With supervised injection sites easier to get approved, will Ottawa get one?

On Monday, the Liberal government tabled legislation that will remove many of the barriers to building safe injection sites that the previous Conservative government had established.

The current rules require a safe injection site to satisfy 26 criteria before getting federal approval, including a letter signing off on the proposal from the city and from the police chief.

But the new Liberal legislation will have just five criteria for approval, such as demonstrating the need for such a site, showing that community consultation was done, and assessing the effect it may have on crime in the area.

So, does this mean Ottawa will get one?


Previously, Ottawa’s mayor and police force have been steadfastly opposed to a safe injection site, while community health organizations have advocated for them.

But recently, Watson has softened his stance.

“I would rather focus our efforts on treatment programs, but I understand that harm reduction, just like prevention, are important parts of this equation,” he said in June.

“Regardless of my views, I respect the role of Ottawa Public Health and of our Medical Officer of Health, and I believe the Board of Health is the appropriate venue to hold an important medical debate into this complex and city-wide issue.”

Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, meanwhile, has argued the sites can lead to increased drug trafficking and more crime. He said in April that he would need the ability “to identify any potential crime and disorder issues related to its operation.”

Where would the safe injection site be?

At least four community health centres have expressed interest in building one: Sandy Hill, Somerset West, Centretown and Carlington.

All four centres have medical clinics aimed specifically at drug addicts and run “harm reduction” programs such as needle exchanges.

They’ve said they’re interested in building “micro-sites” at their locations, which would likely be a few cubicles rather than a large, dedicated operation like InSite in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Ottawa’s board of health is supportive of those projects.

Sandy Hill’s is the farthest project along; see the latest details here.

Does Ottawa have a drug overdose problem?

It’s not as bad as some other cities, but it exists.

Ottawa Public Health says Ottawa has seen about 40 overdose deaths each year since 2000.

Vancouver, by contrast, has already had well over 100 overdose deaths this year. Overdose deaths declined there after the first safe injection site opened, but are climbing dramatically right now due to the fentanyl crisis.

Province-wide in 2014, Ontario recorded more than 700 deaths from opioid overdoses, making it the third leading cause of accidental death in the province.

Who would pay for it?

This is the big question.

Originally Sandy Hill had said it would need $250,000 to $300,000 a year for its site, but now the centre says it would need $1.4 million annually due primarily to increased hours of operation.

The funding would need to come from the provincial health ministry.

Ontario’s health minister has previously said he wouldn’t consider funding a site until the municipality brings him a formal proposal. (It’s not exactly clear whether that could be from a community health centre rather than from city council.)

Toronto has previously applied to the federal government for a safe injection site, but the province has been also non-committal around funding for it.

Would the province pony up for an Ottawa safe injection site? Would it require a city council vote before doing so? That remains to be seen.

Source: Ottawa Sun