It's an overdose crisis, help or get out of the way

What’s a few lives lost in service of protecting bureaucracy? Surely, a little moral grandstanding is worth more than the health and safety of some of our most vulnerable neighbours.

This is, basically, what we’re being told by those opposing a pop-up Supervised Injection Site at Raphael Brunet Park.

Facing an opioid crisis that saw 135 overdoses in June alone, Overdose Prevention Ottawa launched the pop-up site … because someone needed to do something.

Both the city and the province have been slow to act on this issue. People in Ottawa have been pushing for a Secure Injection Site for years. We have approval for one in Sandy Hill, but we have to wait for the bureaucracy to catch up to the crisis.

It doesn’t matter, apparently, that people will die. The bureaucracy must be allowed to churn along at its own glacial pace.

It’s ridiculous. We know that Supervised Injection Sites work. Insite has been running for almost 15 years, improving health outcomes and reducing overdoses in Vancouver.

It was just over three years ago that Simon Fraser University came out with a study demonstrating that an SIS would be a net financial benefit to the city, in addition to the beneficial health impact. A 2013 study out of the University of Pittsburgh demonstrated that SISs had either no effect on the crime rate or actually reduced it.

This is a public policy unicorn — it saves lives, can reduce crime and benefits us fiscally.

And yet still, we wait.

This is why Overdose Prevention Ottawa should be lauded. They recognized a public health crisis. They saw that there was insufficient governmental motivation to address it quickly. And they went ahead and decided to help people, legalities be damned.

When our laws are actively harming people, it’s time to break them. Civil disobedience in the face of systemic injustice is commendable. Civil disobedience in order to save lives is our duty.

And of course, there’s another reason to break this cruel law — it gets results. A week after a pop-up SIS appeared in Toronto, Health Canada accelerated the opening of the official injection site.

In Ottawa, our political class is having mixed reactions. Councillors Catherine McKenney and Jeff Leiper donated food to the pop-up site. Coun. Rick Chiarelli is worried about liability should someone die. Mayor Watson doesn’t think the park is an appropriate spot, and, like Chiarelli, wants everybody to just follow the rules.

Of course, following the rules has led to too many deaths and overdoses, already. It’s pretty clear that the rules aren’t just worthless; they’re heartless.

But we can say this, Watson is right. A park is not the right place for an SIS. The right place is the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. They’ve received approval; now, they’re just waiting to clear the final bureaucratic hurdles before they’re allowed to open.

Of course, they might be open by now if Ottawa’s political establishment, led by Watson, hadn’t opposed SISs for years. It’s pretty cynical to lecture people about following the rules when you spent years preventing them from doing just that.

Back in January, Watson finally capitulated. He wouldn’t come out and support this eminently sensible project, but he let the Board of Health finally do what was right and approve setting up an SIS in Sandy Hill.

Now as people are trying to offer help in the middle of an opioid crisis, the last thing we need is a politician — a politician who blocked this sort of help for so long — tut-tuting them about following the rules.

If you’re not going to help, get out of the way and let others save lives.

It’s said that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. Well, we should have opened a supervised injection site many years ago, but since we didn’t, we need one open now.

By Jonathan McLeod
Source: Ottawa Sun