Provincial government reduces funding for supervised consumption sites in Ontario
Protesters disrupted question period at the Ontario Legislature on Tuesday, holding a banner reading “Cuts Will Kill.”
The Ontario government announced on Friday that 15 supervised consumption sites in Ontario were approved, down from the 21 that operated previously.
The federal government then stepped in with an emergency exemption that allows them to continue to legally operate for another month, but does not provide any funding.
“Please, this is a public health emergency!” one of the protesters shouted. “Where are people supposed to go?”
Premier Doug Ford said the government was trying to keep a balance between the concerns of Cabbagetown residents living near the sites and the people who use them.
“There’s really no reason to have four sites within a kilometre of one neighbourhood,” said Ford at a press conference.
“It’s ‘okay, yeah help them, but not in my back yard’,” Ford said was the response from local residents’ to the supervised consumption sites nearby. “That’s the reality of things.”
One of the three sites in Toronto not on the approval list is The Works, run by Toronto Public Health, which opened in November 2017. The Works is continuing to operate but its ongoing funding is currently under review.
“Too many people are dying and these are preventable deaths,” said Dr. Eileen De Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. “We will continue providing these life-saving services to the community as we look forward to receiving more details from the province.”
As of March 31, there were 40,941 visits to The Works according to the Toronto Overdose Information System. There were 764 visits where an overdose occurred, including 291 visits where the client required naloxone.
The needle exchange program at The Works also provides drug users with sterile hypodermic needles, alcohol swabs and related supplies.
“It’s disgusting for the Ford Conservatives to rip support away from people suffering from addictions and dismiss the very real life-and-death consequences of funding cuts to overdose prevention sites as ‘rhetoric’,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
She was responding to Silvia Jones, minister of community safety and correctional services, who said that the NDP should “turn down the rhetoric a bit.”
Jones said that these sites are only one step to providing support to drug users. Funding to rehabilitation centres was another factor that was considered in their decision.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there have been 9,000 opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and June 2018.