May 19th, 2019

Passion on all sides at drug site meet

By GILLIAN SLADE on February 14, 2019.

NEWS PHOTO EMMA BENNETT
Marci Marshall, president of the Centre View Condo Association, discusses her concerns about the location of a proposed safe consumption site at at 502 S. Railway Street. Leslie Hill, executive director of HIV Community Link, MP Glen Motz, MLA Drew Barnes, and Insp. Brent Secondiak all spoke during the meeting and answered questions from attendees at the public meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.

gslade@medicinehatnews.com@MHNGillianSlade

Delaying a supervised consumption site to allow for public consultation is what many in attendance at a public meeting Wednesday wanted, while others warned lives could be lost in the interim.

It is a polarizing topic that people are passionate about but “meaningful consultation” is needed, said Marci Marshall, president of the Centre View Condo Association, homeowners located adjacent to the coming site at 502 S. Railway St., who arranged the meeting that attracted about 200 people.

Attendees were offered an opportunity to sign a petition to the federal government asking for a delay in approving the site.

HIV Community Link, which has the Alberta Health contract to provide a local site, sent out 6,000 post cards to inform the community and held invitation-only meetings to consult with the community, executive direcdtor Leslie Hill told the audience.

A downtown employer in attendance asked for a show of hands from people who’d received a postcard or who were contacted directly by HIV Community Link.

Seven people raised their hands.

The failure to consult adequately with the community started with the failure to even ask Hatters if they wanted a SCS, said Drew Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat.

The provincial government “acted with impunity” and should have ensured city council and the public was involved in the decision making process, said Barnes calling for the project to be put on hold and allow people to be heard.

Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner, was not able to attend due to being in Edmonton, a representative from his office said.

Colleen Westgarth shared a personal story of the loss of her 33 year-old son to an overdose. When he had difficulty breathing in his basement apartment he called 911. When EMS reached him it was too late.

“He died alone,” said Westgarth. “Why don’t we give this a chance? These are not bad people.”

Addiction has no social boundaries, she said.

“There will be other (sites) here in Medicine Hat I guarantee it,” said Westgarth. “I am pleading with you to have an open mind.”

MP Glen Motz was in attendance and said every life is worth saving, but felt the supervised consumption site must not be the only panacea to address addiction. He wants Alberta Health to provide a budget of $4 to $6 million a year for on-demand addiction treatment.

Motz says he has met with the federal health minister and asked for Health Canada’s criteria for granting an exemption for a site to be examined.

Bill Milroy is the owner of the building that The Post is in – across the road from the site’s location.

“I’m concerned property values will go down immediately,” said Milroy.

Safety for people in the area is a concern and he worries drug dealers will operate from the car parking lot on his property. He also has new tenants on the second floor and they are expressing concerns.

Former city councillor Les Pearson sees the site as a “halfway solution.” He believes the government should be providing the drugs as medical treatment, suggesting the method’s effectiveness in countries such as Switzerland.

“A clean narcotic, get their shot and go to work,” said Pearson.

Medicine Hat already has drug houses all over the city, said Pearson.

MHPS Insp. Brent Secondiak says these are houses operated by drug dealers and can be used for consumption, too.

“At one point there have been at least 17,” said Secondiak.

Numerous city councillors were in attendance, as was Mayor Ted Clugston.

Hill was concerned that further consultation would put those waiting for supervised consumption in danger.

The consultation required by Canada Health is not about the location but rather on an ongoing basis to address concerns in the community, said Hill. She says drug consumption is already taking place in the area, and supervised consumption offers an alternative where they can also seek help for their addiction.

Note: Comments from Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and the fact Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner was not in attendance have been added to this story. A sentence that stated Mayor Ted Clugston was not in attendance has been changed to reflect that in fact he was present.

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