Edmonton Police Service Organizational Position on Supervised Injection Sites
Growing use of illegal, dangerous and addictive drugs continues to challenge health care and criminal justice systems across Canada. Vancouver’s supervised injection site, “Insite”, has attempted to mitigate the harmful effects of drug use, with reportedly mixed success. Advocates for the facility point to its high utilization rate and reduction of the overdose mortality as proof of its effectiveness. Detractors point to the open drug use in the adjacent streets, the filth, offensive graffiti and squalor proximal to the facility, and the visibly negative impact on the community.
A Safe Injection/Use facility is being proposed for Edmonton; in fact, up to four facilities are under consideration. Bill C-37 would require those wishing to set up a supervised-injection site to present, “. . . evidence on whether the site will impact crime in the community” before approval will be granted by the Federal Government.
The City of Edmonton has a tremendous opportunity to get Supervised Injection/Use Sites right, and be a potential example for other communities addressing this same issue. The EPS seeks a balance between the needs of those with addictions to illegal drugs and the rights of the larger community to live in a safe and crime free environment. We have to be certain that the needs of drug users are symbiotic with the public safety of the entire community, especially the most vulnerable – children, mentally ill, and elderly.
For the drug addict, we understand the value of a medically supervised safe injection environment. We appreciate the health benefits such a facility can provide, and accept that they can reduce overdose deaths and the potential spreading of communicable diseases through the sharing of needles. Clearly, something needs to be done to save and improve the lives of drug addicts, many who suffer from mental illness and homelessness, and to prevent further burden on our health care system.
We further believe that these proposed locations can do more than facilitate the medically supervised consumption of illegal drugs. We believe there is a requirement for support services that are immediately available to drug addicts, so they can safely manage and ultimately eliminate their addiction to drugs. This support includes medical assistance, food and shelter, mental health and addictions counselling, and income stability. A concerted, integrated and sustained effort is required to help these citizens manage their addictions. Without such a support structure in place, supervised injection sites in Edmonton will simply enable their use of illegal drugs, prolong their misery and further their victimization.
Several EPS employees and members of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police have observed firsthand the overtly negative impact that the Insite facility has had upon the Vancouver community. Discarded needles, open drug use, human waste, disorder, vandalism, drug dealing, and graffiti are all by-products that the Edmonton community should not accept.
Edmontonians have worked hard to rehabilitate their downtown and, as a result, many thousands of citizens now call it home. As community support is paramount for the long term success of supervised injection sites, the proposed Bill-37 wisely calls for “appropriate consultation of the community” before any decisions are made. Support should be granted only when the public safety of all Edmontonians is balanced with the needs of drug addicts. The end result should be a supervised injection site that includes comprehensive wrap-around support for drug users, whose addictions are often compounded by mental illness and homelessness.