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BIA chairman apologizes for 'inappropriate' comments about SCS users

At a board meeting last September, former mayor said supervised consumption site users were 'not a productive, contributing citizen'
2020-06-09 Rob Hamilton
Rob Hamilton is chair of the Downtown Barrie BIA. Image supplied

Downtown Barrie BIA chairman Rob Hamilton has apologized for comments he made at a board meeting last fall about supervised consumption site (SCS) users.

Hamilton said they were “not a productive, contributing citizen” at the Sept. 22, 2020 meeting.

A statement was provided by the BIA to BarrieToday early Saturday afternoon.

“As chair of the Downtown Barrie BIA board of directors and as a business owner in the downtown core for 46 years, I recognize there is an opioid crisis in our city and that a solution to address that issue is needed,” Hamilton said. “I also believe on an issue that impacts so many, it’s important that all views are taken into account – regardless of one’s position on the location of an SCS.

“My remarks at the BIA meeting were inappropriate, and for that I apologize,” he added. “My remarks were also not reflective of the BIA’s position nor helpful to what needs to be a collaborative and inclusive discussion around a goal that we all share – that is providing the right services in the best location for all, including those with addictions, the health-care providers, the residents and the businesses of Barrie. The BIA board and I remain committed to helping achieve that goal.”

Hamilton declined further comment on the matter Saturday when reached by BarrieToday.

An SCS provides a safe space and sterile equipment for individuals to use pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health-care staff. Consumption refers to taking opioids and other drugs by injection, smoking, snorting, or orally.

Also on Sept. 22, 2020, the BIA board passed this motion: "The Downtown Barrie Business Association does not support the existence of a safe consumption/injection site (SCS/SIS) within a one-kilometre radius of the current BIA boundary."

Barrie resident Michael Speers supports a suggestion on the city’s website ( that city council must remove Hamilton as chair of the Downtown BIA.

Speers also responded to Hamilton’s statement Saturday. 

“Not only were these comments uneducated, they were also classist and derogatory. He must resign,” Speers said. “Feigning concern at this point is insulting, especially coming from someone who profited from operating a supervised consumption site for alcohol in downtown Barrie for years."

Hamilton previously owned The Queen’s Hotel in downtown Barrie. He was also the city's mayor from 2003 until 2006.

“The BIA has delayed this process for too long, and countless people have died as a result,” Speers said. “The failure of Mr. Hamilton and the BIA to recognize the urgent need for a supervised consumption site in downtown Barrie demonstrates their unwillingness to listen to the experts. It's also a deliberate effort to put their own interests ahead of the interests of those who may benefit from this life-saving health service.”

Coun. Keenan Aylwin, who represents the downtown, also commented on Hamilton’s statement.

“I’m encouraged to hear that the chair recognizes his remarks were inappropriate,” he said. “I would like to see the chair and the organization that he leads demonstrate a greater recognition of the harm that this kind of rhetoric causes to our community. I’m hopeful that we can all come together around a shared vision of our downtown as a safe, welcoming and vibrant place for everyone.”

But Aylwin said the BIA’s position on an SCS in the downtown needs further clarification.

“I would like to see them formally rescind that motion from September, issue a formal statement in support of an SCS in the downtown where public health experts say it is needed, and stop their anti-SCS campaign,” he said. “Actions speak louder than words.

“For example, the BIA has said that an SCS ‘could have a negative impact on the downtown community and our city as a whole as one of the safest places to live in Canada.’ This is not backed up by the evidence and, unfortunately, this claim has only served to inflame the issue,” Aylwin said. “I’m confused about their position and I think their membership and the public deserve clarity.

“I’m committed to working with all community partners to share the facts with the public and downtown businesses in support of this life-saving service," he added. 

Aylwin was a member of the BIA board until October 2019, when he and Coun. Clare Riepma were replaced by Coun. Sergio Morales and later Coun. Jim Harris.

Hamilton’s comments come from the Sept. 22, 2020 BIA meeting when board members were discussing the location of an SCS.

“We gotta come with a solution, not go and wait 'til somebody chooses a site and say, ‘Oh, we disagree.' Well, you know, thanks for coming, but you’re a day late and a dollar short. Let’s come with a solution. That’s the only way, in my opinion,” Hamilton said. “We have to be forceful, so what do you want us to do? (unintelligible) Who do we go to?”

Board member Chad Ballantyne was asked his opinion.

“I’m on two planes,” he said. “One, I think everyone that lives downtown and walks downtown is a worthy citizen of Barrie and we should treat everyone…”

At this point, Ballantyne was interrupted by Hamilton.

“That’s just not true, ah Chad, they’re not a productive, contributing citizen. Are they worthy? Yes, but (unintelligible).”

“Let me finish,” Ballantyne said. “As a human, they’re worthy and we don’t want to see them die. So that’s the other side.”

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, along with Canadian Mental Health Association’s Simcoe Branch, have proposed 31 Toronto St. (back building) and 110 Dunlop St. W., Unit 4, at the corner of Toronto and Dunlop streets, as potential SCS sites. Both are within the BIA boundary.

Kelly McKenna, the BIA’s executive director, said there have been no further votes by the BIA board on the matter since September.

“To be clear, the BIA is not opposing an SCS,” she said. “We are simply seeking to have a third location added to the list for consideration — a location that meets the needs of those with addictions and those of our new broader community, including businesses, property owners, and residents within the downtown core.”

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman has said the province will determine the safe consumption site’s location, but city council will likely be asked for a motion of support for the application to the province.