Ottawa

Anger grows over pop-up drug use site in Lowertown

Residents continue to voice their opposition to a pop-up supervised injection site in Raphael-Brunet Park, more than two weeks after it appeared in the Lowertown neighbourhood.

Site has had more than 440 visits in the first two weeks

Marilou Gagnon, a volunteer with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, stands between the tents set up for Ottawa's first pop-up drug use site. (Radio-Canada)

Residents continue to voice their opposition to a pop-up supervised injection site in Raphael-Brunet Park, more than two weeks after it appeared in the Lowertown neighbourhood.

The unauthorized site is popular with drug users and has had more than 440 visits in the first two weeks — with 44 on Saturday evening alone.

However, not everyone is happy about people injecting drugs in the park. The team has received death threats, Marilou Gagnon, a nursing professor at the University of Ottawa and president of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, said in a French-language interview.

"I think what's happening the most is that people are prejudiced about those who use drugs. We were shouted at for two hours on Wednesday by a man on his balcony, " she said.

The site operates every day from 6 to 9 p.m. Tents are set up where volunteer nurses can supervise people injecting themselves with various drugs.

Neighbours frustrated they've lost their park

The Raphael-Brunet Park Committee is made up of citizens who feel they are being robbed of their park.

"After 10 or 15 days of activities, we decided we had to be aggressive and we wanted our park again," the group's spokeswoman Pamela Simper said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

Raphael-Brunet Park Committee spokeswoman Pamela Simper says she's angry the pop-up site is breaking the law and police aren't stepping in to shut it down. (Radio-Canada)

Simper said it's been two weeks since she has been able to walk through the park because the tents take up so much space and the site continues to grow.

Gagnon doesn't deny a larger tent is being used to accommodate up to five people at a time, but she disputes that the site is expanding.

"We just got better organized. The first day we did not really have anything at our disposal ... We just improved our service, I would not say that we have expanded in terms of the space we occupy," she said.

Marilou Gagnon says the team has improved its service but isn't taking up any more of the park than when they started. ( Radio-Canada)

Among the citizen group's concerns is that the site is illegal.

"I'm angry. This is not the way. We all have to obey the laws and these people are breaking the rules. Obviously, it frustrates me," said Simper who also fears drug users and sellers will take over the park, pointing out their presence has been under control since former Ottawa police chief Vern White intervened years ago.

But now she's unhappy officers are refusing to step in because politicians aren't taking a position on the site.

Councillor has been quiet on the issue

A meeting is scheduled with the area's councillor, Mathieu Fleury, on Monday.

He's been relatively quiet about the pop-up site since it set up.

Gagnon doesn't intend to be at that meeting, but she has invited politicians to visit the site.

"In Toronto, the mayor visited the sites. He said his visit was eye-opening. It opened his eyes and he understood the reality on the ground. What I say to the elected officials is that until you come to see us, you do not understand the reality," she said.

With files from Radio-Canada

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