Supervised consumption sites receive damning review by government-appointed committee
EDMONTON -- Supervised consumption sites are areas of increased crime and drug use, depolicing, and, in Edmonton, the cause of neighbourhood fractures over disagreement of their benefit, a government review has found.
Mental Health and Addictions Associate Minister Jason Luan called the findings deeply troubling when they were released Thursday.
"What we heard was a wake up call, from increases in social disorder, to discarded needles, to the near absence of referrals to retreatment and recovery," he told media.
"What we see is a system of chaos."
READ MORE: 'A system of chaos for addicts and communities' Province releases report on supervised consumption sites
In the province's capital city, the eight-person panel behind the report says it heard complaints from residents over a lack of consultation of the sites in their neighbourhood and decreased police response.
"There was community apathy to the extent that they weren't calling the police anymore," explained committee lead and former Edmonton Police Service chief Rod Knecht.
"And there was actually police officer apathy that they felt that it was very difficult to enforce the law in and around those areas," he said, adding drug traffickers have migrated to where they know there are consumers.
Edmonton was the exception city when it came to increased calls to police.
EPS said it is working to ensure the needs of the facilities are balanced with that of the surrounding areas, but that its data doesn't suggest the sites have resulted in a jump in crime or disorder. It called for more preventative and treatment services.
"We can do more than reverse overdose deaths – we can begin to assist vulnerable individuals in regaining control over their lives."
SCS LOCATIONS SOURCE OF NEIGHBOURHOOD DIVISION
In Edmonton's Chinatown, the report found a cluster of supervised consumption sites were "destroying the economic viability of the community."
Edmonton has four supervised consumption sites: a program at the Royal Alexandra Hospital run by addiction physicians, plus the Boyle Street, George Spady and Boyle McCauley facilities in the downtown core. The latter three averaged a per-visit cost of between $38 and $47. Boyle McCauley and George Spady each counted more than 8,600 visits over a six-month period over 2018 and 2019, while Boyle Street saw nearly double that on its own.
A petition of more than 2,000 signatures was handed to the government-appointed panel asking for the Edmonton sites to be suspended or closed.
"Many Albertans told us the province's current approach to meet the needs is coming at the expense of the safety of the children, their homes, their businesses, and their communities," Geri Bemister-Williams, panel co-chair, commented.
However, the panel noted the loudest advocacy in favour of supervised consumption sites was heard in Edmonton, causing – in contrast to negative stakeholder feedback – what it called "extensive cleavages."
According to the report, the committee was asked for more in-camera meetings there than anywhere else.
"Several residents indicated that they did not feel safe and would not speak at the town halls or any other public forum. Some felt they would be targeted by activists and SCS employees," the report reads. "This claim appeared valid, since Edmonton was the only location where the open intimidation of one group by another at the town hall meetings was observed."
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: REPORT
The report also questions the province's methods of tracking and recording overdoses at the sites.
When the committee started its work in September 2019, Alberta Health Services told it 6,541 "adverse events" had been responded to SCSs in Grande Prairie, Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge since 2017.
No one has died at an Alberta supervised consumption site.
But according to the report, site operators consider adverse events as overdoses, leading to an inaccurate assessment of their impact.
"There's no standardization: The definition for an overdose over here is different than over here. A reversal is different than over here," Bemister-Williams said. "Which is very problematic when we are trying to determine whether this is an answer to a crisis."
The report was quickly challenged by the Official Opposition and supporters of supervised consumption sites as a tool of harm reduction.
"How the data is analyzed and reported – I think that's a fair recommendation," Heather Sweet, NDP critic for mental health and addictions, said.
"But instead of saying that that's a rationale to close the site is what this government needs to do then is come up with a policy."
Sweet added she was unsurprised the government-mandated report was critical of supervised consumption sites.
Petra Shulz, of Moms Stop the Harm, echoed this: "It seems like a report designed to find negative findings and voila: It found negative findings."
The sites are funded for another six months while the provincial government evaluates them individually.
Afterwards, closures or relocations are a possibility.
Sweet said she'd be watching the government closely over the next half a year.
"I think this minister needs to be open and honest that if he shuts these sites down, people are going to go to the streets and they are going to die."
The panel was directed in 2019 to study the impact of supervised consumption sites without examining their "merits… as a harm reduction tool," evidence of which was said to have been collected by the previous NDP government.
READ MORE: Former EPS chief Knecht to lead review of Alberta's supervised consumption sites
With files from CTV News Calgary and CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson