City Council defeats needle distribution motion on 5-4 vote

By Aaron Mahoney (@Mahones93 on Twitter)
July 23, 2018 - 8:34pm

LETHBRIDGE – With two weeks to think it over after being adjourned, Lethbridge City Council voted down Councillor Blaine Hyggen’s resolution that would’ve seen City Council direct ARCHES to stop the distribution of needles leaving the Supervised Consumption Site by a 5-4 final count on Monday, July 23.

The resolution also would’ve called for the needles distributed in the Supervised Consumption Site be only used within ARCHES Supervised Consumption Site.

Councillors Ryan Parker, Mark Campbell, Joe Mauro and Blaine Hyggen all voted in favour, while Councillors Belinda Crowson, Rob Miyashiro, Jeff Coffman, Jeff Carlson, and Mayor Chris Spearman voted against.

Hyggen, who defended his resolution with various documents from experts during the meeting, also mentioned how his life had gone on hold for a few weeks as he worked to address e-mails, phone calls and face to face discussions with residents in the community.

“What we’re doing isn’t working, so there’s a lot of frustration. You feel like it’s a letdown, but I don’t think it’s all a loss. It really brought the community out and wanting to speak out regarding this,” Hyggen said.

As far as the documents Hyggen cited, he says you can find experts on both sides of an issue.

“You can spin it any way you want, to be positive or to be against it. There are experts on both sides of this particular issue and we do need to look at all options, for sure,” Hyggen stated.

During the debate, Councillor Coffman introduced a series of amendments that councillors initially spoke highly of but ultimately decided to withdraw, with the idea to bring them back separately at another point in time.

“The amendments were fantastic. I looked at them before, he had sent them to us this morning, and they’re all great amendments,” Hyggen continued. “It did some to pull a little bit off the regular resolution, but some fit along that same idea and what is the main concern.”

Hyggen was asked how council can, with the community seemingly divided over this issue, come together and move forward.

His response was when a resolution is done, you have to check the personalities at the door.

“You flip the page and you start on the next resolution. It’s so important that we look at each and every resolution separately and we don’t bring one and mix that in, it’s just not right.”

So, what comes next? Hyggen believes that education is a big part of the equation.

“We need to make sure our children know, and it’s really unfortunate because you look at the side of this ‘Do I really need to tell my kids about this?’ There are so many other things you’d think are issues within the community, but we do need to make sure they know about these needles and the harm they could potentially do,” Hyggen said.

Mayor Chris Spearman was happy about the vote outcome and says the most important thing moving forward is to be open about the information in broad terms with the public.

“What we have to say is here’s what the progress is. What we really had was a drug problem first, and the needle issue is collateral that’s come out of that. I think we have to be fair and say how many people are continuing to use the consumption site. The numbers are continuing to increase, and the number of needles being distributed has been declining, so I think that’s a very positive thing,” Spearman said.

Spearman also defended the work ARCHES has done in the community.

“ARCHES is a community partner, and I respect them,” Spearman continued. “I feel badly for the people who work at ARCHES in some ways, it’s difficult for them to buy groceries right now, it’s a challenge.

Spearman says he signed up for this when he ran for office and doesn’t mind taking a beating in the public eye.

“I will do the best I can, and everybody has a strong opinion, but when people are providing a contracted health service it’s a challenge. They are doing what they were hired to do, I respect the work that they do, and I certainly appreciate that they work with the other 15 organizations on the Executive Leaders Coalition."

He stands by the fact ARCHES is providing services that didn’t previously exist in the city that diverts drug use off the street and into the Supervised Consumption Site.

“The evidence that they provided at the regular meetings is that they have over a 90 per cent return rate on needles, I know the method of measuring is not precise, basically it’s aggregate needles going out and aggregate needles returned but we’re going to get better at measuring the data,” Spearman stated.

ARCHES Executive Director Stacey Bourque was on hand for the meeting and admitted afterwards they feel bad that it’s such a divisive issue in the community, but obviously, they’re happy not to have to continue to fight that battle.

“It’s a public health service in the community that we need to be providing to marginalized populations of people who are vulnerable,” she continued. “We’re going to keep providing that service to prevent the disease transmission.”

Some of the discussion around the needle distribution issue revolved around health care experts, and while Bourque herself isn’t one, she says they live and breathe this every day.

“We have education around this as well. The AHS representative on the Executive Leaders Coalition is actually the director of addictions and mental health. I do know that I go to work every day, and I’ve done all the research around this. All we can do is share best practice, and evidence-based practise,” Bourque said.

ARCHES, ultimately, would’ve had the final say regardless of how the vote swayed and Bourque says she agrees with council that they need to continue their collaboration together.

“We have to continue to find ways to support the local businesses and the community at large. We would just forge ahead with trying to find other solutions and other ways of addressing the concerns.”

Let’s say council had voted in favour of the resolution, would ARCHES have stopped distributing needles?

“No,” Bourque stated. 

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