Pop-up drug use site set up in Raphael Brunet Park

Overdose Prevention Ottawa is continuing to operate a supervised drug-use tent at Raphael Brunet Park in Lowertown, despite receiving a complaint that it's breaching city bylaws.

The group says it's setting up the tent across from 310 St. Patrick St. for people to use drugs under supervision so they can better access healthcare.

The unsanctioned "overdose prevention site" follows the lead of similar initiatives in Toronto and Vancouver.

The group, made up of people with experience caring for and supporting drug users, said public health officials recommend not using drugs alone in case of an overdose — especially with very powerful opioids being discretely added to some illicit drugs — so they're offering a supervised space.

University of Ottawa nursing professor Marilou Gagnon, who was part of an Overdose Prevention Ottawa launch event on Thursday, has said the tent could have flexible hours, move around and open more than once if there's the need.

During a media tour of the site Friday afternoon, Gagnon said there would be a team of three people who could help drug users if they needed assistance.

"There's always a fear of being arrested. And so they will be able to use in this tent and use the supplies and get the help that they need if they do show any sign of overdose."

A "chill tent" will be available for drug users afterwards, Gagnon said.

Ottawa Police Service officers milled around the Lowertown park Friday afternoon, telling CBC News that they had received a complaint about the fact the site was operating without a permit.

The city's bylaw office was expected to follow up, with police officers telling site organizers to continue operating as they were until that happened.

Gagnon said the organization chose Raphael Brunet Park because it was close to where the city's drug users are concentrated.

"We really relied on the expertise of people who do this work, outreach work every day, and know the population very well in Ottawa," she said.

"The neighbours in this area understand that people who use drugs tend to use drugs around here," Gagnon added. "We hope that, by our presence, they understand what we're trying to do."

Ottawa Public Health said Thursday it wanted to meet with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, saying they had common goals.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he's open to talking to groups that want to prevent overdoses and save lives, but he would prefer they follow the framework to open a legal injection site set up by the federal government.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in central Ottawa has received official approval from Health Canada, and plans to open its supervised injection site as early as October, when renovations to its building could be finished.

David Gibson, the centre's executive director, said he understands the frustration with how long this process can take but has concerns about safety and oversight at the Raphael Brunet Park site.

Gagnon said Friday that there was a "huge difference" between what the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and the pop-up tent site were trying to accomplish.

"An overdose prevention site is like first aid for overdosing. A supervised injection site is a comprehensive social and health care service," she said.

"This is not what we're doing here. Basically we're just giving first aid to people who are overdosing, because right now they're not getting it anywhere."

Source: CBC News