Liberals streamline process for supervised-injection sites

The federal Liberals are streamlining the process to allow communities to apply to set up supervised injection sites quicker, with less red tape and with less room for community objections.

Health Minister Jane Philpott introduced the bill that would clear out a long list of regulations and conditions for establishing sites that the previous Conservative government introduced.  

Those conditions included a requirement to have the approval of a community’s council and its police chief. In Ottawa, both Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau have indicated they don’t support an injection site.

Philpott said the changes are necessary to deal with a public health crisis that is only growing.

“We need to take swift action on the opioid crisis to save lives. We need a renewed focus on harm reduction,” she said.

British Columbia and Alberta have seen the most pronounced increase, but communities across the country have seen a dramatic spike in overdose deaths from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

Ottawa police have confirmed that fentanyl has been found in street drugs in the city, and its much stronger cousin carfentanil has been found in Ontario.

Philpott said the previous government’s long list of conditions was a major barrier to getting safe injection sites set up. She said the overall goal of the changes in the new bill is to treat drug addiction as a health problem not a justice system issue.

“It will reframe problematic substance abuse as the public health issue that it is,” she said. “We will re-instate harm reduction as a key pillar in this strategy.”

The Conservative government fought the continued operation of Insite in Vancouver, which was then the country’s only safe injection site.

After losing several court battles on the issue, the government drafted regulations that required a lengthy and detailed approval process for new safe injection sites.

Philpott’s new legislation would whittle down 26 current requirements to five. She would require agencies looking at opening up a site prove there is a need and that they do an appropriate consultation with the community.

They would also have to provide evidence that there would not be an increase in crime and that there were appropriate rules and resources in place before a site began to open.

She said each community will be treated differently, but overall the government believes safe consumption sites can be an important tool.

“The evidence is very clear that when they are well established and well maintained in communities that want and need them, community supervised consumption sites save lives.”

Ottawa’s public health board has approved a policy supporting safe injection sites, but that was done despite the objections of Watson and Bordeleau.  

Watson said he simply believes that resources could be better used.

“My view is that scarce health dollars should go into the treatment facilities,” he said. “We need to help them not to get more drugs, but to help them get off drugs.”
 
Watson said health decisions like this belong in the hands of the health board however and he wouldn’t stand in the way of their decision.

“They have made the decision that they want it and at the end of the day it’s the health board decision.”

Philpott also pledged a more transparent process that would allow Canadian to see online which communities had applied for safe injection sites and what the status of those applications was.

She said some communities have already applied, but suspected it would be months before anything opened.

The government also announced border changes aimed at curbing the importation of illegal drugs.

Currently, customs officers can not inspect envelopes weighing less than 30 grams without the sender’s permission, but public safety minister Ralph Goodale  

Goodale said with the potency of fentanyl that has to change and all packages will be inspectable if a customs officer has grounds for suspicion.

“As little as two milligrams of fentanyl can kill. In a 30-gram pack that is 15,000 deadly doses.”

He also announced changes that will make it more difficult to import pill presses.

By Ryan Tumilty
Source: Metro Ottawa