Forging into unknown territory despite some personal misgivings and community opposition, Red Deer city council approved a bylaw to allow a mobile supervised consumption site to operate.
It was an emotional night around the council table on Monday. It culminated in a vote that approved only the hospital parking lot and Safe Harbour Society as approved stops for the mobile SCS unit.
Many councillors referring to the pile of letters received from Red Deerians who want no part of any kind of safe injection site — despite Alberta Health’s argument it would save people from overdosing in the fentanyl crisis.
Those on the other side of the issue have criticized council for supposedly dragging its feet while local drug addicts die.
Coun. Tanya Handley shed tears over the implication council is responsible for overdose deaths by taking time to investigate impacts of a SCS on the community. ”I have a member of my own family on the waiting list for (drug) treatment that is not there… instead of this (SCS) we need to talk treatment,” she said.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes made an appeal for people to stop verbal assaults through social media. “I don’t want to kill anybody. That hurts when I read that,” she said, adding council is making the best decisions possible, considering “we are on new ground and no one knows what will be with mobile units.”
Coun. Lawrence Lee lashed out at drug dealers, saying more focus is needed to stem the tide of drugs getting into the province.“I’m just saying please, please, please if you get rid of the source… there are other ways of (dealing with) addictions.”
While personal qualms were expressed about a SCS, (most councillors strongly stated their preference for a local drug treatment centre — not yet funded by the province), they mostly saw a place for a SCS in preventing overdose deaths.
Coun. Vesna Higham said she was voting for the bylaw for the limits it would impose — otherwise a mobile SCS could locate anywhere in the city with only landowner approval.
The bylaw was approved unanimously (Coun. Buck Buchanan and Frank Wong were absent) — with conditions attached. To protect the general public, a license for the mobile unit will have to be reviewed in six months, only one license will be approved per calendar year, and the sites where the mobile sites will locate must be cleaned up daily from needle debris or the license will be revoked.
Mayor Tara Veer said council’s duty is to look out for the health and safety of the city’s vulnerable population — as well as everybody else.
Wyntjes argued for the mobile SCS to be a stop-gap measure. With Red Deer’s cold winters, how realistic is it to have addicted people lining up outside to use the two legalized injection sites in the trailer? she asked. “They need to have a site they can use,” so a permanent site is necessary, she added.
City council approved the hospital location at 3942-50A Avenue as an appropriate site as well as Safe Harbour, at 5246-53rd Ave. All other proposed locations are off the table.