A survey conducted by Red Deer’s Downtown Business Association showed overwhelming support for a permanent supervised consumption site at Turning Point, but it wasn’t presented to council when the issue was debated.
According to Amanda Gould, DBA executive director, it was not officially shown to council because there were concerns with the survey’s reliability, saying people were able to vote more than once, and the survey could have been forwarded to people outside the downtown business community for their input.
Documents obtained through a freedom of information act request show a first survey conducted in November by the DBA revealed 75 per cent of survey participants, out of 135 responses, supported a supervised consumption site at Turning Point in downtown Red Deer.
City manager Craig Curtis said the city was aware of the survey, however, it wasn’t included in the DBA’s presentation on Dec. 19, 2017 so it wasn’t put before council.
The survey was first suggested to the DBA by Jason Stephan, a lawyer and accountant with CA Tax Law, and president of the Red Deer Taxpayers Association.
After the first survey, Gould spoke with the DBA board and suggested a second survey with more controls to keep it focused to the business community. The board agreed.
The subsequent survey, with fewer participants, instead asked “The supervised consumption site being proposed is downtown within Turning Point, the local Harm Reduction Agency, on Little Gaetz (4611 50th Avenue) Do you have any concerns with this location?”
The second survey was presented to council.
It had much different numbers, but also had fewer respondents. Of the 77 responses, 71 per cent said they have concerns about a supervised consumption site at Turning Point. The second survey was limited to businesses in the downtown area and was presented to council on Dec. 19, 2017.
The next day council decided to limit a permanent supervised consumption site to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
In the first survey with 174 respondents, 77 per cent said an supervised consumption site is needed in Red Deer. The second question showed that 75 per cent of 135 respondents said the supervised consumption site should be at Turning Point.
After the results were released, Stephan cast doubt about its reliability, citing the possibility of people voting more than once or the survey being forwarded to people outside of the business community.
Stephan relayed those concerns to Councillors Tanya Handley and Vesna Higham. Both councillors voted against allowing a supervised consumption site at Turning Point. Stephan said he sent them his thoughts because he believed they are more focused on treatment solutions, as he is, for people with opioid addictions.
“I wanted to draw to your attention real concerns with the potential unreliability of this survey’s results should it ever be raised as an argument,” he wrote in an email to the councillors.
“A supervised consumption site is not in the best interests of our community or the interests of those trapped in these awful drug addictions.”
Gould said she continues to hear from downtown businesses who aren’t supportive of a supervised consumption site located at Turning Point, or in the downtown area in general.
Council recently gave first reading to a licensing bylaw amendment that would allow for a mobile supervised consumption site. Five locations in Red Deer are being considered for its location. The amendment will return to council at its May 28 meeting, but isn’t subject to a public hearing because it is not required under licensing bylaws.