Toronto

Toronto Overdose Prevention Society holds vigil at Queen's Park

1,265 crosses, representing people who died from overdoses in Ontario in 2017, were set up as part of a vigil at Queen's Park being hosted by the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society and the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance.

1,265 wooden crosses planted in lawn to represent people who died from overdoses in 2017

Crosses planted in the lawn in front of Queen's Park on October 1, 2018. Existing overdose prevention sites can stay open for another six months while the province makes its final decision. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Row after row of crosses planted in the lawn at Queen's Park greeted provincial politicians as they arrived at work on Monday morning.

The 1,265 crosses, representing people who died from overdoses in Ontario in 2017, were set up as part of a vigil being hosted by the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society and the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance.

The vigil comes two days after the federal government gave the province a six-month extension to figure out the fate of overdose prevention sites in Ontario

The province had announced this summer it was halting the opening of new overdose prevention sites while it conducted a review, and initially said it would make its final decision by the end of September.

Two people hold a sign at Queen's Park on October 1. Vigil organizers are calling on the province to "stop this waiting game" and confirm they will "allow these life-saving services to remain open." (Paul Smith/CBC)

"There's been a lot of instability and uncertainty within the sector," said Gillian Kolla, a volunteer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, in an interview on Metro Morning.

"They're very much serving a vital role within the community," said Kolla later in the interview. "It's hard for people not knowing [whether they will continue] one day to the next."

The extension will allow existing overdose prevention sites to continue operating for its six month duration, but the approval for new sites remains on hold.

The vigil out was noticed inside Queen's Park, with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asking Health Minister Christine Elliott to explain the delay. 

"There's a lot to be encompassed in this decision, so we want to make sure that we do it right," she responded. 

Elliott also said that she was in the process of "finalizing" her recommendations to the premiere's office and that another announcement would be made in the "very next short while." 

Organizers want pre-approved locations opened

"After eight weeks of government inaction, the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society and our allies upon the provincial government to conclude this unnecessary review," wrote the vigil organizers in a release.

The release also called on the province to open the three overdose prevention sites that had already been approved under the Liberal government, located in Parkdale, Thunder Bay, and St. Catharines, and to process five other applications that were submitted before the review started.

Kolla told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway that medical experts around the world are unanimous in the opinion that overdose prevention sites save lives — a position echoed by Toronto Mayor John Tory and federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor. 

"I'm hoping [the province] will listen to the medical and health experts," said Kolla. 

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