'Toronto is next' to get federal approval for supervised injection sites: Joe Cressy

A Toronto city councillor says "Toronto is next" when it comes to receiving federal approval for supervised injection sites but the federal government would not confirm when that will happen.

Spokesperson for Health Canada won't confirm timeline but says application being reviewed

Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), says 'Toronto is next' to receive federal approval for three supervised injection sites. (CBC)

A Toronto city councillor says "Toronto is next" when it comes to receiving federal approval for supervised injection sites but the federal government would not confirm when that will happen.

Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), who has campaigned for three supervised injection sites in Toronto, said he was told by Health Minister Jane Philpott last week that the federal government will approve the sites once construction is completed, which is expected in the next few months.

Philpott approved three supervised injection sites for Montreal on Monday. Toronto city council approved the creation of the three sites last July. The Ontario government said in January it will fund the sites.

"What does it mean? It means Toronto is next," Cressy said Monday. "Toronto is one of a number of municipalities right across the country, from Victoria, British Columbia to Ottawa, Ontario, that are looking at this.

"We did our homework. We've done everything we can to get these sites open. Construction is under way. We expect to be next."

Once the city receives approval, the sites will open. "Lives will be saved," he said.

Cressy said the federal government has introduced new legislation, Bill C-37, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, that will make the introduction of supervised injection sites easier. The bill has passed second reading in the House of Commons.

According to Health Canada, the bill is "designed to better equip both health and law enforcement officials to reduce the harms associated with drug and substance use in Canada."

Cressy said the current legislative framework makes it difficult for cities to open supervised injection sites but the changes in the legislation would streamline the approval process.

"The legislation that exists now is a legislative roadblock for communities like Toronto that has sought to open these sites and save lives. The fact that the government has committed to moving these quicker is good news for everybody and it's good news for health care," he said.

In Toronto, he said the sites will be located within existing health facilities at the Toronto Public Health office near Dundas Street East and Victoria Street, the South Riverdale Community Health Clinic and the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre.

He said the Toronto sites will be small in scale.

"What will they look like? Well, they will be three to four cubicles inside a nurse-supervised space where people can come in, use drugs under a nurse's supervision, but then also be able to access treatment if they are ready and able," he said. 

"That's part of an integrated health care approach to drug use that is desperately needed in this country and city."

Toronto's application being assessed

Suzane Aboueid, media relations officer for Health Canada, said the federal government is reviewing Toronto's application for three sites. She could not confirm which city will receive approval next.

The government is also reviewing applications for one mobile site in Montreal, two sites in Vancouver, two sites in Surrey, B.C., one site in Victoria, and one in Ottawa.

"All applications will be assessed. There's no indication of who's next and who's not. Toronto did apply. Its application is being assessed, along with the others," she said.

Currently, applicants for new injection sites must provide medical and scientific evidence of benefit, along with letters from provincial health ministers, local police and regional health officials.

In December, the Liberal government announced legislative amendments in the bill designed to remove 26 strict requirements for supervised injection sites introduced under the previous government.

The changes contained in the legislation will make it easier for supervised injection sites to be established while adhering to criteria set out by the Supreme Court of Canada, according to Philpott.

The sites in Toronto are estimated to have an annual cost of $1.6 million and to cost about $400,000 to create the spaces.

With files from Nick Boisvert and The Canadian Press