Neighbours call drug-use site a failed ‘experiment’
Residents, business owners and community advocates are calling for the province to push the reset button on the city’s only supervised drug consumption site.But the president of Calgary’s police union says tackling a recent spike in crime and disorder around the site comes down to better management of police resources.The executive director of the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area, David Low, said the concerns of Beltline residents about the Safeworks Harm Reduction Program were validated by a police report on Tuesday showing a 276-per-cent increase in drug-related calls last year compared with the three-year average.Low called the site a failed “experiment” at harm reduction, saying the province should be focused on “primary prevention” through mental health and addiction supports rather than the crisis management.He likened the safe consumption site to pulling a drowning person out of a river and just leaving them on the bank. “We need to start going up river and stopping this ... I think the conversation around stopping people from falling in has not had enough volume around it,” Low said.Health Canada announced Thursday it has approved, with conditions, a renewed exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for the supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.The exemption includes conditions to address issues identified in the police report on crime and disorder near the facility, such as needle debris, public disorder and neighbourhood safety issues.The renewal is for one year and the exemption will be reviewed in four months, Health Canada said.“The Department will continue to monitor this site and its adherence to the established conditions,” a news release said.An open letter from community members had called for Health Canada to revoke and suspend the site’s exemption.While Low said the business group hasn’t formally adopted that position, he said people in the Beltline feel like collateral damage of the city’s drug crisis.“Everyone (in the community) is extremely supportive of, in principle, supervised consumption and harm reduction. But the unintended consequences of this ... made people feel like they are acceptable casualties,” he said.The report released Tuesday shows drug crimes in the rest of the city are declining while a 250-metre zone near the Safeworks site has become ground zero for drug dealers flocking to the Beltline.Les Kaminski, president of the Calgary Police Association, called the spike in crime around Safeworks an inevitability.And despite an increase in police patrols and covert monitoring of the site, Kaminski said cutting back on crime comes down to resource management.“What I can tell you is it’s common sense thinking to say that when you have a crime issue, you put resources to address that crime issue,” Kaminski said. “Make a plan, address issue. It’s that simple.”With the city’s only downtown police station closing just weeks after the Safeworks site opened, Kaminski said more officers are needed to keep the peace downtown.
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