The Alberta panel that painted supervised drug-consumption sites as magnets for crime, social disorder and economic decline ignored crucial context in Grande Prairie, according to local politicians, which they argue undermines the committee’s report.
Grande Prairie plays host to one of Alberta’s seven sites, which are designed to prevent deaths from overdoses. The panel, which was formed by the provincial government, released a report last week that ties the facilities to troubles in their surrounding communities, ranging from bankrupt businesses to tent cities for people who are homeless.
Leaders in Grande Prairie argue that the supervised consumption site’s effect on their community was misrepresented because the committee did not acknowledge that the city’s daytime homeless shelter closed just weeks after the harm-reduction facility opened on the same property. After the daytime shelter closed, its regular users erected a tent city nearby.
The report, in its general overview of public concerns, said tent cities contributed to the perception of social disorder, but only specifically mentions tent cities in its section on Grande Prairie.
Bill Given, Grande Prairie’s mayor, said the committee’s failure to provide context spanned the province.
“The initial read suggests that the report is not necessarily inclusive of the broad context that surrounds any of the [supervised consumption] sites, but Grande Prairie in particular,” he said, adding that a task force in his city is reviewing the panel’s publication.
Grande Prairie’s supervised consumption site opened March 11, 2019, and the city’s shelter system was disrupted April 1, 2019. The supervised consumption site is contained in a large white truck and sits in the Rotary House parking lot. The Rotary House serves as an emergency overnight shelter and contained the daytime shelter.
Dylan Bressey, one of Grande Prairie’s city councillors, backs Mr. Given’s criticism. The committee’s work relies heavily on the public’s perception of neighbourhoods before and after their local supervised consumption site opened, as well as data such as the rate of calls to police and emergency services in the areas. It is unfair to assume that Grande Prairie’s consumption site transformed the area, given the daytime shelter closed around the same time, Mr. Bressey argued.
“All of a sudden, during the day, people didn’t have anywhere to go, so they were just more visible throughout the community,” he said. “People had nowhere to go. So of course we saw issues in our community increase.
The report, Mr. Bressey said, did not make an effort to see if this affected Grande Prairie’s statistics.
The Alberta government, under the United Conservative Party, has been skeptical of supervised consumption sites. Premier Jason Kenney has called them “NDP drug sites,” and Jason Luan, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, said the panel’s report argued that the facilities created a system of “chaos.” Funding for the programs is under review, with the government suggesting some of the sites may be moved or closed.
When asked to respond to concerns about the report, the Alberta government said it didn’t write it.
“We thank the expert-led committee who worked tirelessly to comb through a significant amount of data and provide a comprehensive and thorough review of supervised consumption sites,” Kassandra Kitz, a spokeswoman for Mr. Luan, said in a statement. “We will be looking at this review and all other relevant evidence in making any decisions.”
The report has been criticized for its methodology and conclusions. For example, medical experts rejected the committee’s assertion that drug users who received oxygen, rather than the medication naloxone, should not be counted as overdose reversals.
In Calgary, the report described a steep decline in perceptions of the community surrounding the city’s facility, citing a lifestyle magazine’s annual neighbourhood rankings.
The neighbourhood, known as the Beltline, fell to 32nd place in 2019 from first place in 2018 because poll participants, in the 2019 survey, did not place as much value on having a plethora of restaurants and pubs nearby. The Beltline is stuffed with eateries, and this, Avenue Calgary magazine explained in its article, is why the neighbourhood lost ground in its unscientific survey. Avenue has since issued a statement denouncing the committee’s interpretation of its livability poll.