Proponents of supervised injection site in the capital not ready to throw in the towel

Debate over whether Ottawa should have at least one supervised injection site is far from over.

Proponents are planning a major new proposal by the end of the year.

The subject dominated discussion a recent Board of Health meeting.

The proponents of a supervised injection sites say one of the city’s four pillars to substance misuse is “harm reduction.”

Many of the 12 delegations who spoke at that meeting used “harmed reduction” to to resurrect the notion of an injection site that was nixed a year ago by then-Premier McGuinty, Mayor Jim Watson and Chief Charles Bordeleau.

Bordeleau says he hasn’t changed his tune on the sites and says his comments from a year ago still stand.

Where there is some movement is on council. Mathieu Fleury, who lives and serves the part of the city most affected by injection drug users, says he wants more discussion. He’s also on the Board of Health.

“I’m not saying no,” Fleury said to an injection site. “It seems like we do have a problem. We need to turn our heads around.”

But — and it’s a big but — Fleury wants proof that injection sites work.

“Show me the results,” he said. “Because otherwise, to me, this is going nowhere in this city. In my mind, yes or no is the easy answer. I’m willing to say let’s talk about it.”

Sgt. Mat Skof, the head of the Ottawa Police Association, was a district Sgt. until two years ago. He worked Vanier and the Byward Market. Skof says the troubled tourist district would become a “no man’s land” if a supervised injection site was built down there.

“You’d create a war zone,” he said. “The same amount of money that’s spent on the war-on-drugs would be spent on that place, except at the end of the day, you lose the neighbourhood.”

Skof says his Vancouver colleagues tell him the neighbourhood around InSite is so bad, officers are given paid duty to escort the garbage men around once a week.

One of those trying to convince the police they are wrong is Dr. Mark Tyndall, the head of infectious diseases at the Ottawa Hospital/University of Ottawa.

Ottawa has the country’s highest rates of injection drug users with HIV — as much as 21% according to a 2006 federal study. As many as 90% have Hepatitis C.

Skof also takes issue with the claims that addiction is a disease. Skof calls it anti-social behaviour, plain and simple.

“I’ve never met an addict who was tricked into taking crack,” he says. “It’s poor decision making. I’ve seen addicts walk into jail looking like cadavers and walk out healthy. It’s anti-social behaviour.”

It’s statements like these that trouble people like Tyndall and Ottawa Inner City Health Executive Director Wendy Muckle.

“They’re based on nothing,” she said, adding those who are in favour of supervised injection sites never suggested they would reduce crime, just death.

“Everybody is brought up to believe everybody can be abstinent and they can not. This flies in the face of traditional and many religious beliefs. It’s a disease. A cure is not possible for everybody.”

Muckle and many others have been studying operations in Europe. There are 37 supervised injection sites in the Netherlands alone.

“If 37 communities in the Netherlands can do it — supported by police and local health officials and local politicians — then I think it’s something we’ve got to think about,” Jack McCarthy of the Somerset West Community Health Centre told the Sun after visiting the Netherlands a few months ago.

Tyndall says he doesn’t need the mayor, councillors or the chief of police to get the ball rolling — just a small group of people dedicated to the idea. A group who can convince the provincial health ministry that at least one supervised injection site will make Ottawa a safer place.

That group is in place and keeping its cards close to the chest. Once they believe they have a solid proposal that’s difficult to debate, they will release it. The target to do so is before the end of 2013.

“Ottawa has a big problem,” saids Tyndall. “We’re developing a specific plan. We’ll take it to (police, city officials) and say — what do you mean, no?”

By Doug Hempstead
Source: Ottawa Sun