June 18th, 2024

Hatters express safe consumption concern

By Gillian Slade on August 4, 2018.


Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston says he is receiving emails from many Hatters concerned about the proposed supervised consumption site, but reminds residents the city has little control.

“I’m getting requests for meetings from people and I’m getting inundated with emails,” said Clugston, who says he met with several business people Thursday to discuss the issue.

“I just want to say that this is a provincial initiative and even federal, because it is federally permitted, and the city really doesn’t have much say.”

Councillor Phil Turnbull feels the principle of safe consumption is reasonable but says the issue is location.

“It is really divisive especially for the people who live in the areas they want to put the site.”

Turnbull says the biggest complaint he’s heard relates to providing a safe place for illicit drug use. And until the drugs are on site, the act of possessing them is illegal.

RELATED: Safe consumption site will cost $2M per year

“You are committing an illegal act; you’re carrying illegal drugs to a zone that is federally regulated,” said Clugston.

It becomes a “safe zone” where police cannot intervene.

“If you have an outstanding warrant and they see you walk into this place, they can’t arrest you because you’re in a safe zone and untouchable,” Clugston said.

“We are not going to turn a blind eye but we’re also not going to sit there and poach drug users,” Police Chief Andy McGrogan says.

McGrogan says local police are themselves administering an antidote once or twice each week to a person overdosing. He is hoping a safe consumption site will reduce that number.

“Some of the drug users know we carry it and it seems that they are more likely to overdose and not worry about it because somebody’s got Narcan nearby that can revive them. So we’re seeing that trend a little bit,” said McGrogan.

Clugston believes any significant issues at the site will fall on the municipality, and is considering a visit to Lethbridge to see its site firsthand.

“I’ve been very clear that we are also not going to put up with any nonsense down there,” said McGrogan. “So if there’s a bunch of needles laying around … well be getting on it.”

The chief says statistics indicate many more drug users exist than the general public realizes.

“It’s a new world we are living in,” he said. “We are definitely adjusting all the time, and this is about harm reduction.”

Coun. Jamie McIntosh is totally in support of the supervised consumption site.

“The issue for me is finding the most ideal location,”

That’s the bottom line for McGrogan, too, who was asked if it’s the location on Maple Avenue where the Captain’s Cabin was located.

“Apparently,” McGrogan revealed, noting that to be “reasonable” and not near a school.

HIV Community Link has not yet confirmed a location.

“I’ll have a very tough time if they want to try and put it in an area that will affect too many taxpaying citizens,” said Turnbull. “However the city is not in total control here.”

The site is considered to be a health facility like a clinic or doctor’s office so no rezoning would be required, said Clugston. HIV Community Link basically decides where they want to put it.

“What we are trying to do is work with them to find a location that will cause the least amount of disruption to the local businesses or residents or traffic or whatever,” said Clugston.

Council could tweak bylaws but municipalities aren’t allowed to interfere for the most part, said Clugston.

A city in B.C. tried to stop a site, but was taken to court and lost. Turnbull says the city tried to restrict the location and was accused of obstruction.

“This is going to be very, very difficult situation and I hope that we can find a place that is reasonable for people to go to and yet not interfere with the mainstream of our society,” said Turnbull.

Without re-zoning required, a lease could simply be signed.

Turnbull questions the long-term consequences for building owners if other tenants move out, but a long-term lease and premium rent may make it financially lucrative.

“Don’t they have a moral obligation to do what’s right for the very place that they do business in and for their long-term tenants,” he asked.

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