Thursday, July 14, 2016

Toronto City Council OKs Safe Injection Sites

Toronto City Councillors said yes, in a big way, to creating three safe injection sites.

The sites, often deemed controversial, sailed through Thursday’s council meeting with a 36-3 vote in favour.

Council gave the OK to safe injection sites operating at The Works, located at Yonge and Dundas Sts.; the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre in the Queen-Bathurst Sts. area; and South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Queen and Carlaw Sts.

Ahead of the vote, Councillor Joe Cressy, chairman of the Toronto Drug Strategy, called on his fellow councillors to get behind the sites and give them a solid endorsement. They will help improve community safety and prevent overdoses that have become commonplace in alleyways, laneways and school yards, he said.

“Supervised injection services will work,” he said. “They do work. They will improve public health and improve public safety. They will save lives for people who use drugs.”

Cressy, who spearheaded the initiative since his arrival on city council in 2014, said he felt “sadness and anger” that it’s taken the city so long to act.

“Addiction does not discriminate,” he said. “Stigma kills too. Behind those numbers and those people are names.”

While the council’s approval is key, the sites still require provincial funding and the locations need a special exemption to operate from the federal government.

Council headed off a move to kill the sites by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. He wanted to see the work shifted to hospitals, pharmacies and medical clinics where he felt addicts could be treated in a more appropriate setting without risk to the community. In the end, his motion failed by a 2-36 vote.

“I do believe that we’re putting three communities at risk here,” he said. “In an attempt to try to help those that need a lot of help, I think we’ve found the wrong mechanism to do it.”

Mayor John Tory clashed with Mammoliti over the sites, saying that during his run for mayor in 2003 he had felt some “discomfort” with them. But since that failed campaign he’s changed his mind and believes they will help the city.

“These are people needlessly dying alone ... on the streets of our city, in the neighbourhoods and they are using drugs in our neighbhourhoods, leaving their syringes in our neighbourhoods,” he said, arguing with Mammoliti. “I want to take every reasonable step we can to try to eliminate those needless deaths if we can.”

Councillor Gord Perks, who has worked on the issue for years, said that addicts are often treated as though they have no rights because of the stigma surrounding illicit drug use. In spite of that, many drug users have spoke up and worked with police and health officials to help create these sites, he said.

“I just wanted to take my time here to salute the courage of the drug users in the city of Toronto who have fought for so many years to get this service here,” he said. “You are the best of us.”

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