Former Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell (second from left) founded Vision Vancouver and was a strong champion of harm reduction policies for addicts
While Vancouver marks almost seven years since the first supervised injection site in Canada opened in the Downtown Eastside, the concept has yet to catch on in other urban centres suffering from the effects of drug addiction. Although you almost never hear Vancouver's new Vision council talk about drug policy any longer (is the Four Pillars Coalition now anything more than just a name?), a few years ago the city led Canada in the development of new innovations to help reduce drug addiction.
On the other side of the country In Toronto, the mere mention of a study to determine the feasibility of a supervised injection site (SIS) has some local residents blowing their top. This is despite the fact that Toronto is still at least a couple of years away from opening up their first SIS in the city. Back in Vancouver the future of the their SIS project is still in question, as it currently faces a number of legal and financial challenges in order to remain open.
Will Toronto be getting a new SIS? Here is what Toronto Councillor Gord Perks told The Star:
What was approved was that we would investigate it, not that there would be a site for sure.
That assurance does not satisfy some of the local residents in the Bloor-Lansdowne neighbourhood who want all this talk of an SIS to simply go away. Elizabeth Littlejohn is a resident of Ward 18 and she is clearly no fan of the SIS:
I'm very enraged they would put my at-risk neighbourhood further at risk. We are just starting to clean it up. It's becoming a healthy place to live: people are investing in it, planting trees, having families. And this is horrible.
A study to determine the feasibility of a new SIS will be wrapped up by spring 2010 and the findings will be submitted to the Toronto Drug Strategy. Toronto City Council will then have to decide what they want to do with the recommendations as they have only limited jurisdiction over the establishment of a new SIS.
It's hard to believe that the SIS in Vancouver has been "officially" open in Vancouver for almost seven years now. Under former mayors Philip Owen and Larry Campbell's leadership, it topped the headlines.Today, with the media focused on recessions and job losses, it has all but disappeared from the media spotlight.
It still remains the only site of its kind in Vancouver, however, proponents are seeking to expand the facilities throughout the city. This is rather unlikely given the lack of interest in the drug policy file from the current Mayor and council.
With the debate regarding an SIS heating up in Toronto and Vancouver's SIS winding its way through the courts, you can expect that this subject may garner a few more headlines in the coming months. Perhaps then we might find Vancouver's newish Mayor finally gets engaged on a file that his predecessors championed so strongly over the last decade. For the sake of Vancouver's drug addicted, let's hope so.