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Reaction pours in following provincial report on supervised consumption sites

Last Updated Mar 6, 2020 at 6:12 am MDT

Warning. You may find the images and the details in the video disturbing.

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — After the release of the supervised consumption report on Thursday, reaction came in swiftly.

Two advocates for the sites were outside the McDougall Centre and spoke with reporters following the media conference inside.

“I think they are using media and public reaction to decide their strategy in terms of how they’re going to steamroll and do what they want to do, which is based on ideology,” said Dr. Bonnie Larson, who is also a family physician in Calgary.

Larson also pushed back on the committee, indicating that some of the overdose reversal numbers were misleading, such as when only oxygen needed to be administered by a staff member.

“It’s a real reversal,” she said. “It’s just like if I was very ill and fell down, and somebody shook me and stimulated me and said ‘stick with me’ or to go and get help, that’s still an intervention that means a lot, so it is still a reversal.”

David Low, executive director of the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area, said he was not surprised by the findings in the report.

“I was actually pleasantly surprised at the depth and degree of rigour that they went into,” he said.

Low felt that the government acknowledges that the sites work, but better efforts need to be taken to mitigate any impacts.

“I do think we’re on the right path. We know that supervised consumption sites work inside the site. We don’t know an awful lot of what they do outside the site,” he said. “Shutting it down will likely lead to not good outcomes for some users, but there could be some ways around that. This is an experiment; it’s the first time that it’s been conducted and in any experiment where things start to go a little bit sideways, you need to pull it back to a point where you know and understand what variables are causing what outcomes.

“Let’s all forget the ideology. Let’s forget the emotion; let’s forget the rhetoric and pull this back to a point where we can make evidence-based decisions and move forward again.”

Karen Lamola is with the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association and said they also expected many of the findings in the report as they had already been conducting some work.

“In terms of next steps, that’s still to be determined. We appreciate that there’s going to be a unique approach to each city. We’re still in support of the safe consumption site, but we would encourage more to be open.”

Lamola said it would help alleviate pressure on the Chumir site if additional locations could also be approved.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi also released a statement on Twitter, echoing the calls from advocates to approve more sites.

“Calgary needs more SCS locations and a better model to ensure treatment is available to people the moment they’re ready,” Nenshi wrote.

READ MORE: Councillor Evan Woolley presents urgent notice of motion on crime around Beltline

Lastly, on some concerns around policing that were noted in the report, Calgary police want to ensure the public that they are prioritizing citizen safety.

“We’ve had a very aggressive approach,” said Insp. Rob Davidson, who is in charge of District 1 in Calgary’s downtown. “We have about six to eight-hundred hours of policing in the area, with a very strong presence and zero tolerance for any public drug use or disorder.”

However, Davidson said it is not necessarily enforcement-based, and they do use discretion in these cases.

“If there’s no other concerns — we’re not finding weapons, there’s no drug trafficking, there’s no substantive history — then discretion will come into play. But if we find other things that are concerning, then quite often someone will be charged formally.”

Also, officers will direct users to the safe consumption site as long as there aren’t any other concerns.

Davidson said this is putting a strain on their resources, such as redeploying officers from other areas and sustainability could be an issue as he calls the facility a “crime attractor.”

Along with that, even if more efforts are taken to arrest drug dealers, there still needs to be a city-wide effort to crack down on trafficking because other dealers will fill the void.

“We can continue to arrest the drug trafficker, but a big opportunity here is to reduce the supply-demand. What are we doing around programming, access to treatment, pathways to recovery so that somebody who is suffering from addictions is moved to a place where they don’t need that drug anymore.”

In conclusion, Davidson also wanted to tell people to keep calling the police if they see issues and doesn’t want Calgarians to feel a sense of apathy.

He said there is reduced public calls for service, but the boosted enforcement means many officers see problems before a member of the public can.

“Please call us, anything that’s concerning around public safety or seeing public drug use or erratic or concerning behaviours, we want those calls for service. We are there; we are in the area.”