, allows drug users to have their drugs tested before they take them under the supervision of trained medical staff.

Pallister echoed previous arguments of his that the safe consumption sites in other communities deal with opioids, but there isn't an example like Winnipeg where the overwhelming concern is methamphetamine, a stimulant. 

Unlike in Vancouver, where overdoses are pervasive, drug use isn't confined to a certain area in Winnipeg, Pallister said. It happens everywhere, and you'd need a half-dozen safe injection sites if opioids were the top concern. 

When asked why the province doesn't just establish multiple locations, Pallister wasn't convinced.

"You'd have to ask yourself: would that help the problem or would that aid and abet the problem?"

He said his government would rather focus on establishing treatment beds, rapid access to addictions medicine clinics and sharing preventive education.

Warm hand over cold needle

"We're making literally millions of needles available to assist people in not reusing needles, for example," Pallister said. "We're taking steps on so many different fronts and we're working to find more and better ways, but we have to be aware that a cold needle isn't as good as a warm hand in helping people get off drugs."

On Monday, a qualitative study commissioned by several health agencies, including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Sunshine House, suggested a majority of drug users, and the advocates who support them, want a safe consumption site in the provincial capital.

"Provider perspectives varied on the degree to which [safe consumption sites] in Winnipeg are a priority, but they supported the establishment of [safe consumption sites] within the continuum of harm reduction and substance use services, especially if people who use drugs would value and access the service," the report said.

Several local advocates, including Rick Lees from Main Street Project, a shelter and outreach program in Winnipeg, have campaigned for a supervised consumption site. He's told CBC News that offering free needles without a place to use it is like offering half the treatment. 

A doctor with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says there is evidence that safe consumption sites can improve the physical and mental health of people who use them.

"The evidence for supervised consumption, overall, is very good," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical officer of health specializing in substance use. "It certainly reduces risks of overdose, connects people to the system, gives them a space where they can feel safe to connect with their peers as well as with the system."


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at

With files from Marcy Markusa