Province offering aid to unsanctioned injection site

After coming to the aid of an unsanctioned supervised injection site in a downtown Toronto park, the province is asking the City of Ottawa whether it wants similar emergency assistance here.

So far the city is showing no signs of accepting the offer.

CBC News has learned Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is offering to send a special medical team to help volunteers at Overdose Prevention Ottawa's tent site in Raphael Brunet Park as rain and plunging temperatures make their task more difficult.

On Wednesday the ministry sent its emergency medical assistance team (EMAT) to the aid of a similar pop-up site in Toronto's Moss Park, where the team provided generators, heaters and insulated tents.

The ministry said Thursday it's also had a request for help from Overdose Prevention Ottawa, and plans to approach the city for approval. But the city, which doesn't condone the tent site, has so far shown no inclination to welcome outside help.

"The City of Ottawa has made no request for EMAT in Raphael Brunet Park," Anthony Di Monte, the city's general manager of emergency and protective services, said Thursday.

EMAT is capable of setting up a mobile medical field unit with enough beds and medical equipment to treat 56 people, but the ministry first requires the OK of the host municipality.

"Health organizations or jurisdictions can make requests for the Emergency Medical Assistance Team to the ministry, at the request of or supported by the municipality," David Jensen, a spokesperson for the minister of health, wrote in an email.

The Ottawa tent site has averaged 44 visits per night since it opened in late August, volunteers said. Organizer Marilou Gagnon said volunteers have managed to intervene to stop some 140 overdoses. 

But the site had to shut down three times in October because of poor weather. 

Overdose Prevention Ottawa has asked the province for more tents and heaters, but wouldn't say Thursday whether it's hoping to keep the tent site open throughout the winter.

In September, Ottawa Public Health opened a temporary supervised injection site on Clarence Street, just two blocks from the Raphael Brunet Park. Nevertheless the tent site remained open.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, police Chief Charles Bordeleau and Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury have all said they'd like to see the unsanctioned site pack up, but the city has so far made no move to force it out of the park.

Without help from the province, it's possible the coming winter weather will force the volunteer group to suspend operations.

By Elise von Scheel
Source: CBC News