Peel approves safe consumption site at regional headquarters despite concerns of local councillors
The decision to approve a safe consumption site at Peel Region headquarters in Brampton was met with skepticism among some local elected officials.
Even as regional councillors heard from advocates, health professionals and those with lived experience of drug use, watching people die before their eyes, there were still attempts to delay the decision right up until the final vote on July 6.
Starting in the fall of this year, the region will have its first safe consumption site at 10 Peel Centre Drive. It will serve as a safe space for people to use drugs in a much safer, controlled setting, without stigma. They will possibly have the option of being connected to other health services that could help get some off the streets, or even off drugs—if they choose to use the safe consumption site to move toward such goals.
The glacial pace of municipal bureaucracy has come at a terrible cost.
In just the time it took for the Region of Peel to choose a location following the council approval of funding for the site in July of last year, there have been 155 drug-related overdose deaths in Peel.
Public health staff and associate medical officer of health Dr. Kate Bingham—who has been on the frontlines of Peel’s drug toxicity crisis for years—have repeatedly stressed to council that action is required to address the crisis which has claimed 682 lives since 2018. Between 2018 and 2021, opioid toxicity deaths increased 68 percent.
Melissa Harricharan, a member of the Peel Drug Users Advisory Panel shared her emotional story on Thursday. Fighting through tears, she told councillors how over a decade ago she was smoking crack daily and working in the sex trade in Peel to fuel her addiction.
She said it was harm reduction services that finally pulled her out of the vicious cycle that had consumed her life for years.
“Harm reduction helps clients figure out what they want and how they want to get there,” she told regional councillors.
Harm reduction, one of the pillars of Peel’s Opioid Strategy, is a practice of meeting drug users where they’re at in their addiction and providing services—like safe consumption sites or naloxone kits—to lower the risk of death and buy them enough time to potentially reach the point they are ready to get sober.
Melissa Harricharan, a member of the Peel Drug Users Advisory Panel, delivers an emotional delegation to council on July 6.
(Region of Peel)
The safe consumption site at 10 Peel Centre Drive would provide this exact service in one of the areas where Peel Public Health data show it is needed the most. In the time Peel was studying numerous locations for the site—65 were considered across Brampton and Mississauga—the area surrounding 10 Peel Centre Drive saw 25 suspected drug-related deaths, the highest of any area considered.
Harricharan told councillors the neighbourhood immediately surrounding regional headquarters, including the Bramalea City Centre Mall, was one she frequented during her addiction.
“Bramalea was an area I resided in off and on where I bought drugs, did drugs, had Johns, hung out in drug houses and resuscitated friends,” she said. “It’s definitely here that the community deserves the opportunity I received.”
The area, located right along the 410 Highway, and just east of Brampton’s downtown, offers easy access to major transportation routes, nearby hotels and motels, along with the shopping mall’s surrounding commercial businesses.
Despite the data from Peel Public Health and the context provided by Harricharan’s lived experience—on top of dozens of other tragic stories Peel councillors have heard during the process to open a supervised consumption site—some still pushed back against the chosen location.
Brampton Councillor Pat Fortini made a failed attempt to have the site selection deferred until September in order for a location to be found in downtown Brampton, an area where drug use on the streets is common, according to previous studies by the Region.
“Downtown would be more logical, you also have the transit there and everything is there and would be alot easier to get to,” he said. “I will not support it coming here, but I would support it in downtown Brampton.”
Jillian Watkins, the executive director of Moyo Health and Community Services, the organization tasked with operating the future site, explained that several locations were considered in downtown Brampton, but none of the landlords they spoke with were willing to house such a facility.
“There’s a lot of stigma and concerns about being located in retail areas,” she said. “We spent a year looking for a site, longer than a year, and we’re facing a very urgent public health crisis.”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie pushed her colleagues to make a decision and move forward, to avoid more tragedies. “Let’s not let the perfect get in the way of the good,” she said, adding that nothing would stop Peel from branching out into other locations in the future if the first site is a success.
Regional headquarters at 10 Peel Centre Drive in Brampton, has been chosen as the location for a safe consumption site opening this fall.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The reticence of landlords follows a letter sent to the Region last year by Todd Letts, the CEO of Brampton’s Board of Trade, claiming that a supervised consumption site in the downtown was an “incompatible use”. Business owners The Pointer spoke with disagreed.
Mayor Patrick Brown said the Board of Trade remains “uncomfortable” with the chosen site and he would be unable to support the recommendation as a result.
Opposition councillors were a minority on Thursday with only Brown, and Brampton councillors Dennis Keenan, and Martin Medeiros voting against the recommendation. Mississauga Councillor Dipika Damerla abstained from the vote.
The latest debate follows several previous meetings where councillors raised concerns about the location of the potential consumption site based on misleading assumptions—that they increase crime and drug use in the area—or grounded in stigma that continues to plague these services, which have proven to be a life-saving tool around the world.
According to data from the Government of Canada, between 2017 and March 23, 47,000 overdoses were handled inside safe consumption sites across the country, with not a single fatality recorded on-site.
Melissa Kwiatkowski, Chief Executive Officer, Guelph Community Health Centre, told councillors that before the process to launch Guelph’s first safe consumption site began in 2018, the downtown business district was seeing frequent overdoses in bathrooms while used syringes littered city streets. She said concerns were raised by community members, including the mayor, about locating the site in the downtown core and the potential for increased drug use and criminal activity.
“The fears that having a safe consumption site would lead to increased drug use, increased drug dealing and increased criminal behaviour, just did not materialize,” she said. “The site did not bring drugs to Guelph, drugs were already here.”
Between the site’s launch in 2019 and 2022, the rate of opioid related emergency department visits in Guelph decreased 22 percent. This bucks a trend seen province wide which has seen ED department visits increase dramatically over the last five years.
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