Health minister encourages Ottawa mayor to look at supervised injection sites

The federal health minister is pushing cities like Ottawa to open supervised injection sites despite opposition from the capital city's mayor and chief of police.

"We will certainly encourage everyone to have that public health approach, to recognize that this is a health crisis and that we need to provide the appropriate resources," said Jane Philpott, responding to a reporter's question about local opposition to supervised consumption areas, also referred to as supervised injection sites.

Mayor Jim Watson has maintained the focus should be on providing additional treatment options for drug users, while Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau has expressed concerns about public safety.

"The evidence is very clear that when they are well-established and well-maintained in communities that want and need them, supervised consumption sites save lives and do not have a negative impact on crime rates," said Philpott.

"There's a public outcry in places like downtown Vancouver where they're seeing people dying every single day. Those communities are in desperate need for them. In other communities there will have to be collaboration and co-operation within the appropriate levels of government and community agencies."

The Ottawa Police Service said it has received a proposal for a site in Ottawa and is "assessing that proposal for crime and disorder issues."

"The position of the OPS has not changed. This is primarily a health issue. Any decision on a supervised injection site should include meaningful community consultation," wrote Bordeleau in an email.

Ottawa Public Health, on the other hand, said it was looking forward to to working with all levels of government to fight addiction in the city.

"At first blush and based on what was said at Minister Philpott's press conference, we were pleased to hear that harm reduction is being restored in the new drug strategy as one of the four pillars along with prevention, treatment and enforcement," wrote a spokesperson in an email.

The health minister was speaking to reporters after announcing a series of legislative changes to help cities open supervised consumption sites more quickly.

Philpott, alongside Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, announced the introduction of Bill C-37 as part of a new national drug strategy.

In addition to the changes concerning supervised consumption sites, the strategy will move drug policy back under the control of the Ministry of Health and away from the Department of Justice.

The Respect for Communities Act, which came into effect in 2015, requires 26 criteria to be met before the federal government can begin considering a new supervised consumption site.

The 26 application criteria will be repealed entirely, Philpott announced Monday, and replaced with five simple criteria.

Rob Boyd runs a drug treatment program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in Ottawa.

He said his group's application already strived to meet the 26 requirements so Monday's announcement likely won't affect their outcome.

But Boyd says he's encouraged to see a shift in tone at the federal government.

"We certainly see an attitude from this government of embracing the evidence associated with these types of services and moving forward as quickly as possible because time is urgent. People are dying every day in Canada and we cannot wait for long processes for organizations to be able to move forward," he said.

The Customs Act will also be changed to allow mail weighing 30 grams or less to be inspected to help fight the influx of opioids — something that currently requires the Customs and Border Services Agency to obtain consent from the sender or the addressee.

Philpott and Goodale also announced measures to restrict the availability of pill presses and encapsulators in Canada.

Source: CBC News