Pubdate: Tue, 09 Jan 2018
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Kelly Egan
Page: A1


Surveillance intimidates clients, staff at Inner City Health's safe
injection site

All is not rosy at Ottawa's first sanctioned safe injection site in

The executive director of Ottawa Inner City Health, which operates the
legal drug-taking site from a trailer at Shepherds of Good Hope, said
Ottawa police regularly have a cruiser parked by the steps to the facility.

"We are having really significant problems currently and we're hoping
we can resolve them," said Wendy Muckle.

While the presence of the cruiser alone is intimidating to some, other
clients and even the odd staff member have been questioned by police,
Muckle said.

"My staff can't walk between (Shepherd) buildings without being
stopped by the police. It's incredible."

 From inception, safe injection sites were founded on this conundrum:
it is against the law to possess and transport the drugs that clients
would take into the health-care facility but prosecution on the
premises, under federal exemption, is not allowed.

"The situation right now is unbearable, certainly for us and our

Muckle said she's been "blown away" by the number of people using the
facility, which has roughly 10 booths or stations for supervised drug
consumption. Anywhere from 130 to 170 clients are using the trailer
every day, she said.

The 24-hour trailer on King Edward Avenue opened in November and,
during the first few weeks, police were "incredibly supportive," she
explained, but something seems to have changed. She understands that
police have a job to do and are frequently at Shepherds, which runs an
emergency shelter and associated programs, for legitimate reasons.

"We don't want drug dealers setting up a kiosk outside our trailer and
operating with impunity," she said. "What we're not on side with is
about harassing people who are trying to get there to use the service
or who are leaving the service."

Ottawa is soon to have two other permanent sites - at community health
centres in Sandy Hill and Somerset West - so the issue of police
response is an emerging one, no doubt to suffer growing pains.

While Chief Charles Bordeleau was never a fan of safe injection sites,
Ottawa police acting Supt. Sterling Hartley said Monday officers have
a good working relationship with Inner City Health. He is aware of
Inner City's concerns.

"We are regularly at the Shepherds (and have been for years) for a
variety of issues and calls for service. We don't foresee this
changing," Hartley wrote in response.

"Our officers need to park on site and we will continue to work with
staff to ensure they are not blocking access to any of their
facilities. We don't want to discourage clients from using the facility."

There are factions in the police community who believe safe injection
sites come with an informal amnesty zone in which police would not
enforce drug laws.

Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof said in Vancouver, home
to North America's longest-operating injection site, there is an
informal four-block radius around Insite in which police will not
charge an individual for possession of illegal drugs.

The problem, he added, is that dealers know this and can simply trade
contraband near the location.

"It will end up being the policy in Ottawa. There's no other way for
the sites to operate without having that exclusion zone, so to speak."

The worry among some merchants and residents is that a four-block
radius, if applied to Shepherds and the Sandy Hill spot, takes in a
good swath of downtown east of the Rideau Canal.

"People will be buying and selling in that area and there will be no
enforcement of drug trafficking," said Skof.

Look at last summer's pop-up site, he said, a service that had no
legal standing in a Lowertown park. It operated for almost 80 days.

However, both the Vancouver and Ottawa police said there is no bubble
zone around injection sites where the law won't be applied.

"We don't have an amnesty like that in Ottawa," said Hartley. "We
would enforce drug trafficking, people openly selling drugs for money,
because the community wouldn't tolerate that."

But he added: "Our officers aren't after simple possessions."

Furthermore, he said, a person can't simply be stopped and searched at
random unless an officer has reasonable and probable grounds of
criminal activity.

"We have no special plan for enforcement there," the senior officer
said, when asked what provisions the police are making for safe
injection locations. "We just want to make sure it's safe for the client."

Muckle said she's had several contacts with Ottawa police in the last
few days and hopes things are being ironed out. Inner City hopes to
eventually move from the trailer to a more suitable location on the
Shepherds property.
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