Pubdate: Sat, 30 Sep 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Reevely
Page: A5


Protesters turn on Coun. Fleury for seeking the closure of temporary
tent pop-up clinic

For over a year, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has been one of
city council's most vocal backers of a supervised drug injection site
to save Ottawa drug users from overdoses. Friday, protesters crowded
outside Fleury's city hall office, calling him everything but a killer.

About 100 supporters of Overdose Prevention Ottawa and its "pop-up"
tent in a Lowertown park chanted "Shame!" and demanded he "man up!"
and face them.

They were - they are - angry over his wish that they take their tent
down now that Ottawa's health unit has opened its own small injection
site in a city building two blocks away.

Fleury, they said, will have blood on his hands if the city makes them
stop putting up their tent in Raphael Brunet Park every afternoon, as
they have for the past month. And he is repulsive for saying nearby
residents feel "hostage" to the unsanctioned site, operating on city
property without approval.

They'd rallied outside city hall, shared stories of the 1,100 visitors
they've monitored using drugs, the three overdoses they say they've
reversed. They'd talked about the hundreds of drug users across Canada
who've died as the continental opioid epidemic has become more lethal
with the arrival of fentanyl and carfentanil - overstrength opioids
tainting the supply of morphine and heroin.

"On Tuesday afternoon, the first day of the safe-injection site in
Ottawa, one-and-a-half hours into their service operating, there was
an overdose at the Sheps (the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter) two
blocks away," Leila Attar said into a bullhorn. "To me this indicates
the service, while it's commendable, is unable to meet the needs in
our city of a vulnerable population."

Attar overdosed last fall after three years of deepening drug use, she
said. Now in her 10th month of sobriety, she's dedicated herself to
helping other users.

"Instead of listening to those of us on the ground responding to this
crisis as best as we can, Fleury and his friends condemn our attempts
to respond," said Stan Kupferschmidt, a harm reduction worker at the
Somerset West Community Health Centre.

"Instead of responding with praise to our tired and exhausted
volunteers, or visiting our space, they tell us to shut down," he
objected. "Shame!" the crowd answered. They went in to deliver 600
letters of support for their operation and dozens of emptied naloxone
kits, formerly filled with a drug that can reverse overdoses.

Fleury didn't come out to see them, which led to a

(Attar and others said they'd booked a 1:15 p.m. slot in Fleury's
schedule, presumably not letting on that they'd be bringing dozens of
other people. Fleury said later they had no appointment and he had to
leave by 1:30 for a clinic visit with his infant son.)

After half an hour, the group taped their protest signs to the walls
of city councillors' shared reception area, spread the naloxone kits
out, deposited what they said were 600 letters of support for their
operation on the desk, and left. This isn't over, they said.

Fleury is frustrated that Overdose Prevention Ottawa opened their
pop-up site because Ottawa didn't have a sanctioned one, but insist on
keeping the pop-up open even though there is a permanent one now.

"They moved their yardstick," he said in an interview.

Fleury supports supervised injection sites. He supports what the
health unit is doing to speed such sites along in Ottawa. He supports
the kind of help Overdose Prevention Ottawa is providing to downtown
drug users. He supported the city's forbearance in enforcing laws that
could have shut the tent down right away.

Yet he doesn't want to back their insistence on staying in Raphael
Brunet Park now, and he won't go see the operation.

Nobody should expect to see Mayor Jim Watson at the tent: It's not in
his nature to go places where he's likely to be yelled at or made
uncomfortable, unless he'll be in the big chair and holding the gavel.
He's on record opposing supervised-injection sites anyway, even if
he's stood aside while they've moved toward approval here.

For Fleury, it's more complicated. "I just don't want to make a
political statement," he said. Going, he said, would undermine the
city's authority to control its own grounds.

But going to the tent and refusing to go to the tent are both
statements, whether he wants them to be or not, and Coun. Mathieu
Fleury is a politician.

The public-health unit made a lickety-split decision, despite
political opposition, that it would treat the operation as a form of
lifesaving "peer support," a more organized version of giving out
naloxone and teaching people the signs of overdoses. The health unit
has delivered clean needles and other gear to the tent, adding the
pop-up to a couple of dozen clinics and pharmacies it supplies.

The board of health ratified that decision last week. Fleury, a board
member, spoke and voted for it.

Nobody is trying to stop the Shepherds of Good Hope and Inner City
Health from opening their own version of an injection site on the
Shepherds' property a few blocks away. Fleury talks about a local
community-association meeting where Inner City Health's people pitched
their plan.

"The response was crickets," Fleury said. "A year ago, it would have
been completely different. People in the community realize there's a

He won't offer a checklist - he won't say "if you satisfy this, this
and this condition, everything will be OK." But clearly if the tent
weren't in a city park, the discussion would be different.

"In my mind, I've always been very supportive of supervised
injection," he said. "It's in health professionals' hands and it's
better if we can keep the politics out of it."

But it's hard to see any way the professionals at Ottawa Public Health
would have rushed to open a temporary injection site if Overdose
Prevention Ottawa hadn't forced it. They're not doing this for fun,
they're doing it because human beings are dying.

The publicly run injection site can be a huge improvement over not
having one and not enough. The pop-up site can be a lifesaving service
and is not welcome where it is.

Vancouver's pop-up injection tents are mostly in the alleys that
riddle its Downtown Eastside. Toronto's is in a large park, a bit more
separated from neighbours.

Ottawa's solution is probably for the city to find a scrap of land - a
corner of a parking lot? the edge of a public-housing property? - and
offer it up, and for Overdose Prevention Ottawa to find the grace to
accept it. Jamming Fleury up makes the world better only if it gets us
closer to that end.
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