Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is accusing the Ford government of putting people’s lives at risk for “ideological reasons” by pulling funding for several supervised drug-use sites in Ontario, suggesting Ottawa is prepared to step in and help.
At a press conference on Friday to announce $1.3-billion over ten years for affordable housing in Toronto, which will go toward renovating more than 58,000 units, Mr. Trudeau took aim at the Ontario government for its recent decision to stop funding several supervised drug-use sites in the province.
“We are very concerned with the Ford government’s talk of shutting down safe-injection sites," Mr. Trudeau said at the event in Scarborough, which was interrupted throughout by protesters wearing yellow vests.
“We know that the evidence is very clear: Safe-injection sites save lives. And the fact that the conservative government in Ontario and indeed conservative politicians across the country are putting vulnerable people at risk by shutting down consumption sites, really makes you wonder where their priorities are.”
The Prime Minister pledged to work with experts, front-line responders, community organizations and municipalities on the issue, "even if we have, unfortunately, a few governments that for ideological reasons are putting people’s lives at risk.”
The federal government has already granted exemptions for three sites to stay open temporarily, two in Toronto and one in Ottawa. A spokesman for Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told The Globe and Mail that Ottawa is working with the sites to help them secure private funding.
“Our government is prepared to provide short-term funding if needed,” spokesman Thierry Bélair said.
Mr. Trudeau did not specify which other conservative politicians he was referring to, but Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has previously criticized harm reduction, saying it doesn’t break the addition cycle. Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister has come out against supervised drug-use sites, and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, a former federal Conservative who is running to lead Alberta in this month’s provincial election, has also taken a harder line on them, saying communities need to be better consulted about where they go.
Earlier this month, Ontario announced it had approved 15 sites provincewide under its new consumption and treatment services model. In addition to the three sites that lost funding, the province indicated it may also stop supporting another site in Toronto, the busiest in the province.
Premier Doug Ford has defended the decision by suggesting some sites are closing because they are too close together. In response to Mr. Trudeau’s comments, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office said, “We are confident the model we have brought forward is the right approach to connect people struggling with addiction with the care they need and deserve," adding the province will continue to accept applications for other sites on an ongoing basis.
Gillian Kolla, a coordinator with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, said cutting services amidst a public-health crisis “makes no sense.”
“We are strongly calling on the provincial government to reverse the misguided decision that they made. But if they do not reverse it, we hope that the federal government will figure out a way to support these sites,” she said.