Supervised injection trailer arrives at Shepherds of Good Hope

Just before 11 a.m. on Thursday, John Sangster sat cross-legged on the pavement in a Lowertown parking lot with a needle filled with the opioid hydromorphone pressed into his arm.

A woman in a Porsche SUV pulled into the lot next to Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts looking for a spot as Sangster packed up a black plastic bag with syringes, a lighter and disposable wipes, got to his feet and walked back toward the Shepherds of Good Hope, one block away.

It’s a daily ritual for Sangster — finding a nook along a building or narrow space between two parked cars to get his next fix.

About two hours earlier at Shepherds, a truck delivered a construction trailer that could become Ottawa’s first 24/7 supervised injection site.

If the trailer receives Health Canada’s approval to operate as an injection site, Sangster plans to shoot his drugs in a safe, enclosed space under the supervision of health experts, instead of preparing a needle in the shadow of a deconsecrated church.

“It just makes you feel you’re not alone,” Sangster said. “It gives you a sense of normalcy.”

Shepherds isn’t waiting for Health Canada’s approval before preparing a supervised injection site at what one executive called the “ground zero” of Ottawa’s opioid crisis.

Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of Shepherds, said staff are “barely making it by the skin of our teeth” trying to keep clients safe, constantly scouring the block around the King Edward Avenue shelter for anyone who has overdosed.

Councillor Fleury meets with injection tent volunteers

Volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa, the group running the unsanctioned supervised injection tent in Lowertown, met with Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury on Tuesday morning in an attempt to clear the air.

After the meeting, Fleury told the Citizen his position hasn’t changed. He still wants the tent out of Raphael Brunet Park and relocated somewhere else.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa released a statement saying organizers hope the meeting will result in “a period of collaboration and cooperation.”

Fleury, who’s also a member of the board of health, has resisted visiting the tent as he tries to balance the concerns of neighbours with the health unit’s focus on harm reduction during an opioid crisis.

Ottawa Public Health has opened a temporary supervised injection service at its Clarence Street clinic, but Overdose Prevention Ottawa has indicated it will continue operating its tent.

James Hutt, a spokesman for Overdose Prevention Ottawa, said Fleury agreed to help the group find a new location.

“We’re not particularly attached to the park,” Hutt said, but he underscored the importance of staying in that part of the city.

“We’re looking to see where the need is most right now and right now it’s in Lowertown.”

More powerful drugs worry Ottawa overdose prevention workers

There is a change in the drug supply in Ottawa and it is beginning to scare those working to prevent overdoses, says an organizer with the pop-up supervised injection site set up in a Lowertown park.

“I am really worried by what I am seeing right now,” said Marilou Gagnon, associate professor of nursing at the University of Ottawa and an organizer of the site. “I am really scared as to what is going to happen to people on the streets.”

She said the numbers of atypical overdoses and other signs of a stronger drug supply confirm that there is a strong need for the pop-up site. Since the opening of a small Ottawa Public Health supervised injection site, there has been pressure on the pop-up site to close down. Organizers say they plan to remain until its services are no longer needed in the area.

“There are not enough people in this city right now to save lives when we see how powerful these drugs are right now.”

Ottawa Public Health referring drug users to unsanctioned safe injection site

The city's public health agency is promoting an unsanctioned supervised injection site in downtown Ottawa to drug users, despite city officials wanting the pop-up site shut down.

For close to two weeks, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre have been running a government-approved supervised drug injection site at an OPH clinic on Clarence Street in the ByWard Market.

Since the legal site has opened, there have been calls from the local city councillor, mayor and police chief for the illegal site to leave the park, though steps have yet to be taken by police or the city's bylaw department to enforce the request.

The OPH clinic is serving an average of about eight people a day in the five hours it's open, Andrew Hendricks, the agency's director of health protection, said Friday.

But two blocks away, a pop-up site at Raphael Brunet Park that's been opening three hours a night for more than a month serves an average of 35 people a night, according to Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO), the volunteer-run group behind it.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa says their site is still needed and they're not in competition with the Clarence Street clinic, rather they've been promoting that site to people who visit their tents regularly.

However, it seems to be a two-way street, as Hendricks says they're promoting the unsanctioned site at their clinic as well.

"We support the work they're doing, they're making a difference in terms of preventing overdoses and overdose deaths in the community," he said.

"They do bring some of their clients over here to access our services, they're promoting our services and we're promoting their services as well. In certain situations where there are some things we can't provide, such as supervision for safe inhalation, we'd refer them to Overdose Prevention Ottawa."

CFI presents "The Stairs" in Ottawa

Shot over the course of several years, Hugh Gibson’s profoundly affecting and compassionate documentary examines the lives of habitual drug users in Toronto’s Regent Park.

One night only: Sat Oct 14, 7:00PM, Richcraft Hall Theatre, Carleton University
Special Audience Q&A: Director Hugh Gibson & Dr. Marilou Gagnon (U of Ottawa)

Presented by the Canadian Film Institute. Admission is $9.00 for CFI Members and Seniors, $13.00 for the general public. For unwaged persons, admission is pay-what-you-can. This event is free for Carleton University staff and students.


Hugh Gibson's compassionate and profoundly affecting The Stairs takes us inside Toronto's Regent Park Community Health Centre, whose staff of social workers includes both former and current drug users. These workers understand all too well what their clients are going through.

