Former EPS chief Knecht to lead review of Alberta's supervised consumption sites
Edmonton's former police chief has been tasked with leading a study of how supervised consumption sites have affected crime rates and home values, among other things, in their communities.
Rod Knecht is one of eight appointed by the United Conservative government to gather public feedback over a three-week period in September.
The panel's scope will also include looking at needle debris, impacts on business, referrals to other service providers and overdose reversals in relation to the sites.
Input on the "merits of supervised consumption sites as a harm reduction tool," as well as provincial funding and the establishment of new facilities, may be heard in the process—but will not be included in the panel's final analysis, the government said.
"It's not our intent to exclude (positive feedback of supervised consumption sites), but it's not our intent to engage a discussion of the science of that part," Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, clarified on Monday.
He added the previous NDP government had collected "wells of information" on the sites as a harm reduction method.
"To me, we already acknowledge the evidence that supervised consumption contribute to harm reduction, but what we're doing today is talk about the community and business impact in the surrounding. So we're expanding the subject," Luan said.
Knecht retired as Edmonton's 22nd police chief in 2018 after seven years of service.
On Monday he said he stood by 2016 comments that supervised sites need to be considered as one part of a continuum of dealing with addictions.
"Obviously we want to get ahead of addiction, and from a public safety or policing perspective, that means looking at those that are trafficking in illicit drugs," Knecht told media. "(We) also want to look at addicts, getting them off of that cycle of despair where they're continuously using drugs and having to go to the supervised injection site."
There are four supervised consumption sites in Edmonton. There is also one site in Calgary, Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.
Red Deer's overdose prevention site is regulated differently and considered an interim measure until a supervised consumption site is established. Because of this, it will be considered as one of three sites proposed throughout the province, along with a mobile unit in Calgary, and a site in Medicine Hat.
Current sites will not be affected during the review process, the government has promised.
A statement on behalf of Edmonton's Boyle Street, Boyle McCauley and George Spady Society sites said they were confident a review would demonstrate their value.
"Since opening in March of 2018, 726 overdoses have been reversed, and thousands of referrals have been made to external services such as treatment, detoxification, rehabilitation, health, and other services," the statement read. The three locations have counted 68,000 visits by 1,800 persons.
However, the NDP called the committee "rigged" and questioned its bias.
“The reality is until they acknowledge the science, until they talk to the experts that are actually in this field, and the people with the lived experience, then really what they’re saying to Albertans is, ‘We’ve already made up our mind, we have a bias, and we’re going to shut them down,'" said Heather Sweet, the mental health and addictions critic.
When asked about a tweet in which he questioned whether research into supervised consumption sites was funded by the pharmaceutical industry, Luan said Monday his comment was taken out of context and that Twitter wasn't the right forum to discus the topic.
"If it's valid, I wouldn't have (deleted) that," he said.
The panel will report back to government by the end of the year. Cabinet will then decide if the findings become publicly available.
Dates and times for the townhall meetings will be announced at a later time. Albertans will also be able to provide feedback online.
The panel's other members are:
- Geri Iininaatoáákii Bemister-Williams, who has been named vice chair of the committee. The criminologist and post-secondary instructor currently works at the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre in Red Deer, and previously served on the Blue Ribbon Panel on Crime Reduction in 2014.
- Dr. Charl Els, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist who is a clinical professor in the University of Alberta's psychiatry and medicine departments.
- Joan Hollihan, a health and benefits consultant whose 16-year-old son, Jeremy, died from fentanyl poisoning in 2015.
- Dr. Rob Tanguay, the medical lead for the ALberta Opioid Dependency Treatment Virtua Training Program for Addiction and Mental Health. His research involves addiction, chronic pain, opioids and cannabis.
- Dr. Ray Baker, a former B.C. physician and professor who specialized in occupational addiction medicine and recovery oriented continuing care.
- Paul Maxim, a former professor of economics at Wilfried Laurier University, who also served in positions at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Western University. He has also studied criminology and sociology.
- Steve Cormack, a Red Deer residential and commercial real estate agent. Cormack served in the RCMP for 24 years, and was a member of the consortium that established the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre.