While many attendees had hoped for some fireworks at the Ward 2 All-Candidates Forum on Tuesday night, lead moderator Sean George explained to BarrieToday that he didn’t think debating between candidates was a productive use of time.
The event was moderated by Craig Stevens from the Downtown Barrie BIA, Gerry Croteau from the Gilbert Centre and Sean George, who is a local artist and downtown resident.
Candidates Keenan Aylwin, Richard Forward, Yolanda Gallo and Rose Romita were all present for the forum at the Five Points Theatre, however some of the candidates and audience members had other plans for the forum, specifically when it came to the topic of a potential downtown overdose prevention site (OPS).
Midway through the forum, Aylwin pivoted after being asked a question about arts and culture in the community.
“I’d like to take a second to address an issue that’s come up a few times tonight,” he started. “It’s so important that I think we have to talk about it. It’s an uncomfortable conversation that we need to have.
“I’m disappointed and I’m saddened that this has become an issue that people are playing politics with, because that’s playing politics with the lives of some of the vulnerable people in our community, and that’s not right,” Aylwin added.
Earlier in the evening, both Romita and Forward were asked whether they supported a safe injection site in the downtown, and they both said they weren’t in favour.
“Recently MP Alex Nuttall tweeted about safe injection sites in Barrie asking residents to not vote for a candidate who supports an OPS... what is your position in regards to an OPS in the City of Barrie?” moderator Gerry Croteau asked Romita.
“That’s a very touchy subject, obviously over the past couple of weeks,” replied Romita. “I do not support having an OPS in the downtown core without services. If we just put it there and let people use it as an injection site, we’re just normalizing it.
“What are we telling people? If we’re going to put it there, then we need to put them through some kind of program so they don’t have to come back. I don’t want to normalize it,” she added. “We have enough problems in the downtown core.”
Forward was also asked by Croteau why he doesn’t support an OPS. He talked about his experience working recently to clean up the Milligan’s Pond area.
“I personally picked up over 50 needles,” said Forward. “In that whole area, there wasn’t a single beer can. So, obviously beer cans are monetized and there’s a culture of taking those cans and taking them to the Beer Store to collect the money.
“My thinking was, how else do we deal with the issue of discarded needles? We could also have metal dispensers on our hydro poles. I don’t support a safe injection site in the downtown,” he finished.
Later in the forum, when Aylwin decided to speak out about comments made about the OPS, he clarified his own position on the possibilities.
“We need to look at the evidence when it comes to overdose prevention sites. Every expert, every peer-reviewed study shows that not only do they save lives, they reduce public drug use, they reduce public disorder, they make it more likely that people will access addiction services and supports – 30 to 35% more likely,” Aylwin said to applause from the audience.
“I understand that some of the candidates here want to create a wedge issue, but let’s look at actually saving lives and doing what the experts tell us,” he added. “Dr. Lisa Simon, who is the associate medical officer with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, supports them and knows that the evidence does support them. Why are we worried about finding needles in the park?”
“This isn’t a wedge issue,” Forward interjected. “We have to decentralize our services. We have many, many services in the downtown. Look at Barrie’s social housing. I was the president for 11 years. There’s 14 sites throughout Barrie integrated into the neighbourhoods, decentralized. Look at the food bank...” he trailed off.
“Yeah, people can’t get to the food bank! I hear stories of that all the time,” responded Aylwin.
Forward continued, ignoring Aylwin’s response.
“People get to the food bank from Innisfil, Oro-Medonte and Barrie; they come from all over through different ways. We need to help our businesses in the downtown. We need to make the downtown safe. People don’t feel safe,” said Forward.
“Richard, people are finding needles in front of their businesses,” said Aylwin.
At this point, George interjected.
“We’re not going to go into that debate format,” said the moderator.
Members from the audience started yelling to allow the candidates to debate the issue, however they were ignored by moderators who proceeded to another audience question.
Gallo did not speak about the OPS issue.
Other issues discussed during the debate were support of arts and culture, bringing businesses into the downtown, LGBT inclusion, the waterfront master plan, plans for the library and diversity.
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