Protesters rally for overdose prevention sites

Supervised consumption tent set up in front of legislature in protest of funding cuts

Protesters gathered at Queen’s Park on Thursday to condemn the Ontario government for making cuts to overdose prevention sites (OPS) in the province. 

Three OPS’, such as St. Stephen’s Community House in Toronto’s Kensington Market, had their funding cut and are struggling to raise money in order to continue providing this service to people who need it. 

Funding for The Works, run by Toronto Public Health, and two other sites is under review. 

Protesters set up an unsanctioned safe injection tent just steps away from the Ontario Legislature.

Photo: Timo Cheah / The Dialog

“I don’t know the niceties of the criminal code but that man (Doug Ford) is ready to withdraw services that will save lives, and he’s ready to let people die, and that’s an act of criminality by any reasonable standards,” said John Clarke, former organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

By reducing the number of OPS’s in Ontario from 21 to 15, unsanctioned sites may pop up as they have in the past. Unsanctioned sites do not have a legal exemption to Canada’s drug laws but some advocates may deem it necessary.

“Honestly if you’re going to be arresting me for working a site where I’m going to be saving my friends, I really don’t give a shit,” said Brandon Bailey, a member of the Windsor overdose prevention site who was at the protest.

1,250 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes in 2017, according to Public Health Ontario.

1 in 4 opioid overdose deaths in Ontario occurred in Toronto, according to data from Toronto Public Health. 

“It’s a necessary step in order to reach treatment to have these places open where people can be free of stigma, be free of shame and be free of whatever is holding them down in life,” said Salem Springle, a former OPS worker at St. Stephen’s.

Bhutila Karpoche, NDP mental health and addictions critic, slammed the decision by Christine Elliott, minister of health and long-term care.

“The minister herself has admitted that these sites save lives and she also admitted that it’s a public health emergency,” said Karpoche. “Then she goes ahead and takes the complete opposite action. So I would like to see her not just say these things but to take action to deal with the crisis.”

On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said that residents didn’t want the sites in their backyard. 

“We went and taught the principal and the janitor of the school in our neighbourhood and we taught them how to use naloxone,” said John Henwood, lead overdose prevention site worker at St. Stephen’s. “They’ve come to us and said there’s been a big decrease in needles around the property so what we’re doing is working.”

 

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Protesters rally for overdose prevention sites