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OPIOID CRISIS, PART 4: MP worries 'catastrophe' will follow if Bradford St. site is selected

Facility would require unofficial four-block amnesty zone where local police wouldn't enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Nuttall

One of the sites that has been identified to potentially house a safe injection/consumption site is 21 Bradford St., which is the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) services building in downtown Barrie.

Matt Turner, harm reduction co-ordinator with the Gilbert Centre, the lead agency in an application to bring a Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) facility to Barrie, says the Bradford Street location is only one of the places being looked at in the downtown core.

The Gilbert Centre expects to submit its application to the province early this year, Turner said. 

The CTS model, which the PC government says will include "wrap-around care" and improved access to treatment, replaces the former overdose prevention site (OPS) model under the previous Liberal government. The Gilbert Centre applied for an OPS in April 2018, but a decision was never made before the change in provincial governments.

Under the former OPS model, the facility could have been something as austere as a trailer, but what the new CTS approach could include remains to be seen. 

Whatever form it takes, Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte (BSOM) MP Alex Nuttall says several aspects of a proposed injection site worry him.

In order for such a facility (which he refers to as an “illegal-drug injection site”) to run properly, Nuttall says it would require an unofficial four-block amnesty zone where local police officers would not enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

“This means needles on the street and a higher risk of major crimes in the area,” Nuttall said in his 49-page report on the opioid crisis, which was released in late-November.

The federal government is responsible for granting exemptions to the CDSA for the area around injection sites.

Nuttall said he supports prevention and education programs in hopes of addressing the problem and, furthermore, treatment centres, but says he doesn’t support a place where someone can go shoot heroin.

“Catastrophe follows it,” he said.

Referencing a mailer sent to BSOM constituents, recently elected downtown city councillor Keenan Aylwin says Nuttall is being "dishonest" in the picture he's painting around the local opioid crisis, while adding "this rhetoric is dangerous."

"What I saw in my mailbox today has convinced me that I have to speak up and call out dishonest behaviour when I see it," Aylwin wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. "This goes too far. The Member of Parliament for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte has put out a taxpayer-funded letter about the opioid crisis that is misleading, inaccurate and that plays up fear to divide us and distract us."

Aylwin added: "Let’s be clear about what he is doing – he is using the lives of the some of the most vulnerable in our community to score political points. This is disgusting, it’s dishonest and it’s below him."

The area around Dunlop and Bradford streets already has a large homeless population due to the number of social services there, as well as the added community stress of former prisoners from Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene being dropped off at the downtown bus terminal, Nuttall said. 

“To add a safe injection site so nearby would create a magnet for out-of-town drugs users, and would overrun the downtown with drug users and the drug paraphernalia that accompanies them,” Nuttall wrote in his report.

City officials are looking at relocating the bus terminal to the lakeshore GO station to create a so-called transit hub.

Prior to publishing his opioid report, the MP visited injection sites in Vancouver and Toronto to see first-hand how they operate and their effect on the neighbourhood. Nuttall said injection sites create a “virtual dead zone for economic growth."

A multi-million-dollar project by Waterloo-based HIP Developments is moving forward along Bradford Street, the YMCA is looking into building a new facility near Simcoe and Dunlop streets, and the city is working toward a complete renewal of W.A. Fisher Auditorium at the former Barrie Central Collegiate site on Dunlop Street West.

Turner says he understands some of the worries around the proposed Bradford Street location.

“The concerns are valid, however there is support from the YMCA and other agencies close by,” said Turner.

When the application was submitted under the old OPS model, City of Barrie CAO Michael Prowse also raised some concerns about 21 Bradford St., in a letter to the ministry. Chief among them was the lack of local consultation. 

“The challenge is you don’t have a chance to adequately address it in a closed process,” Prowse said in a sit-down interview with BarrieToday. “When you have a much more public process, you get the opportunity from stakeholders, potentially neighbours or residents in the area who may want some say in the application, so informing them and advising them is critical.

“We have not been given that opportunity," he added. 

Although the power structure has changed in provincial government, not to mention a new city council, Prowse said he has still not heard much back from the province in the issue of a safe injection/consumption site in Barrie. 

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said he sees the benefits of a safe injection/consumption site, especially short term.

“I think the issue is down to this: Do we want people overdosing in restaurant bathrooms and alleyways, or in a site supervised by medical personnel? If the concern is the impact on surrounding land uses, then I think we need to consider what’s happening today,” Lehman told BarrieToday.

“Unfortunately, I have heard complaints of public, or semi-public, drug use in this area of the city," the mayor added. "So, which is better or worse?”

Drug use and homelessness also go hand in hand. But as the drug problem swells, access to emergency shelter is always a concern, particularly during the winter months.

While the City of Barrie is making strides in its affordable housing strategy, some of the highest rental rates in the country can be found here.

In a recent presentation to city council, David Busby Centre executive director Sara Peddle said a local homeless count in April found 305 people in Barrie experiencing homelessness.

The centre recently opened a new facility on Mulcaster Street which will operate around the clock to help the city's marginalized population.