Mayor John Tory hints unsanctioned overdose prevention site could remain open

John Tory says he’d never seen anyone inject themselves with drugs before Tuesday night, but following the experience inside the Moss Park overdose prevention tent the mayor is pledging to do more to keep drug users safe.

City in talks to keep unsanctioned overdose prevention site open, but in a different space

Mayor John Tory visited the overdose prevention site in Moss Park earlier this week, and spent more than an hour talking to those who rely on its service and the volunteers who run it. (John Lesavage/CBC)

John Tory says he'd never seen anyone inject themselves with drugs before Tuesday night, but following the experience inside the Moss Park overdose prevention tent the mayor is pledging to do more to keep drug users safe.

Harm reduction workers opened the unsanctioned site in early August following a spate of overdoses, some of which were fatal. The site recently helped more than 30 people in one day.

Tory didn't announce his visit, but spent more than an hour speaking with those who rely on the site and those who help run it, like Nick Boyce, the harm reduction worker who led the tour.

When asked about it on Thursday, Tory said the visit left him "more mindful than every of the fact that these are human beings who have profound issues in their life and they require support, from us, and they require safety.

"We have an obligation to do whatever we can to help save those lives," he added.

Moss Park site may have a future, mayor hints

Previously, Tory said he would like to see the site "dismantled" once the city's three official supervised injection sites open later this fall (one is currently operating in a temporary space near Yonge-Dundas Square, helping an average of nine people per night, according to Toronto Public Health.)

But Thursday he hinted that the Moss Park site may have a future — although he said he would prefer it to have a space with running water and bathrooms. He also suggested more overdose prevention sites could be established across Toronto, however he said they would need to meet one set of regulations or another.
Tory wants the unsanctioned overdose prevention site at Moss Park to stay open but in another space. (John Rieti/CBC)

Moss Park currently operates without an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, although the volunteers running it say they'll keep it open.

"[The city] would prefer that we do it under the federal exemptions, but we're also in an emergency situation where we're losing far too many people," Boyce told CBC Toronto.

City working with other governments on issue

With the latest Ontario statistics showing more than 800 people died of drug overdoses across the province last year, Boyce says Toronto needs more overdose prevention sites, and fast.

"If there's ways to remove barriers to opening services and get creative, that's what we should be doing," he said.

While Toronto doesn't control healthcare spending nor federal drug laws, Tory's spokesperson, Don Peat, said in a statement that the mayor plans to work with other levels of government to "get the approved supervised injection sites up and running as soon as possible and advocating for more addiction treatment facilities."

Earlier this week the provincial government vowed to invest $222 million over three years to improve access to harm-reduction services and addiction treatment.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.