Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Support quality journalism
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
The Globe and Mail
Support quality journalism
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Globe and Mail website displayed on various devices
Just$1.99
per week
for the first 24 weeks

var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){console.log("scroll");var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1);

Outside the Sheldon Chumir safe injection site in Calgary, Alberta, May 31, 2019. In the midst of the deadly opioid epidemic, it is a small success story.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre opened in Calgary in 2008, just south of the city’s downtown. The eight-storey building, in a bustling neighbourhood of homes and businesses, offers urgent care and an array of services. In late 2017, it also became home to Alberta’s first supervised drug-consumption site.

Today, the Chumir still hosts Calgary’s only such facility. In the midst of the deadly opioid epidemic, it is a small success story. There were about 190 visits a day in 2019, with health-care workers handling an average of more than one overdose daily. The service saved lives.

The site has also been a challenge for the neighbourhood. Crime spiked after it opened, but the situation has since improved. The local neighbourhood association recently highlighted positive health-care results and pointed to police statistics showing that crime around the Chumir is no worse than in downtown Calgary.

Story continues below advertisement

The Chumir Centre appears to be an ideal place for supervised drug consumption. It’s centrally located, with other health services in the same building. The Chumir’s supervised drug site prevents addicts from dying from their addictions; it also refers several hundred people a month to options such as addiction treatment. It’s not perfect but it is progress.

The future of all of that, however, is in jeopardy. There is widespread speculation that Alberta’s United Conservative Party government wants to close the site.

Premier Jason Kenney has not been a supporter of supervised drug consumption, which was introduced by the previous NDP government. “Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a solution to the problem of addiction,” Mr. Kenney said two years ago. During last year’s election campaign, the UCP promised to look at moving existing sites. Last summer, the UCP convened a panel to assess the sites’ negative impacts; it was not asked to weigh their benefits.

Mr. Kenney has seen the report, which is not yet public. It appears to have reached its expected conclusion. Last Tuesday, Mr. Kenney said its findings jibed with his concerns, referred to the facilities as “illegal drug sites” and confirmed some could be relocated.

It’s entirely reasonable to think about how to minimize problems for the neighbours. It’s not reasonable to restrict or ban one of the best tools Canada has for tackling a public health crisis. The sites help addicts stay alive, and get treatment.

Mr. Kenney’s preference is for a focus on treatment. Last fall’s provincial budget included $35-million a year for mental health and opioids. His government has also talked about creating 4,000 new treatment spaces. That’s all well and good, but it fails to appreciate the difficulty of getting people with long-term addictions into treatment. Meanwhile, the government’s aversion to supervised consumption is clear.

The Chumir site may be replaced by a facility in a lower-income neighbourhood, 10 kilometres east of downtown. A better solution, to ease the burden on the Chumir and its community, would be to open more Calgary sites.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada has moved a long way on supervised consumption, as the opioids crisis has ravaged the country, killing thousands each year. In 2015, there was just one site, in Vancouver. Today, there are 43, across five provinces. Alberta has seven. Ample research has indicated that the centres save lives and ease burdens on the health-care system.

Benjamin Perrin, a UBC law professor, was Stephen Harper’s justice and public safety adviser in 2012-13. Back then, he was staunchly against supervised consumption. Mr. Perrin has since become the country’s most prominent convert. “My views about drug policy were a deadly cocktail of ignorance and ideology that cost people their lives,” he wrote this week in the Calgary Herald.

In a coming book on the overdose crisis, he argues the answer to local concerns about negative effects of supervised consumption is not fewer venues, but more of them, with extended hours. That would alleviate the pressures on places such as Chumir.

The Kenney government has taken a narrow view of supervised consumption, focused on its negatives. This has led to a skewed view of a difficult situation. It would be a mistake to close the consumption site at Chumir. Alberta needs to expand such services, rather than pushing addiction into the shadows.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies