Manitoba

Consumption sites save lives, B.C. government says after Manitoba premier points to 'unintended consequences'

The office of B.C.'s premier says comments by Manitoba's Brian Pallister were the result of a misunderstanding of a conversation between the government leaders about supervised injection sites.

B.C. government spokesperson says there was a misunderstanding between Brian Pallister, B.C.'s John Horgan

A woman prepares to inject herself as a man sits in a wheelchair outside Insite, a supervised consumption site in Vancouver in this 2017 file photo. B.C.'s premier is a supporter of the harm-reduction tactic, a government spokesperson said in response to comments from Manitoba's premier. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The office of B.C.'s premier says comments by Manitoba's Brian Pallister were the result of a misunderstanding of a conversation between the government leaders about supervised injection sites.

In rejecting demands from the Opposition NDP for a supervised consumption site in Winnipeg, Brian Pallister referred earlier this week of the "unintended consequences" of such harm-reduction facilities — something he says B.C.'s premier cautioned him about.

"I just recently spoke to Premier [John] Horgan of British Columbia, and he says, 'I hope your opposition recognizes the unintended consequences of these actions. We do here in British Columbia,'" Pallister told the legislative assembly on Monday.

When asked about the nature of Pallister's conversation with Horgan while the Manitoba premier was in British Columbia last month, B.C. government spokesperson Sheena McConnell said there was a misunderstanding.

Sites saved 'thousands of lives': B.C. spokesperson

In fact, Horgan is a staunch supporter of supervised consumption sites, she said.

"Overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites save lives and are a critical part of B.C.'s response to the overdose crisis," she said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

"Together with increased access to mental health and addictions services and supports, they have contributed to saving thousands of lives in our province."

The locations counted more than than a million visits between the summers of 2017 and 2018 — with thousands of overdoses reversed and no deaths reported, McConnell added.

"We continue to escalate our response to the overdose crisis every day, every week, every month to turn the tide on this unprecedented public health emergency."

There are 30 overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites in B.C. To date, no one has died at any site, health officials say — which they say proves their effectiveness.

Pallister has previously argued that supervised injection sites do not help people struggling with methamphetamine addiction.

He repeated that argument Monday, following the release of a qualitative study introduced in the Manitoba Legislature that suggested a majority of drug users, and the advocates who support them, want a safe consumption site in Winnipeg.

The report was the product of a working group of several health agencies, including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Sunshine House and Main Street Project. Their work was facilitated by a $15,000 federal grant.

Health advocates are generally supportive of a safe- or supervised-consumption site, the study suggested, but they highlighted potential concerns such as the location chosen, the needs of law enforcement and laws against assisted injection for people who cannot inject the drug themselves.

'Not called for by any expert': health minister

The debate over supervised injection sites continued in the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen was dismissive of the significance the Opposition NDP placed on the study, which relied on the opinions of 38 drug users who met in a cafe-style setting.

"They wanted snacks. They wanted some chairs and couches," he said. "We do not believe that would be the basis on which to draw conclusions about the safety of such meth injection sites, which are not called for by any expert."

The government has continually said that supervised consumption spaces have not been proven to work in addressing the abuse of drugs like methamphetamine.

Friesen also referenced a news report that quoted a retail employee in Lethbridge, Alta., who was worried because her workplace is near a supervised injection site. 

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese reports from the Manitoba Legislature for CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Leif Larsen

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