City council frustrated over lack of say on supervised consumption process

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
November 14, 2017 - 9:48pm Updated: November 15, 2017 - 3:27pm

It appears it won’t be long before a supervised drug consumption site (SCS) is announced for Red Deer. But frustration lingers amongst members of city council over how much say they have on the matter.

Stacey Carmichael, Executive Director for Turning Point, told city council Tuesday night that their current location is most preferred for a few reasons: Turning Point was chosen by Alberta Health to lead a recently-completed needs assessment, they have been the local experts for 30 years, and they already have capacity and established relationships in their current location.

“There seems to be bit of a disconnect in the understanding between what the province was asking for and what the municipality felt that they needed to provide,” says Carmichael, who adds she'd be surprised if the province didn't approve supervised consumption for Red Deer. “The province acknowledges the willingness of the municipality as broader than just the City and council, so the opinions of people who use drugs, other service providers. Those types of things make up the willingness of the municipality. I’ve never felt like our provincial or federal governments want to just dismiss our municipal government, but obviously they [council] feel otherwise.”

Councillors Buck Buchanan, Tanya Handley and Ken Johnston all said it would be great if city council felt like they had a greater say on the issue, being that the province has the final say over where SCS will be located.

Handley said council is being forced to make decisions on the matter in the dark and that she doesn’t consider the City a partner in this process.

Mayor Tara Veer expressed the same frustration, citing a rash of mixed signals from the province including a letter from Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne in October.

“The City had conducted itself in good faith in responding to the process we were formally told about by the provincial government,” she said. “Since that time however, the Associate Minister has written a letter indicating the City of Red Deer is not being asked to take a position, so we feel frustrated in that respect. Our citizens have the right to expect due process and transparency in decisions of this nature.”

Veer added the province’s neglect of the City’s decade-old request for a treatment centre also looms large over the debate about supervised consumption.

Carmichael ensured Turning Point is just as much for treatment services as they are for supervised consumption, saying the two go hand in hand.  However, she says 95 per cent of those who enter treatment relapse at least once, which is where a supervised consumption site comes in.

Her ultimate statement to council was one most of council expressed agreement with – that addiction is a health issue, not a moral one.

“If there were a diabetic crisis in our community, we would trust the research and the experts. The voices of the people who actually use the service would actually matter,” she implored. “Despite the robust research supporting this solution, we continue to let stigma, judgement and fear dictate how we look after some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens. That is one thing Red Deer is known for.”

On Tuesday, council unanimously passed a resolution directing City administration to bring forward a report outlining the land use and development process for supervised consumption services locally, including options for process, consultation, development authorities and locational criteria. The report is to be presented to council Nov. 27.

“I’m quite content with the data around supervised consumption sites to mitigate what we’re seeing in Red Deer right now and what we’re seeing right now is people shooting up in alleyways and hallways, restaurants, libraries, on the streets, in hotels,” said Councillor Johnston, who compared a supervised consumption site to a life preserver for some our city’s most vulnerable.

“My hope for the supervised consumption site is most people won’t be in those particular situations anymore and we’re going to actually have a safer and healthier community by doing it this way.”

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