Three days after warning activists against using open flames in a heated medical tent at Moss Park, provincial officials have withdrawn their opposition and the structure is once again in use at an illegal overdose-prevention site.
The military-style tent has been in and out of operation at Toronto's pop-up consumption site since Ontario's Health Minister lent it to volunteers last week as part of the government's increasing response to the opioid crisis. Members of Ontario's Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) had raised concerns over the weekend about using flames to warm drugs in the insulated enclosure. However, firefighters approved the use of lighters and matches in the tent on Tuesday.
Toronto opened its first permanent supervised consumption site on Wednesday at the edge of Yonge-Dundas Square, about a kilometre from the unsanctioned pop-up at Moss Park. The opening of the first of three harm-reduction sites that have been approved for the city to launch this month is an important development in the response to a "serious public health crisis," according to the medical officer of health.
"Overdose is a growing crisis in our city," said Councillor Joe Cressy, who is also chairman of the city's drug strategy implementation panel. "Every week, more Torontonians are dying, and the painful fact is these deaths are preventable."
The city and provincial governments have asked Health Canada to approve a fourth supervised-consumption site in Toronto across the street from Moss Park.
While they are back to using the tent, volunteers with the group operating the overdose-prevention site at Moss Park say the days of debate over the use of a small flame in a tent that is there to prevent overdose deaths is evidence of the provincial government's difficulty responding to an opioid crisis that claimed 865 lives in Ontario last year.
According to Zoe Dodd, a lead organizer of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance, a trailer would be preferable to the tent, especially with snow in the forecast. "It's really grim. It shows a mark of indifference," she said of the government's response so far. "Who knew that bringing in a tent would be such an ordeal?"
A spokeswoman with Ontario's health ministry said much of the debate over the use of flames concerned oxygen stored in the tent to help with resuscitation after an overdose. Before using the tent on Tuesday night, Ms. Dodd said the group agreed to safety procedures set by the government. However, she added, similar rules had already been in place.
With an increasing number of people coming to the pop-up site, the volunteers said officials have resisted the call for a trailer so far because of concerns it could become a long-term operation. "They seem so concerned that these structures will be permanent, that this won't end, but it can end," Ms. Dodd said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath backed the group's request after visiting Moss Park on Wednesday afternoon. "Let's do something about this, and fast," she said in a statement. "A trailer can be moved on-site virtually overnight."