Plan takes shape for safe injection site in PA

Coun. Evert Botha said meeting people at Access Place, a clinic that treats HIV infections, helped change his mind about drug use and harm reduction.

A plan is in motion to bring a safe injection site to Prince Albert.

Councillor Evert Botha plans to push council to lend its approval to the initiative, which he says will reduce crime, take needles off the street and help vulnerable people.

“I will be asking my fellow councillors and the mayor that we support the establishment, as a city, of a supervised injection site,” he said.

Botha has met with a range of interested stakeholders, including medical professionals and First Nations groups. He said there is a doctor willing to lead the project and submit an application to Ottawa.

Federal law requires an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for anyone wishing to open such a site, which would allow injection drug users to consume illicit substances under medical supervision. Currently, only two such facilities exist – both in Vancouver – but other Canadian cities have announced their intention to copy the model. The Liberal government recently announced new conditions they’ll need to satisfy.

The application must include a letter from council, as well as the police chief, outlining their opinions. Botha said he plans to spearhead the push to secure that support.

Police Chief Troy Cooper told the Daily Herald that his reaction would depend on the specifics of the plan. But he isn’t opposed to the idea in principle.

“The purpose of a safe injection site is so people aren’t injecting in public, because if you inject in public you’re easily victimized,” he said. “There are all sorts of public safety issues around that, to protect the person injecting, but also to protect the community.”

He wants to see more accurate data about the impact of injection sites on property crime and other offences.

“That’s the kind of thing I would look for in a proposal,” he said. “Is it balanced, taking a complete social view of drugs?”

The initiative Botha outlined includes measures to help users get into rehab and secure stable housing.

“We don’t want to have a site that is just a space to inject,” he said. “We want a site that is comfortable, clean, stable, that has nurse practitioners on staff and the motivators and councillors to assist people in making the decision to get off the dirty street drugs and consider suboxone or methadone.”

“And, eventually, steps toward rehabilitation.”

For more on this story, please see the Feb. 11 print or e-edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.