Pubdate: Sat, 11 Feb 2017
Source: Prince Albert Daily Herald (CN SN)
Copyright: 2017 Prince Albert Daily Herald
Author: Arthur White-Crummey
Page: A1


Evert Botha promises his "unwavering support" for the project, and
plans to lobby to make it a reality

Steps are in motion to bring a safe injection site to Prince Albert,
as part of a comprehensive plan for treating infectious disease and
drug addiction.

Councillor Evert Botha plans to push council to lend its approval to
the initiative, which he says will reduce crime, take needles off the
street and help vulnerable people.

"I will be asking my fellow councillors and the mayor that we support
the establishment, as a city, of a supervised injection site," he said.

Botha has met with a range of interested stakeholders, including
medical professionals and First Nations groups. He said there is a
doctor willing to lead the project and submit an application to Ottawa.

Federal law requires an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act for anyone wishing to open such a site, which would
allow injection drug users to consume illicit substances under medical
supervision. Currently, only two such facilities exist - both in
Vancouver - but other Canadian cities have announced their intention
to copy the model. The Liberal government recently announced new
conditions they'll need to satisfy.

The application must include a letter from council, as well as the
police chief, outlining their opinions. Botha said he plans to
spearhead the push to secure that support.

Police Chief Troy Cooper told the Daily Herald that his reaction would
depend on the specifics of the plan. But he isn't opposed to the idea
in principle. "The purpose of a safe injection site is so people
aren't injecting in public, because if you inject in public you're
easily victimized," Cooper said. "There are all sorts of public safety
issues around that, to protect the person injecting, but also to
protect the community."

He wants to see more accurate data about the impact of injection sites
on property crime and other offences.

"That's the kind of thing I would look for in a proposal," he said.
"Is it balanced, taking a complete social view of drugs?"

The initiative Botha outlined includes measures to help users get into
rehab and secure stable housing.

"We don't want to have a site that is just a space to inject," he
said. "We want a site that is comfortable, clean, stable, that has
nurse practitioners on staff and the motivators and councillors to
assist people in making the decision to get off the dirty street drugs
and consider suboxone or methadone."

"And, eventually, steps toward rehabilitation."

Botha said he is also supporting a push to open a care home for people
with infectious diseases, like HIV and hepatitis. He said the idea is
based on Sanctum, a hospice that opened just over a year ago in
Saskatoon. Botha toured the site during the SUMA convention last week.

In Prince Albert, the new home would complement the work done at the
supervised injection site, providing a ready means to house users in
need of medical care.

Data shows that the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region has the
highest HIV transmission rate in the province. The region reported
that fifty people tested positive for new HIV infections in 2015, more
than ten times the rate in Canada as a whole.

The health region runs Access Place, a clinic that tests for
infectious diseases and provides treatment and counseling to patients.
They informed the Daily Herald that approximately 150 people are
currently linked to care at the clinic.

The majority of infections, the centre's records show, are likely
caused by injection druguse.

In Botha's view, that data proves the need for more robust harm
reduction measures to stem the spread of disease.

He said he expects pushback and opposition, but says he's willing to
"take the heat." The application requires public consultation,
providing an opportunity for opponents and supporters to face off and
voice their concerns.

Botha suspects that some criticisms of the project are "ill informed"
and based on "prejudice." He said he used to be an opponent himself,
but talking to people at Access Place opened his mind "and heart."

As a downtown business owner, he said he saw the need to look for new
strategies to get drug users, and needles, off the street.

"I'm sitting here as a person who has done a 180-degree turn on drug
use," he said. "I used to be one of the people who opposed the needle
exchange out of ignorance and not knowing the big picture."

Even with council, police and public support, a supervised injection
site isn't a lock. The federal conditions also require letters from
the provincial ministers of justice and health. In an email to the
Daily Herald in December, the provincial government did not appear to
support the idea.

"Safe injection sites are not being considered under the provincial
model of care for addictions, as it is not the only means of linking
IV drug users to supports and care," government spokesperson Karen
Hill wrote.

The government also seemed unsure on how it would respond to an
application from a third-party site.

"Since the Ministry of Health has not pursued safe injection, we have
not done an analysis of the requirements for third party sites," Hill

Botha said he is willing to lend his voice to efforts to win over the
ministers. Saskatoon is already pressing for its own project.

"Should we as a community, should we as a council agree to this, I
would certainly make myself available to lobby the minister of justice
and the minister of health," he said.

First Nations support might provide another way to move the project
forward, he explained, by making a place for the site on an urban reserve.

"It is absolutely essential," he said, "that we have our First Nations
at the table as part of the consultation process."

As for council, Botha knows he will have to contend with the strong
opposition Mayor Dionne has expressed. But he thinks he can bring
around enough of his colleagues to get council's support for the plan.

"I have no doubt that the rest of council are going to vote and say
yes, let's do it."
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