Supervised consumption services review findings to be released Thursday

The Alberta government is set to release the findings of a highly-anticipated review of the social and economic impacts of supervised consumption sites for drug users on Thursday.

The UCP-appointed Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) Review Committee was tasked last summer with looking into the effects of the sites on crime rates, social order, property values and businesses.

  • WATCH the release of the panel’s findings live in the video above.

The panel did not consider the impact SCS has on harm reduction, establishing new sites, provincial funding or housing in its review.

Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer will provide remarks ahead of the review’s release in Calgary.

Review sparked debate, concern across province

A review of safe injection sites was a United Conservative Party election promise that sparked a fiery political — and ideological — debate in Alberta.

Last year, Luan said the panel would fulfil the UCP’s pledge to correct what it saw as the failure of the previous NDP government to take into consideration the effect that supervised consumption sites have on the areas where they are set up.

Some sites became controversial as reports reflected an increases in crime and calls for law enforcement services that coincided with their opening.

However, a report published by the Alberta Community Council on HIV last year found that Alberta’s supervised consumption sites have had a 100-per-cent success rate at reversing overdoses.

In January, Lethbridge NDP MLA Shannon Phillips told the Canadian Press that closing the site in her city would be devastating.

“People would die,” Phillips said.

Front-line support workers also appealed to the panel for support during meetings across the province.

Trent Daley, a support worker with the George Spady Society, told a government review panel in September, “This is a non-partisan issue. This is about, ‘Do these people deserve to live?'”

There are currently seven sites across the province — in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge — with proposals for one each in Red Deer and Medicine Hat, and another one in Calgary.

Report underscores concerns: Kenney

Earlier this year, Premier Jason Kenney said that it’s possible Alberta could close or relocate some supervised drug consumption sites.

He said in Calgary on Jan. 21 that he had seen the panel’s preliminary report.

“It underscores the concerns that we have had about the negative impact on people and on communities as a result of at least some of the drug injection sites,” Kenney said.

“They’re now more than injections … they’re just illegal drug sites. I think we see pretty much everywhere a marked increase in crime in the area of those sites and social disorder and negative human consequences.”

The panel and its members

An injection kit is shown at a supervised injection facility. The review of safe consumption sites was a United Conservative Party election promise, and its findings are to be released Thursday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The panel is chaired by former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht. 

The full list of its members are:

  • Rod Knecht, who retired as Edmonton’s chief of police last year.
  • Vice-chair Geri Bemister-Williams, who is a human behavioural scientist and post-secondary instructor.
  • Dr. Ray Baker, who specializes in occupational addiction medicine and recovery-oriented continuing care.
  • Steve Cormack, who served 24 years with the RCMP.
  • Dr. Charl Els, a psychiatrist, addiction specialist and occupational physician.
  • Joan Hollihan, who lost her 16-year-old son to an apparent fentanyl overdose.
  • Paul Maxim, a former professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University.
  • Dr. Rob Tanguay, the founder and medical director of a post-surgical pain outpatient program.

The panel also doesn’t include a member from south of Calgary, despite Lethbridge reportedly having the busiest supervised consumption site in North America.

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