Ottawa Citizen, March 23, 2014
Protesters rally at Hill to call for supervised injection site in Ottawa
Instead of sneaking into downtown Ottawa bathroom stalls to use drugs, Sean LeBlanc says the refuge of a supervised injection site could have helped him get clean earlier.
New needles would have probably prevented him from contracting hepatitis C, too, says LeBlanc, one of about 100 people who rallied on the steps of Parliament Hill Sunday in support of an Ottawa supervised injection site.
Advocates want the city to endorse the idea. But Ottawa Public Health maintained Sunday it has no plans to open a clinic and is “monitoring community discussions that are taking place“ instead of taking a stance.
“We provide counselling, nursing support, we have a van that goes out seven days a week to provide services,” said Andrew Hendriks, an Ottawa Public Health program manager. “Our focus, right now in Ottawa Public Health, is really expanding those services to make sure they’re as solid as possible.”
Despite existing resources, LeBlanc said it took him years to find stable housing and methadone to help with his addiction.
“If there was a supervised injection site when I was using all the time, it would have introduced me to services long before I knew of them myself,” said LeBlanc, 40, who is a former opiate addict and the chairman of Ottawa’s Drug Users Advocacy League.
Ottawa advocacy group Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites says a facility similar to Vancouver’s Insite clinic would reduce overdoses and infectious diseases, as well as refer drug users to addictions services.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada found “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven.” The court said negatives for the community had been overblown and ordered an exemption from drug laws for Insite, which paved the way for new sites. But last year the federal government introduced legislation that would make creating new sites more difficult without local support.
In Ottawa, both Mayor Jim Watson and police Chief Charles Bordeleau have opposed the idea. The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and partners planned to submit an exemption application last year, but it has been delayed.
Dr. Mark Tyndall, chief of infectious diseases at the Ottawa Hospital, told the rally a site would send a message of care to addicts and reduce harm.
“I approach it as an unbiased researcher,” Tyndall said. “When I have all this information in front of me and I’ve seen all this real-life suffering, I can’t help but become an advocate.”
Tyndall said many drug users in Ottawa aren’t accessing existing services, and says a site would connect them.
“All we’re saying is, they’re going to inject anyways, at least give them a warm, clean place to do it, with somebody who can talk to them and (provide) a clean needle,” he said