ByWard Market residents asked if they would support a safe injection site

An Ottawa group of volunteers walked the ByWard Market Saturday seeking neighbourhood reaction to a potential safe drug consumption site on their doorstep.

The Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites volunteers went door-to-door in the Market canvassing residents on how they feel about drug use and, if asked to do so publicly, whether they would support a harm reduction site in the neighbourhood. That site could be used to provide a safer space for users to inhale or inject drugs.

Volunteers Kayleigh Fisher, 21, and Lisa Wright, 27, walked up and down York Street hoping to speak to area residents but only had six people open their doors.

Having lived in Ottawa for three years, Fisher said she visits the Market between one and two times a week and is very familiar with supervised injection site Insite in Vancouver, which has operated for nearly a decade.

“I definitely recognized that there was a need for one in Ottawa,” Fisher said.

The memory of her first walk through the bustling tourist hub three years ago, when she moved to Ottawa to attend Carleton University, has stuck with her.

She immediately recognized the stark contrast between parts of the neighbourhood that felt very commercial and others that were residential and the stream of drug users that floated from one part to the other.

Fisher’s co-canvasser Wright is a graduate student researching Canadian drug policies and how the City of Ottawa governs drug users. The campaign will be a big part of her study and how it could affect drug users’ lives.

For Wright, the possibility of a safe consumption site is a public health issue.

“This is not a criminal law issue and we need to get the criminal law out of our drug policy, and we need to treat people like humans and have health resources for them.”

York Street from Sussex Drive to King Edward Avenue is a largely commercial strip with highrise apartments along the street accounting for the majority of residential usage on York. Volunteers were told only to knock on residential addresses and avoid businesses or highrise apartment buildings.

CSCS plans to engage businesses and the ByWard Marked Business Improvement Area at a later date.

Of the six people who answered their doors along York, three were willing to participate in the survey and two of those three agreed to sign a petition showing their support for the idea.

Isaiah Gimba, 18, chose not to sign the petition. Gimba has only lived in the neighbourhood for couple of weeks — he moved to Ottawa from the U.K.

He hasn’t seen drug use on the streets surrounding his home, but if he were to, he says he’d feel sorry for the person using. He doesn’t condone drug use.

“The best I can, I try to keep away from stuff like that,” Gimba said.

“I just try to ignore it. I’m not really too bothered about stuff like that.”

Just metres away across Cumberland Street, Hilary Simpson, 25, who lives and works in the Market, emphatically said drug use was a problem in the neighbourhood and it worried her.

Though she signed the petition, she did hesitate, when asked by the canvassers, to say that she thinks the Market is the best location for the site. But, she said, she then realized that the major downtown shelters are all within its reach.

Simpson said she walks by drug deals on Cumberland Street frequently.

“We’re not supporting it, but these are problems that affect everyone around.”

She needs to see location options before she’ll feel completely on board, she said.

Those options, if the community talks go well, will soon be part of the process, said CSCS organizer Greg Cameron.

The initiative is still in the public engagement phase right now.

In the past the grassroots organization has set up forums, inviting members of the community to attend, but the point of canvassing was to get the feedback from those people who might not voluntarily go to a forum.

Before a safe injection and inhalation site can be operated, the federal government would have to issue operators an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

“The Insite decision has shown that there is a possibility of getting one of these and there’s certain criteria that we need to meet and so one of them is the community consultation, showing that there’s support in the community,” Cameron said.

Then, any location sites would need to be agreeable to the community.

“We tend to think that putting it somewhere where people are most likely to use it, where there’s the biggest congregation of drug users, that would be the best choice, because the research shows if you put it too far away, people won’t use it,” Cameron said.

CSCS would like to get Ottawa police and Mayor Jim Watson’s approval on the project, as well, which they admit is a substantial hurdle. The organization will spend the summer trying to formalize relationships with Market shelters to move the process forward.

The canvassing is scheduled to continue on Sunday afternoon.

By Shaamini Yogaretnam
Source: Ottawa Citizen