Vancouver’s health authority has applied for two new supervised-injection sites to combat a drug overdose crisis that has taken more than 100 lives in the city this year.
While announcing the applications, both the mayor and chief medical health officer renewed a call for the federal government to repeal “flawed and mean-spirited” legislation that is time consuming and makes it extremely difficult to establish new sites.
Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act, was passed by the previous Conservative government and requires cities to meet 26 criteria before applying.
“We have over a dozen people a month dying in Vancouver this year of overdose deaths,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said at a news conference Monday.
“Every month we lose because of Bill C-2, and an onerous process that’s totally unnecessary and overboard, means we’re losing dozens of people.”
The new Liberal government has supported harm reduction but has not committed to repealing the bill. Health Minister Jane Philpott said in September she has asked her staff to review the criteria and change anything that poses an unnecessary barrier.
Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver’s chief medical health officer, said it took months to put together the applications for the new sites.
The sites would be located inside two community health centres in the Downtown Eastside: the Heatley Integrated Health Centre and the new Downtown Eastside Mental Health and Substance Use Drop-In Centre, set to open in the new year.
Just one of the applications took up five binders. Daly said the binders contained various documents to meet the criteria, including detailed policies and procedures for the site’s operations, elaborate site drawings, letters of support and the results of a community consultation.
One of the most onerous requirements is the need for full criminal record checks going back 10 years for all staff who will work at the sites, even if they have immigrated from other countries, she said.
“We believe some of it is completely unnecessary, like the need for scientific evidence of the benefit of supervised injection sites. That’s already been well-established,” added Daly.
“I think it would be quite simple for Health Canada to take a look at these criteria and decide which make sense and which don’t make sense.”
She said she can’t speculate on how long it will take for Health Canada to process the applications but the authority hopes to open the sites as soon as possible in the new year.
Vancouver Coastal Health also hopes to submit more applications in the future, including for a women’s-only centre, she added.
Health Canada under the federal Liberal government has been quicker to renew Vancouver’s only stand-alone site, Insite, as well as approve a long-standing application for supervised-injection services in the Dr. Peter Centre, a HIV/AIDS care centre, Daly added.
She said approval of supervised-injection sites should rest with the provinces, as the level of government responsible for health-care services.
British Columbia’s Health Minister Terry Lake said in a statement that the province supports new supervised consumption sites. He said three million injections have been done at Insite since it opened in 2003 and no one has died.
B.C. declared a public health emergency earlier this year over a spike in overdose deaths, many of them linked to the dangerous opioid fentanyl.
Daly said as of Sept. 30, 110 people had died of illicit drug overdoses in Vancouver in 2016.
Toronto, Montreal and Victoria are among the other cities in Canada that are working toward establishing supervised-injection sites.
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
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