A motion to identify the costs associated with Campbell River’s overdose prevention and safe injection sites feels threatening and vindictive towards people suffering from addiction, a city councillor says.
“Because that’s, honestly, the way my gut was interpreting it, which is why I sought some clarity on that,” Coun. Tanille Johnston said at city council’s Dec. 5 regular meeting.
But the councillor who proposed the motion says it’s simply a fact-finding effort that will arm council with data to be used in advocacy efforts.
“We don’t know the scope of the problem,” Coun. Sean Smyth said. “How do you tackle a problem if you don’t know the full scope? How do you advocate for help of a problem if you don’t have the full scope of the problem?
“At no point we’re trying to shut these places down, that’s not in the motion. We’re just trying to get some advocacy, we’re trying to get some solid numbers so we can get some help and understand the scope of the situation.”
The motion reads:
“WHEREAS, the Provincial Government has implemented a harm reduction policy involving a broad range of interventions to help keep people alive and safe, including overdose prevention sites and safe injection sites;
AND WHEREAS, some individuals who utilize the services of the overdose prevention sites and safe injection sites leave under the influence of drugs which can lead to disorderly behaviour, urination, defecation, vandalism, illegal camping and safety issues which have a negative impact on businesses, and residents in the surrounding area, and on city resources and the community as a whole;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, Council direct staff to undertake a financial analysis of the direct and indirect costs born by the City related to these overdose prevention and safe injection sites and any other social services related to people experiencing addiction and/or mental health issues; including but not limited to policing costs, fire services and public works;
AND THAT Council direct staff to work with the BIA to request information on these similar costs born by local businesses;
AND FINALLY THAT Council request this information from School District 72 on sites owned / operated by the School District.”
Johnston said she attempted to get some clarity on the intention of the motion and what will be the outcome when those costs are identified?
“So we get a financial figure and then what? Because the way it reads, it does read very vindictively, as if that sum of money is going to be … held against access,” she said. “Which is why people are feeling a little bit threatened by it.”
Council had received a letter from Island Health signed by Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns and Mental health Substance Use executive director Sheila Leadbetter criticizing the motion.
According to the letter, since overdose prevention services were introduced in Campbell River in 2017, “not a single person has died while accessing these services, despite hundreds of thousands of visits.”
“There is no doubt that without overdose prevention and harm reduction services, there would be increased fatalities and harm within our communities,” Island Health’s letter says. “Singling out this service in Campbell River is highly stigmatizing and minimizes the importance of these health care services for the people they serve, their friends and their families.”
The letter says that if a comprehensive analysis is done, it should include the positive health benefits for those receiving service and negative impacts on the healthcare system that would arise if clients no longer have access to safe overdose prevention sites.
Coun. Doug Chapman suggested the Island Health letter is “interpreting something in the resolution that simply is not there.”
Coun. Ron Kerr made a subsequent motion later which was passed to invite Dr. Enns to a council meeting 2023 to discuss overdose and addiction in Campbell River.
Kerr supports Coun. Smyth’s motion because he feels it would demonstrate and quantify the failure of the harm reduction model being used in Campbell River.
“So I think that this would do, certainly, a start on demonstrating just how damaging and harmful this present harm reduction model has been to Campbell River,” he said.
Coun. Ben Lanyon was also in favour of the motion.
“In general, I’m in support of more information,” he said. “I think we’ve been flying blind. And without knowing what direct costs we have, like for police and fire response to the various various social service sites, we just don’t know what the incremental cost of those things is.”
A previous report by the RCMP on the cost of policing the overdose prevention site over two years identified it as about $295,000, Lanyon said.
“So that’s pretty significant to the taxpayers of the city,” he said. “And I think they expect us to make sure we understand what we’re spending their money on.”
Johnston – who was the only councillor who spoke in opposition to the motion – expressed concern about the cost figures being used to justify increased police enforcement, which won’t solve addiction problems. She also said that the information is already available through the Vital Signs report that came out in the fall.
Lanyon jumped on that point to say he actually questions whether current methods solve addiction problems.
“We have an overdose prevention site, like, it is harm reduction, but it is not pulling people out of that system,” he said. “Looking specifically at this motion, we just want information. That information, once we know what it is, we’ll determine what we do with it. But at this point, we don’t even know… we don’t know if it’s a million dollars or $5 million. So I like the motion as it is I think that will be responsible as elected leaders to do the right thing with that information.”
The motion was passed with all but Johnston voting in favour.