LETHBRIDGE – A motion brought forward by Councillor Blaine Hyggen from an In-Camera meeting Monday, led to vigorous debate and accusations that the City wasn’t doing enough to curb the needle debris in the community.
It stated that the amount of needle debris had become a health hazard to citizens, that it was the responsibility of the City of Lethbridge to ensure the safety of its citizens, that there was a risk or perceived risk of public safety in the community and that in keeping with harm reduction models intended to enhance the safety of all citizens the city should host a Community Issues Committee (CIC) meeting with Alberta Health, Health Canada, ARCHES and addiction experts.
It also stated that particular attention at the proposed CIC should be paid to the pros and cons of a draft resolution “that needles continue to be in circulation only within Arches Safe (Supervised) Consumption Site and that needles not be permitted to leave the building.”
Hyggen told council he believed the city needed to move on the issues sooner, rather than later and said that in the last three months since the supervised consumption site (SCS) opened, there had been 61,753 needles given out and 58,623 collected.
It was not clear if those numbers came from ARCHES or from other sources.
“It’s my belief that we do have to adhere to a harm reduction model. But I think there are also cases where we account for harm reduction for the other citizens of Lethbridge, not just those that are the addicts.”
He told council that it was difficult to sit back and to watch a worsening situation unfold.
“It’s my belief that giving tens of thousands of dollars isn’t the answer.”
Tempers flared when Hyggen told council “no one’s doing anything” to address the needle debris, and that Alberta Health wasn’t doing enough to account for the number of needles that are being given out.
“Nothing is being done. It seems like we’ve got this epidemic, here’s a whole bunch of needles, go give them out, and you guys deal with it. We keep saying that it’s a provincial issue. Well then they can come down and explain why they’re not doing what they should be doing, or why they are doing what they’re doing that is right. It just leaves a lot of confusion in the community.”
Mayor Chris Spearman took aim at those comments, but was told by Councillor Joe Mauro that it wasn’t the time to debate the issue.
“I’m just responding to the allegation that the City of Lethbridge is doing nothing…I’m not debating, I’m providing information, and I will ask a question at the very end, Joe.”
“And we can all have the opportunity of just cutting in and throwing in,” responded Mauro.
“I’m in the queue actually,” said Spearman. “And you’re the one that’s interrupting…I’m taking exception to the fact the allegation was made that the City of Lethbridge is doing nothing. So, what we have done, is we’ve supported a process to divert drug use out of the community, and into a supervised consumption site, and there are five thousand uses a month in the supervised consumption site since it’s been opened. That’s five thousand uses a month, not in the community.”
Spearman also mentioned applications had been made to the province for both an intox centre, and a detox centre. But the debate didn’t end there.
“You just made a comment, Mayor, that just really took me back,” said Hyggen. “You said, we have councillors that voted against getting money to help this stuff…you’re pin-pointing out two individuals. Joe and myself. It’s not right. You talk about you know, we voted against it? We’re not voting against an issue. We have an issue here, that’s right. We’re not voting against helping that issue. We’ve tried. We’ve done things. But just because we don’t want to give out another $150,000 or $20,000 or another $50,000 ‘cause we don’t see results? Personally, I don’t see the results. You’ve seen the numbers. There’s still tons of needles out there.”
“My point was, the City of Lethbridge has not done nothing,” explained Spearman who also pointed out that the supervised consumption site wasn’t the only place where addicts could get needles. They could be purchased online, brought in from other jurisdictions, and there were other needle distributors in the city as well.
A motion was made shortly after the terse exchange, by Councillor Rob Miyashiro to postpone the discussion to another date.
That motion was voted down 8-1.
Councillor Ryan Parker then weighed in on the debate, telling the room the conversation was a reflection of what was going on in the community. Another motion was then made to divide Hyggen’s resolution into two parts to be voted on: to hold a Community Issues Committee meeting at a future date and to consider a resolution to potentially ban ARCHES from permitting needles to leave their facility. The motion passed, 7-2 with Hyggen and Mauro voting against separating the clauses.
“We gotta do this right,” said Parker. “It isn’t also up to the city’s responsibility to solve this problem either. We don’t know what we can and can not do…we don’t have the answers to this because we haven’t faced this.”
Ultimately, a motion to hold a CIC meeting passed unanimously, however the clause to explore a draft resolution to ban the supervised consumption site from allowing needles to leave their facility was voted down 6-3, with Councillors Parker, Hyggen and Mauro all indicating that the subject did in fact, need to be discussed.
After the vote, Councillor Mauro told reporters that Hyggen’s initiative was exactly what was needed.
“Councillor Hyggen reached a point where he felt, I gotta do what I gotta do. And he brought the resolution forward. And I’m glad he did because it’s the right thing to do. We’re responding to the community and all the emails and letters and texts that we’re getting.”
Mauro said personally he has received hundreds of messages from the public every week. He said people want answers, and that the city wasn’t giving them those answers.
“Instead of throwing money, why can’t we try something different? What happens if we were to stop the needles from leaving the facility? Who knows? Maybe the problem would go away? Maybe not. But no one has ever tried it.
“What Councillor Hyggen and what I believe, and this is our own personal beliefs, is that it’s not working. And so that’s why we don’t want to continue doing the same thing. Especially when we’re throwing taxpayers dollars to try and solve the problem that we, as a community are facing because of decisions made by other levels of government.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said he would dedicate his time to reach out to various levels of government, and to experts to ask them to come to Lethbridge for the CIC when it occurs. No date was given for the meeting to take place.
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