A new report recommending the installation of three “safe-injection sites” in Toronto and two in Ottawa is setting off a public debate. The findings of the four-year study, Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment, were released on April 11 by researchers Ahmed Bayoumi (at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health) and Carol Strike (at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health).
The theory presented by the report is that drug-injection sites decrease HIV and hepatitis rates, deaths from drug overdose, and public needle use. “It’s a good investment,” said Bayoumi to The Toronto Star. “We’ll have people living longer.” Toronto city councillor and chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Task Force Gord Perks declared that “when you have differing views you go to the evidence and the evidence is clear – supervised injection sites save money, save lives and improve the quality of our neighbourhoods.”
The only “safe-injection site” in Canada is in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In 2003, the federal Liberal government exempted it from the Criminal Code’s prohibitions on illegal drugs. The Harper Conservative government attempted to shut down Insite, but the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in October 2011 that closing the facility was a threat to the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and security of drug users.
The support of Ontario municipal and provincial leaders, though, has not been so enthusiastic. The mayors of Ottawa (Jim Watson) and Toronto (Rob Ford) said they will not support “safe-injection sites.” The Toronto Sun, however, reported that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, seemed to have softened his position. In September 2011 before the provincial election, McGuinty said, “it’s not in our plan, it has never been in our plan, that’s not our intention to have one of those sites in Ontario.” In the aftermath of the report, though, he stated, “when it comes to this kind of thing we’ll rely on the advice we get from our people…I’ll be open to the best advice available.”
One concern about drug-injection sites is the impact they have on the community. The Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto has a lot of drug-users. “We get dumped with everything,” Parkdale resident Roula Kyrou told the Toronto Star. She had already tried to drive out the methadone facility from her street. “I’ve got kids. I don’t want people on drugs loitering,” she explained.
Also, Ottawa and Toronto police, in contrast to their Vancouver counterparts, are against “safe-injection” sites because legitimize drug abuse and studies show they would increase crime.
In a column for the Toronto Sun, Joe Warmington suggested that drug abusers would still “get high” outside of the facilities and the sites would attract drug abusers.
Admitting there is no easy solution to the drug problem, Warmington concludes: “But creating hedonism for lazy heroin addicts to enjoy the pleasures of their failures at the expense of people who play it straight seems bizarre.”