Ottawa Board of Health votes in favour of supervised drug injection sites

The Ottawa Board of Health has voted to support supervised injection sites in the city.

Vote passed after 2 board member, including chair, voted against it Monday night

An injection kit is shown at a supervised injection facility in Vancouver. Ottawa's board of health voted Monday night to support supervised injection sites proposed by community health centres. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Ottawa Board of Health has voted to support proposals from community health centres wanting to set up supervised injection sites in the city, a position recommended by the city's medical officer of health.

Monday night's vote saw almost all board members vote in favour of Dr. Isra Levy's recommendation, with two "no" votes coming from the chair of the board, Stittsville-Kanata West Coun. Shad Qadri, and Gloucester-South Nepean​ Coun. Michael Qaqish.

People who have battled addictions, and even those still using, were among those who urged the board to support supervised injection services, on principle.

Coun. David Chernushenko said his own position has evolved over the years.

Anyone who still questions why public money should go toward supervising injection drug users should take time to understand the lives of those with addictions, said Chernushenko.

"We had rape victims. We had people whose own parents abused them. On and on that list can go," said Chernushenko, who was moved by the stories people told the Board of Health Monday.

"And to be able to dismiss them as just 'Well, if they just get a grip on their life and go snap out of it and go get treatment,' when you know the slightest thing about what these people are living, you understand, 'It ain't that easy.'"

Two councillors wanted consultation first

Qaqish told CBC News he's very open-minded to having places where drug users can be supervised while they inject, but felt it was "putting the cart before the horse" to adopt a guiding principle of support for such sites before embarking on public consultation throughout the summer.

"This is a huge policy decision for the city," said Qaqish. "We heard from all the pro stakeholders, but there's a lot of people who may have different feelings."

Mayor Jim Watson, for instance, has maintained the focus should be on providing additional treatment options for drug users, while Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau has expressed concerns about public safety.

"That's the other side of the debate that we need to have and I think it's important that we consult residents," said Qaqish.

But Chernushenko saw it differently.

"The consultation shouldn't be about 'Hey! Do people think we need to grapple with this problem?' I've made up my mind. We need to grapple with this problem."

The focus of an Ottawa Public Health survey and stakeholder sessions will be on how harm reduction services can be expanded, both in terms of the hours they're available and the neighbourhoods they reach. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that only one board member voted no. In fact, two councillors voted no.
    Jun 21, 2016 10:39 AM ET