Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi expresses support for Ottawa supervised injection site

Ontario’s new attorney general says Ottawa should heed the advice of its top doctor, who is publicly urging the city to support supervised injection sites.

In his first interview since Monday’s cabinet shuffle, Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi expressed support for the controversial sites as a means to reduce harm to drug addicts.

“I believe in evidence-based solutions,” Naqvi told Metro on Tuesday morning.

“If the officer of health is telling us that the evidence results in better care and ensuring people get the treatment and that we reduce the harm to the individual and to others through reducing the risk of the transfer of HIV and Hepatitis C, then we should pay close attention to that expert advice.”

In a report to be tabled at Ottawa Public Health’s June 20 meeting, Ottawa’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Isra Levy wrote, “There is a need to expand services to include SIS in Ottawa,” adding the site in Vancouver has shown documented success over the years.

Levy’s stance on the issue is at odds with Mayor Jim Watson and Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, who both vehemently oppose the model.

Rob Boyd, director of the harm reduction program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, which is where the proposed supervised injection site would be located, is seeking a federal government exemption to open the facility.

Naqvi, who was the former Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said he supports all forms of harm reduction for people with drug addictions, and suggested Watson and Bordeleau consider expert opinion.

“The officer of health is advising them to look into it and the decision does rest with the federal government because it’s an exception from the Criminal Code at the municipal level. I think we should always make evidence-based decisions,” said Naqvi.

In his report, Levy notes how Vancouver’s Insite has had a real impact in the city’s downtown east side.

“Insite has demonstrated reduced overdose deaths; reduced unsafe injection practices and behaviours that cause HIV and HCV transmission; increased use of detoxification and treatment services; reduced public drug use; and it has seen no increase in crime in the surrounding area,” the report reads.

The mayor has said he prefers more funding for getting addicts treatment, while Bordeleau has said he fears such a site in Sandy Hill would put public safety at risk.

“Despite efforts to expand access to harm reduction services, Ottawa is not distributing enough needles to meet ‘needle coverage,” says Levy's report.

"Researchers in Vancouver, Sydney, Australia and Germany, have examined the impact of SIS's on public safety issues, and have found no such impacts. In these communities, incidence of public drug use and discarded drug use materials decreased. Furthermore, there was no noticeable increase in drug-related crime.”

Ottawa Public Health will meet at City Hall on on June 20 at 5 p.m. to discuss the report.

By Joe Lofaro
Source: Metro Ottawa