Pubdate: Wed, 01 Nov 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jeff Gray
Page: A15


Talks to move Toronto's illegal popup supervised drug-use site inside
a nearby homeless centre have failed, but the harm-reduction activists
who have been setting up their tents in an east-end park every evening
say they plan to stay put.

The crowdfunded, volunteer-driven Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance
(THRA) has operated its controversial pop-up site in Moss Park near
Sherbourne and Queen Streets since August, with tacit approval from
police and city officials amid a growing number of opioid overdose

The activists behind the site, which allows drug users to shoot up
with a nurse and a supply of the anti-opioid drug naloxone on hand,
say they have reversed scores of overdoses.

The city has one legal supervised injection site, which officials
rushed to open near Yonge-Dundas Square in the summer after the
activists set up in Moss Park. Two more legal clinics are set to open,
but not for several weeks.

Many, including Mayor John Tory, have said that while they support the
activists' efforts, a city park is not a suitable location. The
activists had been in negotiations for weeks with city officials and
the nearby Fred Victor centre for the homeless about moving their
operation indoors as the nights grow cold.

But on Wednesday, the activists are set to publicly announce they have
been told Fred Victor is refusing to host them without an official
exemption from federal drug laws, something the activists argue could
take months to obtain.

Instead, they plan to keep operating in Moss Park by potentially
bringing in a heated trailer as the weather worsens, something they
say city officials have said is forbidden. They also argue that
operating without a Health Canada exemption allows them to do things a
legal site cannot, such as offer a tent where drug-users can also
smoke up, rather than only inject.

"We're going to be staying where we are," Matt Johnson, a harm
reduction worker and one of the activists behind the site, said in an
interview on Tuesday. "We can't continue in tents, so we'll be doing
something else."

Fred Victor's executive director, Mark Aston, did not respond to
multiple requests for comment.

City councillor Joe Cressy, who chairs the city's drug strategy
implementation panel and has been in the middle of the talks, said
Fred Victor is now planning to apply for its own exemption from Health
Canada to set up a legal supervised drug-use site at its Queen and
Jarvis Streets location near Moss Park.

But Mr. Cressy says Health Canada assured Toronto Public Health
officials this week that it could approve an exemption for Fred Victor
in as little as two-to-four weeks. (To The Globe, Health Canada would
only say that it reviews all applications "as quickly as possible.")

Opening the new legal site at Fred Victor could take still more time,
Mr. Cressy said. But he supports allowing the pop-up to operate in
Moss Park in the mean time and says the law needs to be changed to
allow the city to support pop-up sites in other places. "When a law is
resulting in the unnecessary loss of life, I think it is perfectly
understandable that they would break the law, and I support that," Mr.
Cressy said.

The breakdown in talks between Fred Victor and the activists comes
even as Mr. Johnson says the illegal pop-up has been told it will
receive government cash, indirectly through existing agencies. He
could not say how much. Mr. Cressy said the city is not allowed to
offer funding to the pop-up, but that he supports changing those rules.

In an e-mailed statement, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins called
the activists "courageous" and noted the province is supplying them
with naloxone and testing kits to detect the presence of the powerful
opioid fentanyl in street drugs. He said his staff is working to move
the area's supervised drug-use services indoors. His e-mail did not
respond directly to a question about funding.

Meanwhile, some local businesses are losing their patience with the
site, even though the area is well-known for homelessness and drug
use. Some say the site's presence has resulted in more open drug use
elsewhere in the neighbourhood and attracted more drug dealers.

Rob Cesta has run Drift Outfitters and Fly Shop, a fly-fishing store
on Queen Street East directly across from Moss Park, for the past two
years. He says he supports supervised drug-use sites, but wants the
pop-up moved indoors.

"Drug use, public urination, drug deals, violent assault, you name
it," Mr. Cesta said. "It's all out there."
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