Emotions were high last night at London’s Policies and Environment Committee meeting. The public gallery was packed and overflow rooms were used for Londoners waiting to speak.
At the forefront of everyone’s mind was the last subject on the docket- policies for safe consumption facilities.
The policies that were presented by Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU), were designed to ensure the sites would be adequate for those who would potentially be using the services and to avoid land use conflicts. The criteria that was suggested included keeping the sites a considerable distance away from highly trafficked spots by the public, like schools and community areas, while maintaining a close proximity to public transportation for better access.
Before the motion was voted on, more than 35 members of the public shared their thoughts on the sites.
The public hearing was a steady stream of frustration. Although the gallery was reminded on three separate occasions that the hearing was about the suggested policies for these locations, that was generally ignored and many members of the public spoke strictly about specific locations.
One man, a resident of the proposed site at 241 Simcoe Street, called out Dr. Chris Mackie the Chief Medical Officer of the MLHU. He questioned why Dr. Mackie was not present to hear the concerns directly from the public, but much to his surprise, Dr. Mackie was present and waved to the man from the floor.
Another woman spoke anonymously as a reformed drug addict and as a mother of a user. She explained that her daughter was recently on death’s doorstep after being stabbed in the neck this past summer.
“I don’t want these exchanges, I don’t want this support.”
Choking back her tears, she elaborated on why she was vehemently against the proposed sites.
“In my worst moments as an addict the last thing I would have ever done was get up and even gone next door to a safe injection site because the reality is- I just wanted to die.
I spoke to (my daughter) myself and asked her, ‘Is this something you would ever use? Or any of your friends who are also drug addicts?’ The answer is no.”
A lawyer representing more than 100 individuals residing at, or close to 241 Simcoe Street took the floor for almost 10 full minutes.
She provided a letter with 119 signatures that cited specific issues these individuals have.
“They are very concerned that the Health Unit and the city have not been listening. They haven’t heard their voices. Their concerns to date have been avoided rather than addressed.”
The motion was ultimately passed 5-0, without Coun. Stephen Turner present.
The policies will now head to City Council for revision on May 22nd.
The MLHU, with endorsement from City Council, has applied for 2 permanent safe consumption facilities at 241 Simcoe Street and 446 York Street as well as a mobile unit two weeks ago. They are awaiting approval from Health Canada.