Pubdate: Fri, 08 Sep 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Elise Stolte
Page: A5


Supporters of Edmonton's Chinatown packed a meeting Thursday on how to
let community members guide the implementation of the city's new
supervised injection sites.

But the olive branch was too little, too late for some, with many
residents left feeling bitter and ignored by city council's vote on
injection sites last May.

"Supervised injection is not just a health services issue," said
resident William Lau. "You know why we're frustrated, angry, why we're
scared … Do you know why we feel insulted?"

"It's to appease us, to quiet us down. You are circumventing our
opposition. We don't want to see Edmonton's Chinatown look like
(Vancouver's) East Hastings," said Ratan Lawrence, head of the
Chinatown Business Association.

"City council just wants to be seen as doing something."

Edmonton's city council voted to endorse a plan to set up several
supervised injection sites in the inner core. One site would be at the
Royal Alexandra Hospital for in-patients. Three other sites in
McCauley and Central McDougall would stagger opening hours to give
near round-the-clock access, specifically targeting those now
injecting on the street.

After the endorsement, council voted to set up a community advisory
board with representation from the community, health services and city

But members of the Chinese community are still angry at the decision,
at the concentration of sites, worried it will hurt redevelopment of
the area and cause more drug traffic. Roughly 40 members packed the
meeting room Thursday, filling extra chairs and listening quietly as
four representatives spoke.

They want to have one site in the inner city instead of four, and see
a move to join the advisory board as endorsing the current plan. They
also criticized the advisory board as having too narrow a scope,
asking for it to be postponed until after Ottawa approves a strategy
for these sites in Edmonton. They're trying to influence that strategy
through lobbying members of Parliament.

"This is a road of no return, so we have to be very careful," said
Michael Lee, chairman of the Chinese Benevolent Association Advisory
Board. If these sites are approved, they will stay, he said,
referencing a past Supreme Court decision that prevented government
from shutting down the site in Vancouver.

Ward 6 Coun. Scott McKeen said he knows community members are angry
and frustrated, but stressed council's only role in this was to write
a letter of support for a provincial plan.

"You claim this is just to appease you. But I see it as an invitation
to come to the table," said Coun. Bev Esslinger.

Edmonton's opioid overdose rates have stabilized but remain high,
according to an official update just before the advisory committee
debate. Eighty people have died this year from a fentanyl-related overdose.

The highest concentration of those deaths and overdoses has been in
the core, but higher total numbers are spread across the rest of the
city, where people inject alone in their homes.

After debate, council's community services committee voted to postpone
formation of the advisory committee. In turn, community members agreed
to participate in the city's work on a community wellness plan, which
is intended to address the social disorder now common in the inner

Lee said that is a positive step. "I look forward to working with you
on that," Mayor Don Iveson told the community. "I see that as an
opportunity to rebuild trust."
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