In front of a federal court Monday, Edmonton’s supervised consumption sites defended their place in the city’s downtown core against a group of businesses who say the services should be located elsewhere.

Three of Edmonton’s four consumption sites are located in the downtown core. The Chinatown and Area Business Association has applied to have Health Canada revoke the exemptions it gave to the three sites—allowing illegal drug consumption—saying stakeholders were not adequately consulted.

“We hope the people that are affected by opioid addiction get the help that they need,” said Holly Mah, owner of a downtown optometry office. “Our contention is that it’s very unfair to have three drug injection sites in the proximity of six blocks.”

“There’s been defecation, needles, vandalism, graffiti—and it is true that these neighbourhoods do experience this, but that doesn’t mean you should burden us with more.”

Quoting Bill C-37, an Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Mah said CABA members were unfairly consulted when the sites were being established.

Edward Molstad, the lawyer representing CABA on Monday, argued most fentanyl deaths occur outside the downtown core and that when the model for the sites was created, a translator was not present for community outreach, nor was reading material provided in Chinese.

Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society represented the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition in court, arguing the number of barriers to such sites should be decreasing.

In their opinion, the judge’s decision could impact supervised consumption services across Canada.

“The concern is that given this is the first time that the courts have interpreted Section 56.1, which governs the application process for supervised consumption sites, any precedent could have an implication for future applications in respect to community consultations,” explained Caitlin Shane.

She said the consultation being argued for by CABA “leans dangerously close to jeopardizing the life liberty and security of people who use drugs and who rely on these life-saving services.”

The Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton coalition said the sites have been “very busy” and successful where they are.

In the time since the three sites opened, AMSISE says they have helped some 900 people, handing out 23,000 needles and successfully reversing more than 250 overdoses.

“I think supervised consumption services are critical in the face of the current opioid epidemic we have going on we absolutely need to be saving peoples’ lives,” said Marliss Taylor, AMSISE spokesperson and program manager of Street Works.

“More broadly it’s also a chance where we can get people into services about HIV or Hepatitis C or mental health services and other things they need, which has an impact—certainly a lower impact—on people’s life expectancy.”

The judge said the groups could expect a decision in January.

With files from Nicole Weisberg