Two-thirds of Winnipeggers support safe injection site, poll suggests

The Tory government says Winnipeg may not be the right place for a safe injection site for intravenous drug use, and that puts them at odds with the majority of Winnipeggers, a new poll suggests.

69% polled 'generally in favour of safe injection site,' 31% against

The majority of Winnipeggers in a new poll say they're in favour safe injection sites, despite the provincial government sayingit doesn't support the idea. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The Tory government says Winnipeg may not be the right place for a safe injection site for intravenous drug use, and that puts them at odds with the majority of Winnipeggers, a new poll suggests.

Of the 600 participants in a recent telephone and online Probe Research poll commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press, 69 per cent said they are "generally in favour of a safe injection site." The remaining 31 per cent were opposed.

"I find it really encouraging," said Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, a non-profit group that helps those experiencing homelessness and addiction. "I think we all know somebody who is struggling with drug addiction."

For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of the same size as the one in the poll would typically yield a margin of error of  +/- 4 percentage points, 19 times our of 20. 

Safe injection sites offer intravenous drug users a space to inject while under the supervision of health-care professionals who are able to intervene in the case of an overdose. Sites are already operating in other Canadian jurisdictions, including Toronto, Vancouver,Ottawa and Calgary.

A new poll is providing new insight into how people in Winnipeg feel about having a safe injection site for drug users in their city. 2:19

Women (74 per cent) who took part in the poll were far more likely to favour the creation of one of the sites than men (24 per cent), as were third-generation Canadians (75 per cent) compared with newer Canadians (52 per cent in favour).

The same positive trend appeared among low-income earners polled: 80 per cent of those living on $30,000 or less were for the safe injection site, compared with 64 per cent of those making between $60,000 and $99,000.

A January 2017 Postmedia poll, with a sample size about the same as the Probe poll, found 46 per cent of Winnipeggers were in favour of a safe injection site.

Evidence, not polls: health minister

Premier Brian Pallister and Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen have both said in recent months that there is limited evidence safe injection sites would be appropriate for Winnipeg.

Despite the provincial stance, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority officials received a grant to study the need for such a site earlier this year, CBC News learned from a recent access to information request.

As for the Probe survey, Goertzen said the government doesn't base its decisions on poll results but rather on evidence and research.

In April, he came out against Main Street Project's desire to create a safe injection site in the area of Main Street and Logan Avenue.

Tahl East, director of detox and stabilization at Main Street Project, which provides shelter and support for the homeless, said the majority of Canadians support the harm reduction sites. 

Tahl East says the Probe poll results mirror other polls across the country in terms of support for safe injection sites. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"Our research and our clients suggest that it's a needed service for those that are stigmatized and hiding," said East.

"That poll mirrors the sentiment right across the country."

She said there are no firm proposals on the table right now with the province for the creation of a safe injection site.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba said in a statement that safe consumption sites don't work everywhere. Instead, their focus is on developing a "continuum of responses to opioids, crystal meth and other drugs, which include effective harm reduction methods." 

Poll encouraging, says Bear Clan

Community activistsaddictions-support workers and national health organizations have all called for the creation of a safe injection site in Winnipeg.

James Favel, co-founder of North End watch group Bear Clan Patrol, said he is encouraged by the broad support for safe injection sites revealed in the poll.

James Favel says Bear Clan Patrol volunteers have cleaned up 5,000 dirty syringes from the streets so far this year. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The group has seen a massive spike in the number of syringes they come across on their foot patrols. Favel says volunteers recovered 18 needles three years ago; two years ago they found 300; last year volunteers came across 4,000; and the group has found 5,000 syringes already this year.

He said giving those struggling with addiction a place to use could reduce the amount of syringes that end up scattered on the street.

"We're finding so much of these needles in our community," Favel said while picking up used syringes in a back alley in the North End. 

"There's a real danger that a child out here is going to get poked and not know the dangers … and not seek treatment because they're afraid."

'We need to do something'

Willis, who also manages the transitional housing program known as Morberg House, said meth use in Winnipeg "is spreading like a Prairie fire."

"We need to do something," said Willis.

Marion Willis is the director of St. Boniface Street Links. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

She said safe injection sites are generally situated in areas where drug use and dealing is prevalent.

Willis said having an injection site near the Main Street Project, on Main Street near Logan Avenue, would be ideal because it is where there is a "concentration of heavy drug use."

While a safe injection site in Winnipeg wouldn't solve the current drug crisis, it would get the city closer to embracing more harm-reduction strategies, she said.

"It's a first step along a very complex continuum of supports that are very necessary if we're going to begin to get at least some of this under control," she said.

"You cannot leave a problem like this unattended to, you just can't. The impact to society is huge, it's huge for all of us."

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology. Before joining CBC Manitoba, he worked for the Canadian Wildlife Service monitoring birds in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Alberta. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Austin Grabish

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.