Premier Kenney defends supervised drug consumption site funding freeze
Premier Jason Kenney is rejecting opposition accusations he’s putting Albertans at risk following a move to freeze funding for proposed new supervised consumption sites.
The Opposition NDP has labelled the freeze as part of a covert government plan to cancel not only the proposed sites, but also existing ones in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.
Those existing supervised consumption sites were created by the former NDP government as a way to combat the opioid overdose epidemic, and new sites in Red Deer and Medicine Hat, along with a mobile site in Calgary, are now on hold.
Kenney says each proposed site will need to undergo a review as part of a campaign promise to study the benefits of consumption sites and potential for increased crime.
He specifically alluded to the supervised consumption site at the Sheldon Chumir Centre in Calgary, where Kenney said, “there has been a massive increase in crime and the harassment of people who can no longer live safely in their own community.”
Kenney added his government will remain committed to helping people addicted to opioids and other drugs with $100 million earmarked over the next four years as part of a mental health and addictions strategy.
“This government will make unprecedented investments in treatment and recovery to offer a way out of the downward spiral of addiction that is claiming too many lives,” he said.
Not everyone is on board with the call for reviews.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley accused Kenney of “turning your back on vulnerable Albertans,” noting that the sites have prevented an estimated 2,400 overdose deaths.
“Those sites are literally saving lives every day,” Notley told the Legislature on Monday.
“A delay in sites will mean more lives lost. A closure of sites will mean even more lives lost.”
Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said a recent report from Calgary police revealed crime has increased more than 50 per cent around the supervised consumption site since it opened at the Sheldon Chumir Centre.
“That’s very alarming,” he said from the Legislature in Edmonton.
“So it’s really a question of, when people are concerned about this, have we done the proper way of providing those services?”
The reviews are expected to take place in the coming weeks but there is no word on how long they will take and no official deadline.
Kenney appointed Luan to help determine the best way to spend the $100 million in dedicated funds.
Luan, a former social worker, said he believes in the importance of supervised consumption sites but only as a part of a larger continuum of care.
He said existing sites will remain open during the review.
Heather Sweet, the NDP critic on mental health and addictions, said the government is already sending a negative message by freezing funds for existing sites.
“They’re going to look at trying to find a way to close (all) these sites,” said Sweet.
(With files from the Canadian Press)