Unsanctioned supervised consumption site in Lethbridge draws protests

Tempers flared near an unsanctioned supervised drug injection site that sprung up in Lethbridge over the weekend.

Organizers with the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society tried to set up their orange tent for a second night in Galt Gardens, a downtown park that has been called the epicentre of the city’s opioid crisis.

But organizer Tim Slaney, a harm reduction advocate in Lethbridge, said angry, aggressive protesters were there waiting for them, so they moved a few blocks away, and the protesters followed.

At that point, Slaney said they felt it was unsafe to let anyone come in for a supervised injection. So his team instead referred people to Alberta Health Services’ mobile site.

“I don’t consider it a victory for my opponents. Because honestly, we were in this for the long game,” he said.

The unsanctioned supervised consumption site was set up just days after the province revealed the city of 100,000 has the highest per-capita rate of opioid overdose deaths in Alberta — and three weeks after the government stopped funding ARCHES.

The non-profit society had been operating Canada’s busiest injection site, which saw on average 500 visits a day to its 13 injection booths and two inhalation rooms.

The province pulled funding for ARCHES after a financial audit found evidence of mismanagement and misuse of government funding. 

To replace the shuttered ARCHES facility, the province brought in a mobile truck with just three consumption booths. 

Slaney says he makes no apologies for what his group is doing.

“We’re worried about our community, we’re worried about the people who live there. We want people who are taking drugs, to live long, full lives, and we want everyone to just recognise that we need to have a conversation, and that a conversation needs to happen calmly, where we can all sit down and kind of share opinions and work constructively,” he said.

“It can’t happen with screaming, it can’t happen with yelling.”

The province issued a statement to CBC News from Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addiction, saying the site is illegal and is in contravention of the Criminal Code of Canada.

In a joint statement, city officials and the Lethbridge police said they are monitoring the pop up site for illegal activity.

“Further investigation and evidence would be required to support a charge related to drug consumption,” the statement said.

Officials also noted that the organizers have not obtained a permit for the tent, in violation of city rules.

“Both the City of Lethbridge and LPS would encourage anyone needing overdose prevention services to visit the Alberta Health sanctioned overdose prevention site, operated by Alberta Health Services in Lethbridge,” the statement added. 

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