In a recorded 8-2 vote, Barrie city council endorsed 11 Innisfil Street as the location for a supervised consumption site(SCS).
Councillor Jim Harris did not vote, as he’d declared a conflict of interest because he has a family member who works for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Simcoe County Branch,
The decision came after four hours of deputations and discussion, taking the meeting close to 12:30 Tuesday morning.
As part of the plan, staff will work with the applicants – the Canadian Mental Health Association -Simcoe County branch – and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) to ensure landscaping, security cameras, fencing, discarded needle collection boxes and other property standard measures are in place. A neighbourhood SCS advisory committee will be established and the applicants must prepare an annual report to council.
The more than 20 deputations came mostly from residents living in the area or who owned businesses nearby.
They most spoke against the location rather than in opposition to a SCS. Many blasted the process on how the site was chosen including the initial confusion about the address of the facility, while others claimed they received no notification in the mail that 11 Innisfil Street had been shortlisted as a possible location.
Safety and impact on children were other issues raised, and the operator of a licensed home child care questioned how the applicants picked a property just 30 metres from where they operate their business.
Christine Naylor, whose son Ryan died from a drug overdose at 35, said if her son had had access to safe supply of drugs he would still be alive.
“I truly believe that if society supported instead of shamed those with mental illness and substance issues, Ryan’s story would have had a different ending.”
Camran Qureshi, who with his wife operate a 24-hour licensed home child care across the road from 11 Innisfil Street, was bewildered the applicants of the SCS did not know until several weeks ago that their business existed.
“Aside from the 24 children that we will have on the daycare premises, we have about 16 children that live directly in the neighbourhood.”
Those who spoke in favour said this was about saving lives.
” I believe my fellow humans deserve to live,” said Caitlin McKenzie. “Human beings are dying on the street at an alarming rate. I care about their ability to live another day more than I care about anything else, including my property value.”
Councillors Mike McCann and Gary Harvey voted against the endorsement.
McCann said the communication process by the applicants was “beyond horrible.”
He pushed hard demanding to know why some people who told council they had received no notification that 11 Innisfil Street was on a shortlist as a possible SCS.
Lisa Simon, an associate medical officer of health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said Canada Post confirmed that 7,700 pieces of mail were mailed out and should have been received.
“We actually did want to pick each of the four sites and do a mailout around each of them. But Canada Post was unable to do that, so we picked the most central of the four sites, which happened to be Innisfil Street, and from there had a one kilometre radius around the particular site because that encompassed all of the other sites.”
Harvey said he supported a SCS but could not fathom putting one in a residential area.
“Especially with this one having a daycare 30 metre away. It just doesn’t sit well. Obviously it is potentially one of the sensitive uses the provincial government will look at when they review this application.”
He also supported the concerns of those who said they were led to believe the SCS was going to be located at 80 Bradford Street.
A selection advisory committee had also considered locations at 110 Dunlop Street West, 11 Sophia Street West and 192 Bradford Street.
In early May, the applicants said the preferred location for the SCS was 19 Innisfil Street, after suggesting in March that 80 Bradford Street was one of four possible sites, then later clarified a few weeks ago that the correct address was 11 Innisfil Street, which is at the back of the Bradford Street complex.
“It really makes we wonder if the applicants ever visited the place. You only have to walk to the front door and see the placard inches away from the door that says 11 Innisfil Street. This is the door they intend on using as the entrance way. So how this address got misconstrued is unfathomable.” said Harvey.
“It really creates a cloud over the process they took, along with the fact we’re hearing from so many residents, and it seems the residents that are closer to the proposed location did not receive any notification or literature.”
Councillor Keenan Aylwin, who represents the ward where the SCS is to operate, said he was pleased area residents expressed their views and felt it was a hopeful sign for continued discussion.
“We’ve lost far too many family members, friends and neighbours through this toxic drug supply crisis. We need to use every tool in our toolbox to fight this crisis. This is one tool, and let’s do it.”
Aylwin said if the site gets approved by the provincial and federal governments there will be people in the neighbourhood who will be holding the operators accountable and participating in the advisory committee.
“So we can create a solution that works not only for people who use drugs, but for people who live in and around the site.”
Councillor Natalie Harris rejected suggestions a SCS is a Band-Aid solution.
“This is a comprehensive way to address the disease of addiction,” said Harris. “It’s a disease like any other disease. No one chooses to be an addict.”
Rather than support a SCS or the location, McCann said he would much prefer the city turned the screws on the federal and provincial governments to provide treatment, education, rehabilitation and recovery.
In a presentation to council general committee last week, the CMHA and SMDHU pointed to wraparound social service agencies that would be key to getting the users of the SCS the help they need, noting some of those services were already on site and would be available to meet clients.
Health officials said there were 133 confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka in 2020, with 47 confirmed and probable deaths in Barrie from January-September 2020, two times the 2019 rate for that period.
The SCS allows individuals to use pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health-care professionals.
Endorsement from city council is not the end of the story. The applicants must send an application to the federal government for an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to the province seeking funding approval for an SCS.
The Ontario government currently funds 16 safe consumption sites across the province and is committed to allowing five more. A decision on the Barrie application could take six months after it has been submitted.