Pop-up injection site breaks law for a good cause

The push for legal harm reduction requires breaking the law.

That was the chatter Friday down at the pop-up safe-injection site in Lowertown.

And it’s true.

With the big black tent in the background of Raphael Brunet Park, volunteers prepared for what they expected to be a busy evening. Boxes of fruit snacks and flats of Costco water sat nearby. Some people moseyed through, grabbing a doughnut and cup of coffee and asking what was going on.

Things that are illegal don’t tend to become legal until people realize the consequences aren’t as grave as they fear. More to the point, perhaps, with something like harm reduction and drug use, things don’t tend to become legal until everyone realizes that it was criminality in the first place that made an activity dangerous.

Take overdoses. They’re pretty manageable, in the scheme of things, if you overdose somewhere you can get help.

This is less the case when someone’s shooting up alone in an apartment because they’re embarrassed to do so with friends or don’t want to get caught by the cops.

But with support workers nearby, and a supply of naloxone — which helps arrest an opioid overdose — using drugs becomes a lot less dangerous. That’s the whole logic behind giving out naloxone, free of charge, at pharmacies around town. With more and more powerful drugs, such as fentanyl, on the market, keeping people alive requires some pretty bold solutions.

After all — and it’s by now become a devastating cliché — you can’t help people who are dead.

This particular solution is not necessarily palatable, mind you, to the folks staring out of their condos from across the street, but, to be honest, “tough luck” is the only real response.

Lives are worth more than your queasiness.

The difference between the pop-up site and the as-yet-unopened (but Health Canada approved) site coming to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre is that this one’s more or less out in the open and not concealed behind closed doors.

It’s maybe a good metaphor on how Ottawa and Ontario and Canada ought to confront the opioid crisis. The public may prefer it all be done behind closed doors and politely out of sight, but it’s a very public health crisis and seeing the work that’s being done can’t possibly lead anyone to any conclusion other than the benefit of such sites.

Which, all put together, means there’s no good reason to get too worked up about a pop-up site. What difference does it make to you, if you’re not the person swinging by to get high?

No difference, is the answer. But people ending up in hospital, people ending up dead, that should make a difference to you. Not just because it costs money in emergency care, but because they’re our fellow citizens and neighbours.

At least one person seems to have felt otherwise, though, and put in a call to bylaw Friday about the tent operating without a permit. Rather banal complaint, isn’t it? Either way, police showed up, looking good and intimidating, telling the folks running the operation they just wanted to make sure everyone’s safe — the organizers gamely explained that they’re there to help keep people safe, too.

But the other players in this game who matter in this issue didn’t stop by. None of the city councillors had come by, though several were specifically invited. Mayor Jim Watson, who has in the past vigorously opposed supervised injection, didn’t come by either. Chief Charles Bordeleau hadn’t either.

They all should’ve. This is part of the problem — policymakers who figure they know what’s what without taking a look and talking to some real people and seeing what proper harm reduction looks like.

It looks like what happened on the corner of St. Patrick and Cumberland on Friday.

And sometimes, it doesn’t operate within the limits circumscribed the law, or polite society.

By Tyler Dawson
Source: Ottawa Sun