Ottawa

City of Ottawa declines province's aid at safe injection site

The City of Ottawa has turned down an offer from the province to provide an unsanctioned supervised injection site with gear and other supplies to keep operating during the winter.

Province still committed to providing help if city changes its position

The pop-up supervised injection site run by Overdose Prevention Ottawa in Raphael Brunet Park could be closed by the cold weather if the city won't approve funding from the province. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

The City of Ottawa has turned down an offer from the province to provide an unsanctioned supervised injection site with gear and other supplies to keep operating during the winter.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO), the group that runs the site in Lowertown, has been begging for help from the province. Wet weather and plunging temperatures have left the tented site wallowing in the cold mud.

However, it appears the city doesn't want the province's help. 

"The province reached out to the City of Ottawa to offer a portable generator, heater and an EMAT tent for the site in Raphael Brunet park — the same resources recently provided in Moss Park in Toronto — but these were declined," Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins wrote in an email to CBC News Friday. 

"If this position changes, the province's offer stands and we are ready to deploy these resources."

This week, the province had offered to provide help after receiving a request from OPO.

However, the city, which doesn't condone the site, has to approve the aid before any work would start.

Coun. Jeff Leiper said in a tweet Friday night the city should have consulted with council before saying no.

Pop-up site not an 'appropriate' use of resources

The mayor and area councillor said they would approve the equipment for another supervised site in a trailer parked at the Shepherds of Good Hope, but wouldn't give a clear answer when asked specifically about aid for the OPO site. 

My belief is once that trailer set up is completed … that the clients who are using outdoor parks will have no reason to be in the park.- Mayor Jim Watson

"We don't believe a temporary site in the cold, in the winter, in a park is an appropriate use of the resources," said Mayor Jim Watson.

"My belief is once that trailer set up is completed … that the clients who are using outdoor parks will have no reason to be in the park."

Watson is encouraging clients and workers at the tent site to move to the trailer once it gets a legal exemption from Health Canada. A final inspection is expected at 9 a.m. Monday, the health minister said.

However, in a letter the mayor sent yesterday to the minister of health, Watson wrote that the OPO site "demonstrated a need" and "many lives have been saved."

Responsibility falls to province, councillor says

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury added the province should feel free to act if they feel the need.

"If the province thinks there is an emergency, they need to state that there is an emergency, or we're stuck in these voids where there's a lack of coordination," he said.

Ontario has assembled a task force to address the opioid crisis, but has yet to declare a state of emergency.

Mathieu Fleury has spoken out against the location of the Lowertown park site. (Radio-Canada)

'A democracy, not a dictatorship'

Both Watson and Fleury deflected questions specifically about the OPO site, but reiterated they would welcome more funding for the supervised injection trailer or the public health-funded clinic.

However, while volunteers who run the OPO site have asked for help, the Shepherds trailer has not. 

OPO volunteers haven't publicly released details of their winter plans, but it's possible the impending winter weather will force the group to suspend operations.

Despite the mayor's current refusal to discuss the OPO site, Coun. Diane Deans, who chairs the community and protective services committee, wants the discussion to come to council for an on-the-record, public debate.

"The mayor does not have delegated authority on this," she said. "This is a democracy, not a dictatorship, and it's council that sets public policy for this city."

Her colleague, Tobi Nussbaum, agreed. 

"If that request states that it needs a city decision, there's no question in my mind that council needs to be engaged in that," he said. 

"There needs to be an open, transparent, public discussion about how the city and the province can assist in dealing with this opioid crisis."

OPO declined CBC News' request for an interview, but said in a statement they were "disappointed that Fleury and Watson want to play politics with people's lives."

With files from Joanne Chianello

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