Politicians at all levels agree to ignore the evidence with Bill C-2

There was rare harmony between our federal, provincial and local politicians last week as they gathered to announce the feds’ $62-million contribution to the Ottawa River Action Plan.

The infrastructure upgrade, which will reduce the filth flowing into the Ottawa River, is pretty uncontroversial. Who favours pollution?

And who doesn’t like to see our officials from different levels and parties play nice? Depends what they’re playing at.

Pierre Poilievre, the federal minister responsible for our region, later talked to Metro to tout the investment, but also to defend Bill C-2, The Respect For Communities Act, passed by the House of Commons last month, which raises new barriers to opening supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users.

The new requirements include a sheaf of letters from the area’s police chief and other officials, and Poilievre pointed out that his government was responding to local concerns, since our mayor and police chief oppose such facilities in Ottawa.

Leave aside for a moment how this solicitude for local sensibilities doesn’t extend to, say, the controversial monument to the victims of communism. Mayor Watson has called the memorial a “blight” that’s been thrust upon us with zero consultation. The importance of the mayor’s opinion grows in direct proportion to how well it dovetails with that of the Tories.

And never mind the mountain of evidence from Vancouver, where the Insite facility has drastically reduced overdose deaths and infectious disease. Or the numerous studies suggesting it could work here. Like last year’s analysis from Simon Fraser University that two supervised injection sites in Ottawa would cost $4.4 million to operate but save us $5-million from prevented HIV and hepatitis C infections alone. That’s apart from stopping overdose deaths, of which we clock one roughly every ten days in Ottawa.

What about the people pointedly not asked for their input?

“We run a drop-in every week in the downtown core,” complained Catherine Hacksel of the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa (CSCS). “People are using drugs in public places and are unstably housed and we don’t see any city councillors visiting us or contacting us or asking us our opinion.”

She thinks the feds have done a masterful job of framing a health issue as a criminal one and exploiting stigma against drug users, instead of addressing the copious evidence that harm reduction works. Case in point: C-2’s requiring criminal record checks on employees of an injection site. That eliminates a lot of former users who want to help others become former users.

“The reality is people who have been there, which a lot of the time includes having a criminal record, are people who understand what drug users are going through,” Hacksel said. “They’re really much better at connecting with people who are marginalized because they know how it feels.”

She worries C-2 will further slow down the response to an ongoing emergency.

“The longer it takes to get a site open, the more days pass and the more people die…To me, it’s very personal because these are my friends.”

Co-operation is not always a virtue, and our governments deserve no credit for working together to ignore the evidence and the sick.

By Steve Collins
Source: Metro Ottawa