Shot over five years, Gibson's film focuses on three staff members: the loquacious, seemingly tireless Marty, who was so addicted at one point that, after being shot in a deal that went south, he stopped for a hit before going to the hospital; Roxanne, a former sex worker whose tales of life in the trade are beyond harrowing; and Greg, a biracial child of the 1960s consumed with a long-delayed legal case hinging on a police officer's use of excessive force.

Pop-up overdose prevention sites are morally – and legally – legitimate

Despite the mounting toll of overdose-related deaths in Ontario, Ottawa’s mayor and certain city councillors are trying to close a “pop-up” overdose prevention site in Raphael Brunet Park. The site, staffed by concerned volunteers with Overdose Prevention Ottawa and funded via community donations, provides life-saving harm reduction services for people who use drugs. There have been more than 1,150 visits and no fatalities since it opened five weeks ago.

Various political “leaders” in Ottawa have criticized pop-up site organizers and been quick to presume the illegality of the site. The site operates without a federal ministerial exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which means that those using illegal drugs at the site can still be charged for possession when using a service that could mean the difference between life and death.

But it is this very absence of sanctioned services — where people can access health services without fear of prosecution — that has mobilized community volunteers where governments continue to dither. Even more shameful are politicians who oppose clearly authorized sites while criticizing community members who took the immediate initiative to save lives, even in the face of bureaucratic barriers.

Pop-up overdose prevention sites are an essential public health intervention. It is both legally and ethically misguided to suggest that these sites run afoul of the law.

Close the pop-up injection tent and you'll have blood on your hands, advocates warn

For over a year, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has been one of city council’s most vocal backers of a supervised drug-injection site to save Ottawa drug users from overdoses. Friday, protesters crowded outside Fleury’s city hall office, calling him everything but a killer.

About 100 supporters of Overdose Prevention Ottawa and its “pop-up” tent in a Lowertown park chanted “Shame!” and demanded he “man up!” and face them.

They were — they are — angry over his wish that they take their tent down now that Ottawa’s health unit has opened its own small injection site in a city building two blocks away.

Fleury, they said, will have blood on his hands if the city makes them stop putting up their tent in Raphael Brunet Park every afternoon, as they have for the past month. And he is repulsive for saying nearby residents feel “hostage” to the unsanctioned injection site, operating on city property without approval.

They’d rallied outside city hall, shared stories of the 1,100 visitors they’ve monitored using drugs, the three overdoses they say they’ve reversed. They’d talked about the hundreds of drug users across Canada who’ve died as the continental opioid epidemic has become more lethal with the arrival of fentanyl and carfentanil — overstrength opioids tainting the supply of morphine and heroin.

“On Tuesday afternoon, the first day of the safe injection site in Ottawa, one-and-a-half hours into their service operating, there was an overdose at the Sheps (the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter) two blocks away,” Leila Attar said into a bullhorn. “To me this indicates the service, while it’s commendable, is unable to meet the needs in our city of a vulnerable population.”

Tensions boil over as OPO supporters bring protest to council office

Over 100 supporters of Overdose Prevention Ottawa packed the waiting room outside councillor's offices at city hall on Friday, hoping to meet with Coun. Mathieu Fleury.

Fleury says that the group never confirmed a meeting with his office, and that though he had invited a small group to come in to his office, The group of protesters declined.

The group called Fleury's refusal to meet with the group as particularly upseting, given that it is his constituency that is feeling much of the crisis' worst effects.

"These are all people dying in his area, and he can't even come out here when we have a meeting," said Bob Jamison. "He should be ashamed."

The group vowed to continue to press for a meeting with the councillor. "If this crisis continues, and he continues to make disgusting comments in the media, we will absolutely be back," said Leila Attar, a volunteer with OPO who herself has experienced a fentanyl overdose. "For it to be his ward, and for people to be dying—shame.

Overdose prevention groups urge health minister to declare emergency

Volunteer-run overdose prevention sites in Ottawa and Toronto are calling on Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins to declare a public health emergency over the current opioid crisis, just like the province did at the height of the SARS crisis in 2003.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa and the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society are also asking the province to enact a ministerial order to support the creation of such pop-up sites.

"An emergency declaration and ministerial order will expedite overdose prevention measures on an emergency basis," the groups said in a joint news release Thursday. "Overdose prevention sites, among other measures, are desperately needed in Ontario municipalities."

The sites — one in Ottawa's Raphael Brunet Park and one in Toronto's Moss Park — are currently illegal, but have so far been tolerated so far by their municipalities.

The Ottawa site opened Aug. 25 when harm reduction advocates pitched tents in the Lowertown park. Since then, they said they've received more than 1,100 visits.

Toronto's site, established Aug. 12, has seen more than 1,300 visits. Organizers of both sites say they've been able to intervene in multiple overdoses.

Inner City Health revises plans for supervised injection site

Ottawa Inner City Health is submitting an amendment to their application to house a 24-hour supervised injection site in a trailer outside the Shepherds of Good Hope facility, because their initial proposal was rendered "useless" by the increasing severity of the overdose crisis.

"The number of people who need services has just exploded," said Wendy Muckle, director of Inner City Health.

She said the initial appliction submitted to Health Canada submitted in February was designed for about 20 people, whereas the crisis has evolved to the point where they figure they will need enough resources to serve 150.

"It was for a different lifetime," said Muckle. "We don't have space inside Shepherds [of Good Hope]."

The application, which Muckle said would be submitted on Thursday or Friday, would allow them to open much sooner. They are asking for a six month exemption to operate a supervised injection site out of a trailer—which Muckle has already asked management at Shepherds of Good Hope to purchase—and said that it will give them time to develop plans to find more resources to deal with the large number of people requiring their services.


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