Ottawa

Bolster drug program to curb petty crime during pandemic, councillor urges

With petty crime on the rise since the arrival of COVID-19, an Ottawa city councillor is calling for the expansion of a program that provides people addicted to opioids with a safe supply of drugs.

Police report commercial break-ins rose 71% in 1st week of lockdown

A downtown councillor is calling for expanded funding of managed opioid programs, like the one at Ottawa Inner City Health, to help people with addictions deal with the pressures of the COVID-19 lockdown. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Latest

  • The motion was approved May 27, 2020.
  • Couns. Allan Hubley, Eli El-Chantiry and George Darouze voted against it.

With petty crime on the rise since the arrival of COVID-19, an Ottawa city councillor is calling for the expansion of a program that provides people addicted to opioids with a safe supply of drugs.

"When you need to feed your addiction, you need to get the dollar," said Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury. "When everyone was working, when businesses were open, it was easy to create an economy around that."

But COVID-19 related closures are putting financial pressure on people with addictions issues, who may have relied on cash jobs in the informal economy or panhandling to pay for drugs.

"Unfortunately, over the last eight weeks, that's gone," Fleury said. "A lot of the petty crime that's increased also seems to correlate with the need for those funds to feed the addiction."

Ottawa police reported a 71-per-cent increase in commercial break-and-enters in the period of March 16 to April 30 compared to the same period last year. Most of the calls were in the ByWard Market and Lowertown neighbourhoods.

On Wednesday, Fleury plans to ask his council colleagues to call on the provincial and federal governments to expand programs that provide opioids to people with addictions, such as the pilot project being run at Ottawa Inner City Health, that reduce pressures on the individuals themselves and the wider effects that addiction has on the community. 

"One of the lessons learned out of COVID is that those who aren't housed, those who suffer addictions, those who suffer mental health, they're even more vulnerable," Fleury said. "If we can address one [of those groups] and we have the tool for it, why not?"

Reducing risk and crime

The managed opioid pilot project at Ottawa Inner City Health has had between 20 and 24 participants in the last year, said medical director Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull.

"They're not out on the street committing petty crime and they're not out doing street work or dealing drugs. They don't need that," he said.

"We're actually giving them clean drugs and we're reducing their risk, but we're also reducing the impact that they have on the community around them."

Jeffry Turnbull, medical director at Ottawa Inner City Health, says the pandemic has shown why safe drug programs are necessary to cut overdose numbers and crime rates. 0:39

Participants have private rooms in a communal housing environment, which has helped many of them continue to receive support when others have been wary of supervised consumption sites during the pandemic, Turnbull said.

The program also connects participants with medical, mental health and social services supports. Once they can better manage their addiction issues, participants are able to live a more stable life, finding paid and volunteer work, said Turnbull. 

The pilot cost $371,000 and doesn't require a special exemption from Health Canada because it uses legally available prescription drugs.

Police increasing presence

The COVID-19 lockdown has led to a steep decline in traffic accidents that have allowed Ottawa police officers to respond to break-and-enters of businesses closed under the pandemic restrictions. 

"It's more of a crime of opportunity," said acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna. "If they walk by, if they see an insecure door, an insecure window, then that's what's happening."

Acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna says police have seen more calls for commercial break-ins as business closures continue. 0:47

Fleury said police have responded quickly and made arrests in response to the break-ins.

The councillor said local business improvement areas are sharing security measures to reduce landlords' vulnerability. He said the gradual reopening of businesses, with options such as curbside pickup, likely means the worst has passed.

now