Community association, Saskatoon police on board with proposed location for safe injection site

A proposed supervised injection site in Saskatoon is "a polarizing issue" for police officers in the city, according to Police Chief Troy Cooper.

No drugs will be banned at Pleasant Hill site, says head of AIDS Saskatoon

Chief Troy Cooper says property crime and other types of offending are common for people who use addictive drugs, and they'll be looking at those crime trends to provide a baseline in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood. (CBC)

A proposed supervised injection site in Saskatoon is "a polarizing issue" for police officers in the city, according to Police Chief Troy Cooper.

"Of course I think officers look at our role as an enforcement one and supervised injection has had sort of mixed media and mixed responses," Cooper said.

AIDS Saskatoon is planning to open a "safe consumption site" in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood, near the Saskatoon Tribal Council needle exchange.

If the group is successful in a federal application, it would join 27 others sites that are exempt from the Controlled Drug and Substance Act, according to Health Canada's website.

There will be no limits on what kind of drugs can be used there, according to AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi. People would bring their own drugs. 

Health-care staff will be on site to make sure no one overdoses, that needles are clean and that if someone needs support services for addiction or their health that they can access them. There would also be potential for the drugs to be tested by professionals on site if AIDS Saskatoon successfully applies to be able to do that.

Cooper said he's not willing to debate the merits of the medical setting for people to do their drugs in.

"Our role, I think [as police], is to make sure that we're not doing anything that's going to interfere with supervised consumption and that we're complementary and that we have our focus on public safety in the area," he said.

Pleasant Hill hosted community safety meetings in early 2018, and safe injection sites became a "theme" that year, says community association president Jennifer Alternberg. (Pleasant Hill Community Safety/Facebook)

Pleasant Hill Community Association President Jennifer Altenberg said she would like to see the site provide compassionate care that makes Indigenous drug users feel less judged.

She said people who feel the intergenerational trauma of colonization face institutional racism within the regular health-care system.

"People who are using, throwing them in jail and charging them is just creating another issue, not just for them and their families but for the broader context of our society. And costs. We need to look at healing," she said.

She said concerns about the proposed site are based on misunderstandings that can be addressed by door-knocking and public education in the area.

Safe injection sites had repeatedly come up at community safety consultations in Pleasant Hill in 2018. The community association described the site as a "need and want of our community members" in a news release. 

AIDS Saskatoon has already proposed an advisory board with the involvement of police, the community association and other community partners.

Both Altenberg and Cooper said they were on board with the proposed location for the site.

"I think it makes sense at this time and we'll see what the community says. It's really up to the people of Pleasant Hill," Altenberg said.

Cooper said police will take a look at crime patterns in the area and what kind of impact the site could have on that.

Shane Partridge, safety co-ordinator for the community association, said the only concern he has about the site is that it would further stigmatize the neighbourhood or the core neighbourhoods as being rife with crime, poverty and addictions.

He said that, aside from that, the site would further add to the services already offered in the neighbourhood and would also likely reduce the number of needles people find on the ground.


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