Injection site supporters demand Ottawa Public Health take a stand on Ottawa clinic

Sean Leblanc survived his opiate addiction "by the skin of my teeth," and he's seen too many friends fall victim to their own personal demons to stand idly by.

"Many of us here have lost friends and family members, people we love and respect, and I think we as a country and a community can do better," said Leblanc, chair of the Drug Users Advocacy League, leading a rally on Parliament Hill Sunday to voice support for bringing supervised injection sites to Ottawa.

"I know from having been there, people don't want to be sticking a needle in their arm every day, and we need to be providing the support and love and services and basic access to care so that they can make positive changes in their lives."

About local 100 advocates, including Algonquin College students and representatives from the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa, joined a chorus of voices calling on Ottawa Public Health to end a "shameful" silence on the hot button topic.

That chorus grew louder Sunday with the noted HIV expert and University of Ottawa professor Dr. Mark Tyndall, who said the health agency needed to take a firmer "leadership role."

But Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau have already voiced their opposition to a facility styled after Vancouver's Insite clinic -- the only supervised injection site of its kind on the continent -- and the federal government enacting Bill C-2 in response to a landmark Supreme Court ruling has made those hurdles even harder to overcome, said Tyndall.

"It's become such a politically-charged issue that (OPH) are reluctant to lead this," Tyndall said.

"But in many communities where this debate has happened, it was more grassroots community organizations who got this thing going.

"I do understand the political pressures (OPH) are under," said Tyndall.

"Public health is a political issue, and they have to work with City Hall and politicians and police who have, unfortunately, come out quite strongly against it. We have to re-engage them in these discussions."

Ottawa Public Health responded Sunday by saying while they recognize a supervised injection site "might play a role in a continuum of health care services" in harm reduction and addiction treatment, more broad-based community discussions are needed before making any kind of endorsement.

Tyndall said the "iron-clad" evidence already present is only amplified by the growing need for effective methods of care.

"HIV rates in Ottawa are probably the highest of any major city in Canada, and we could get HIV down to zero. We have the tools," said Tyndall.

"We have excellent data and information that safe injection sites do prevent overdoses, they do reduce HIV, that they do prevent people from going to hospital, and that they connect people with the care that they need."

That argument, Tyndall said, is at the core of the issue.

"There are a lot of people in Ottawa whose only contact with those services is in an emergency room by ambulance, so we need to get to them before that happens. Without that connection to the frontline, the rest of their programs fail."

By Aedan Helmer
Source: Ottawa Sun