Time to talk about supervised injection sites in Regina, councillor says

Coun. Andrew Stevens believes Regina could be a "leader" when it comes to discussions around supervised injection or consumption sites in Saskatchewan.

Shawna Oochoo of White Pony Lodge says a site would be helpful in North Central

Saskatoon and Regina are divided on supervised injection sites, according to a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll conducted in January 2017. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

As some activists and public health experts attempt to drum up support for supervised injection sites across Canada, at least one Regina councillor believes it's time the city take a serious look at the issue.

"I think this is something we certainly need to get ahead of," Coun. Andrew Stevens said Sunday.  

"There's always this tendency to be reactive and see what others are doing, bide our time. I think perhaps it's the place of Regina to be a leader in the province to get something like this started."

Recently, a simulated supervised injection site was erected in front of city hall by Vancouver-based group Collective Resistance to Injustice in the hopes of teaching people more about the need for such a site in Saskatchewan.

Stevens said personally, he supports harm reduction approaches to public health, but underlined the question of whether a supervised injection site should open would need to be tackled by health experts, community groups, police and multiple levels of government. 

It would also need to be supported by evidence there is a need for such a policy, he added.

"I think the city should be involved in this conversation," he explained, saying it could be as simple as ensuring the appropriate zoning by-law provisions are in place.

"I don't think it would hurt if municipal leaders were kind of at the forefront of reaching out to community-based organizations and health experts to see if something like this is viable."

80 to 100 needles collected a month

Shawna Oochoo, president and co-founder of White Pony Lodge, a group that patrols the North Central neighborhood on weekends, believes a supervised injection site would benefit the area.

"The number of needles that we do find out here, you know having a safe injection site could dramatically reduce the number of needles that we do find," she explained.

Each month, she estimates that volunteers pick up between 80 to 100 needles.

Oochoo also pointed out locating the site near North Central and downtown could also help curb the province's high rates of HIV and hepatitis C.

Discarded needles are an issue

Stevens also acknowledged the problem of discarded needles in the city.

"With the lack of proper injection sites what we see are needles in alleyways. There are many neighbourhoods I know in Ward 3 where a superintendent or you know a property manager, part of their routine is to pick up needles from the lawn or from sidewalks. We need to do something better."

"I can't just see us sitting around and waiting, I think we need to get ahead of this," said Stevens.