The Globe and Mail: Police post near proposed Surrey supervised injection site would deter users, critics say

Posted December 7, 2016

The only public supervised-consumption site proposed for Surrey would be steps from the home base of a new and dedicated team of 16 law enforcement officers in an area where police have clashed with the homeless and drug users.
 
Critics say the two plans announced on Tuesday reveal either a thoughtless oversight or a deliberate effort to hamper the still-contentious supervised injection service at a time when fatal overdoses in B.C. have reached a record high and urgent action is needed.
 
The public site proposed for Surrey will likely have six booths and be in a portable behind the Gateway Shelter on 135A Street, also known as “the Strip,” the Fraser Health Authority announced on Tuesday.
 
The run-down stretch has in recent years become a homeless encampment, with people living there saying they witness several overdoses every day.
 
Also on Tuesday, the City of Surrey and Surrey RCMP announced their City Centre Response Plan, which includes the creation of a dedicated team of 12 Surrey RCMP officers and four bylaw officers that will work out of a satellite office “in the heart of 135A,” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
 
A joint news release said the team’s objective is to protect vulnerable people in the area, increase public safety and help connect people who use drugs with treatment options.
 
Neither Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner nor the Surrey RCMP responded to interview requests on Tuesday. The mayor had previously opposed supervised consumption, later softening her stand to say it must be in a facility with treatment options.
 
People camping on the Strip have told The Globe and Mail that bylaw officers have thrown away unmanned tents and belongings and RCMP officers arrest people for low-level drug crimes. An enhanced, permanent presence could drive people away and deter injection drug users from using the new consumption site, said Tabitha Naismith, chairperson of Newton ACORN, which last month joined the call for supervised consumption in Surrey.
 
“There’s already been an uproar about [officers] being on the Strip, how they handle tent cities by throwing people’s belongings out,” Ms. Naismith said.
 
“This isn’t going to help alleviate the problem. There should have been public consultation, with members from ACORN and other community stakeholders before [the mayor] announced this whole plan with bylaw officers and the RCMP.”
 
Ann Livingston, an activist on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who helped set up a “pop-up” supervised-injection site in Surrey last summer, questioned the purpose of such a large police presence if not for a punitive response to drug users.
 
“Who are these predators?” Ms. Livingston asked, referring to the police objective to target those who prey on the vulnerable. “They would be better off taking that money and putting it toward housing, or a day centre where [service providers] can work with [people who use drugs], talk to them about health, be kind to them.”
 
The Fraser Health Authority is considering a second supervised consumption site for Surrey that will likely have two booths at the Quibble Creek Sobering and Assessment Centre. It would be restricted to clients of the centre, patients of Surrey Memorial Hospital and those referred by other health-care providers.
 
Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health, said she is confident the health authority will be able to work with its partners.
 
“The City of Surrey is supportive of supervised consumption services and we want to see our respective initiatives work,” Dr. Lee said.
 
“We will be evaluating throughout our implementation and making changes as necessary.”
 
Dr. Lee noted the health authority will also double capacity for suboxone and methadone treatment at both sites and offer counselling, case management and outreach services. As well, it will undertake feasibility assessments for sites in Abbotsford, Maple Ridge and Langley.
 
Fraser Health has applied for an exemption from federal drug laws to operate supervised consumption sites, as required under the Respect for Communities Act. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has acknowledged that the Harper-era legislation imposes undue barriers and said changes would be forthcoming.
 
In the first 10 months of 2016, more than 622 people have died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C., at least 76 of them in Surrey. Fentanyl was detected in about 60 per cent of these deaths.
 
***
Article by Andrea Woo for the Globe & Mail