Ottawa police board direction on injection sites not required, chair says

The chair of the Ottawa Police Services board doesn’t believe it needs to wade into the injection site debate, agreeing with the mayor that Ottawa Public Health is the right authority.

While Coun. Eli El-Chantiry has his own reservations about injections sites, he believes the issue is rightly in the hands of the public health board.

“Right now it’s not an issue for police yet,” El-Chantiry said Thursday.

“We have a public health board. They have the mandate to deal with that. They have the experts on the panel. I think that’s a good place to have the discussion.”

Mayor Jim Watson has written a letter to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre saying the public health board has the municipal jurisdiction over supervised injection sites.

The Sandy Hill health centre is finishing its application to the federal government to have a supervised injection site.

The health centre requires a letter from the city as part of its application to the feds. Watson wrote to the health centre on behalf of the city.

With the public health board voting last June to support supervised injection sites, there’s no need for council to wade into the debate.

El-Chantiry likened the public health board’s authority to the police board’s powers.

“Does every decision need to come to council? I would say to you no. There are some decisions that are better handled within the police board because that’s where the people with expertise are,” El-Chantiry said.

The Sandy Hill health centre has also asked the Ottawa Police Service for a letter in response to the injection site application.

In a written statement to the Citizen, Chief Charles Bordeleau’s office said the police service expects to provide a letter to the Sandy Hill health centre by the end of January.

“We understand and support harm reduction approaches. Supervised consumption sites should be part of a continuum of care which includes moving clients through to treatment,” the statement says.

“We remain concerned that locations will attract crime and disorder. As such, any location selected needs to have community support and an understanding of the realities and issues brought about by having a Supervised Consumption Site in your neighbourhood. We think that the selection of a location should be based on the needs of clients and the community.”

Unless there’s an operational pressure when a supervised injection site opens, it’s unlikely the issue will come up at the police board, El-Chantiry said.

“I don’t think there’s anything for the police to add or to offer,” he said.

Like Mayor Jim Watson, El-Chantiry is skeptical of injection sites. The councillor would also prefer to put emphasis on treatment, prevention and education programs.

El-Chantiry emphasized his support for the creation of the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre in his West Carleton-March ward.

“I strongly believe any money spent should be spent on prevention and treatment, instead of providing a site where people can inject themselves,” El-Chantiry said.

On the other hand, the Sandy Hill health centre says a supervised injection site gives drug users a clean and safe place to do drugs and provides information through expert health staff. The injection sites would also reduce the risk of virus transmission between drug users sharing needles, since clean supplies would be made available, supporters say.

By Jon Willing
Source: Ottawa Citizen