Peterborough-Kawartha Conservative candidate Michelle Ferreri will not say whether she supports a planned supervised drug consumption and treatment site in downtown Peterborough.
Health Canada conditionally approved the proposed site at the former Greyhound bus station at 220 Simcoe last May. It would be a hygienic space for people to use drugs under medical supervision to prevent opioid poisoning deaths.
Ferreri and her campaign team did not respond to multiple emails this week asking whether she is in favour of the site.
Health Canada’s approval grants the facility an exemption from federal drug laws to allow the use of illegal drugs inside its doors, conditional upon proof of funding and a site visit.
The final green light for the facility won’t come until after voters choose the next government in Monday’s federal election.
Federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has said that if his party wins power, he would not shut down existing supervised drug consumption sites, according to the Canadian Press. That’s a change in tone from the last Conservative government under Stephen Harper, which tried to block the sites.
But Ferreri did not indicate whether, if elected MP, she would support community partners in getting the Simcoe Street site up and running.
In an interview with Peterborough Currents earlier in the campaign, Ferreri said that safe consumption sites are “for sure” a priority. But she added that she thinks “that there’s a lot that gets lost in harm reduction.”
“I think harm reduction is fine, but it’s not treating it, we really need to focus on recovery,” Ferreri said. Multiple requests for clarification of Ferreri’s position on the Simcoe Street site went unanswered.
The Conservative campaign platform pledges $325 million over the next three years to create 1,000 residential drug treatment beds and build 50 recovery centres across the country. It also vows to boost prevention and treatment services in Indigenous communities and work with the provinces to provide free overdose-reversing Naloxone kits.
Most local candidates back safe consumption and treatment site
All of the other candidates running in Peterborough–Kawartha told Peterborough Currents that they support opening a supervised drug consumption and treatment site, except People’s Party of Canada candidate Paul Lawton.
Lawton claimed that the end goal of the sites is to perpetuate addiction. “If we put our efforts into consumption sites… in effect, we’re saying we are giving up on aiming for recovery and we’re merely interested in maintaining addiction,” he said.
The community agencies behind the proposal, led by the addiction treatment provider Fourcast, say the facility will also offer addiction treatment services.
Fourcast executive director Donna Rogers said she hopes whatever party forms government won’t put up any roadblocks for the site. “I would hope that they would honour the exemption that is in place,” she said.
The bigger hurdle facing the project right now is securing provincial funding to run the facility. The incumbent Liberal candidate, Maryam Monsef, urged Progressive Conservative MPP Dave Smith to move faster on that file.
“I don’t know what the holdup is. I don’t know why he hasn’t been able to convince his leader and his team that this is a priority,” Monsef said in an interview with Peterborough Currents. “My commitment to this community is I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that that safe consumption site… moves ahead.”
Peterborough could also “do with” a detox centre and a drug treatment centre, Monsef added.
The Liberal party campaign platform promises to create a strategy to address problematic substance use to end the opioid crisis and to spend $500 million to help the provinces and territories provide a full range of evidence-based treatment. It also pledges $25 million to combat addiction stigma and to work with the provinces to create standards for substance use treatment programs.
NDP and Greens call for decriminalization
As overdose deaths threaten to hit another record high in Peterborough this year, the local NDP and Green Party candidates are calling for an end to criminal penalties for simple drug possession.
NDP candidate Joy Lachica said treating drug use as a criminal issue is an “approach that is from a different generation, a different time, a different set of circumstances.”
“Why would we be laying any kind of a criminal charge against people that are just trying to get well?” Lachica said. “We need compassion, we need empathy.”
The NDP campaign platform vows to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illegal drugs and create a safe supply of alternatives to toxic street drugs.
It also pledges to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency, support overdose prevention sites and expand access to addiction treatment. The party would also launch an investigation into the role drug companies played in fanning the opioid crisis.
Green Party candidate Chanté White blamed the epidemic on “a few greedy and opportunistic drug companies [that] marketed their drugs, knowingly making people become addicts.” She said her party would “lift people out of addiction” by channelling money currently spent on enforcement of drug laws into mental health and addiction treatment. Her party’s platform also calls for illicit drugs to be regulated, as is now the case with cannabis.
Ferreri suggested there should be some leniency around drug possession, but stopped short of calling for decriminalization. “We don’t need to punish people who are suffering, we need to support them,” she said, echoing the words of her party leader. But O’Toole has said the matter should be left to “judicial discretion.”
Monsef said her party is open to working with individual jurisdictions that want to decriminalize illegal drugs within their borders. “We are already working with provinces like B.C. who have said ‘we want to decriminalize,’ and if there are provinces like Ontario who want to move ahead, we’re going to do so carefully with science and evidence and compassion as the key components of our steps forward,” she said. (B.C. Premier John Horgan called on the federal government to decriminalize simple possession in an open letter last year).
The Liberals would also amend the Criminal Code to repeal relevant mandatory minimum penalties for drug-related offences.
Lawton said the People’s Party is opposed to decriminalization. He said doing so would “normalize” addiction, not help people “break free from” it.
Independent candidate Bob Bowers said laws around street drugs should be the same as those around cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes.
With files from Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson.