Ottawa

Police want more say on security for Ottawa's supervised injection site

Now that a supervised injection site is officially coming to Sandy Hill, Ottawa police say they want to be included more in coming up with a security plan.

'Our biggest concern is we haven't really been included in the security plan,' superintendent says

Ottawa police Supt. Chris Rheaume said police want to play a greater role in coming up with a security plan for the future supervised injection site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. (CBC)

Now that a supervised injection site is officially coming to Sandy Hill, Ottawa police say they want to be included more in coming up with a security plan.

Earlier this week, Health Canada gave the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre the green light to build the site at its Nelson Street headquarters, potentially as soon as October.

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau had consistently spoken out against the idea, citing safety concerns.

Bordeleau wasn't available for an interview Friday, but acting deputy chief and central district Supt. Chris Rheaume doubled down on those concerns on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, and said police want more of a say on coming up with plans to keep the area safe.

'We haven't really been included'

"Our biggest concern is we haven't really been included in the security plan," Rheaume told Ottawa Morning host Hallie Cotnam.

"You're going to have an influx of people [to the area] for sure," said Rheaume. "How do we ensure they are safe, how do we ensure the public is safe, and how do we ensure the business owners are safe? This is how they make their livelihood and we don't want anything to interfere with the way they go about doing business. There could be an increase in vagrancy."

Dr. Vera Etches, the city's deputy medical officer of health, said Ottawa Public Health agrees that treatment is important, but that not all drug users are ready and willing to accept treatment. (CBC)

However, Dr. Vera Etches, the city's deputy medical officer of health — who was also on Ottawa Morning after Rheaume — said that the goal of supervised injection sites is to reduce crime, not increase it.

"Again, it will vary depending on where people are, but there isn't evidence that the community disruption increases. What happens, actually, is people get off the street, they get inside, there's not that visible drug use on the streets, and so communities find that positive," Etches said.

Rheaume wants to see more of an emphasis on treatment, education and prevention.

"We're not against the harm-reduction part. We fully understand people need to be helped, and the police aren't against that," Rheaume said. "But there are three other pillars that we have to look at. We have to look at prevention, we have to look at treatment, we have to look at education ... and I think the police need to be involved in that."

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre will build the supervised injection site on Nelson Street, and it could be open by October. (CBC)

Amnesty area?

As for the idea of a no-go zone — an area around supervised injection sites where drug users wouldn't be stopped by police, as is the case in Vancouver — Rheaume said police need to enforce the law.

"We're there to enforce the Criminal Code of Canada, to enforce the laws that the city has, the bylaws. So at the end of the day, to say you have a no-go zone, I think that's not a good strategy," he said, adding that in Vancouver's case, the city decided to implement the amnesty zone, not police.

Etches admits it's a complex issue.

"It's a difficult situation right now. People are using substances that are illegal and the police have a job to do. We'd rather that those substances weren't in our community and appreciate the enforcement aspect of it," she said.

But Ottawa Public Health believes most of the people who will use the supervised injection site already use the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre regularly, and that there likely won't be a dramatic change in the way they interact with police on the ground.

'It's not everybody who's able to quit immediately'

As for the notion that supervised injection site dollars would be better spent on treatment, prevention and education, Etches said health-care providers need to meet people where they are.

"I agree that when people want treatment and they're ready to access treatment for substance misuse, we need to have that available for them," she said. "It's not really an either/or question. ... We need to help people where they are, as well as preventing people from starting in the first place.

"It's not everybody who's able to quit immediately, but when people build a relationship over time, when they build trust with a health-care provider, that does open doors.

"By opening a site where people can come in and inject, then there's someone there to witness if they have an overdose and they stop breathing. There's someone there who has naloxone, who can do CPR, who can call 911. And so then they don't end up dying."

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