Toronto city councillors vote in favour of safe injection sites

Toronto city council voted 36-3 Thursday in favour of creating three safe injection sites in the downtown core.

City's Board of Health, mayor, police chief all back plan

Drug users will get access to clean needles other medical equipment at safe injection sites after the anticipated opening of three sites in downtown Toronto. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Toronto city council has approved the creation of three safe injection sites in the downtown core.

Council voted 36-3 in favour of the motion at its meeting Thursday.

The Toronto Board of Health unanimously supported the creation of the sites in early July, and families of drug users have backed them, as well. Councillors were warned drug overdoses are going up in the city, and that something needs to be done about the public health issue. 

The sites, which are aimed at providing a safe environment for drug users, are expected to be installed at three locations in the downtown core.

City to ask province for funding

Safe injection is already legal in Canada, as long as the federal government grants approval under Bill C-2. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told CBC News in March that supervised injection sites are among a number of strategies the government has put forward to cope with drug abuse and overdose deaths.

The Toronto Board of Health recommended three sites, which the city plans to ask the province to fund, including the Toronto Public Health office near Dundas and Victoria streets, the South Riverdale Community Health Clinic and the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre.

Both Toronto Mayor John Tory and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders backed the creation of the sites, despite concerns from critics that they may encourage drug use.

With city council's backing, Toronto will now need apply to the federal government for the necessary exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Ottawa has already approved two such clinics in the Vancouver area: InSite and the Dr. Peter Centre, which had already been operating for more than 10 years.

'Critical steps' ahead

In a statement Thursday, Ontario's health minister acknowledged a number of "critical steps" are still required before the sites can be implemented.

"Following recommendations from the local boards of health, municipal governments must approve and submit a formal request for review ... I look forward to evaluating their proposal," the statement on behalf of Minister Eric Hoskins read.

The province's registered nurses association applauded the decision, saying it hopes other Ontario cities will follow Toronto's lead. 

"The evidence is clear: SIS (safe injection sites) save lives and build safer and healthier communities, and their impact will be felt across the province," the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario said in a release, before calling Thursday a "landmark day for harm reduction."

"Municipal leaders have put us on the right path, and nurses want to continue contributing on an even larger scale," the association's CEO Doris Grinspun said.