By Tyler Labonte
Algonquin students and Ottawa activist groups rallied on Parliament Hill for a site for the safer injection of illicit IV drugs, organized by the social service worker program and held on March 23.
The rally was held in cooperation with the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites (CSCS) and the Drug Users Advocacy League of Ottawa (DUAL) which are known advocates of such a site. The protest began on Parliament Hill at 1 p.m. with chants and speeches, then marched to the Human Rights Monument.
“Right now we’re seeing our clients from the shelter using on the street,” said Lianne Slaughter, a student organizer whose placement is with the Shepherds of Good Hope. “They’re huddled on the ground, passed out, and maybe they’ve used too much. They’re in danger of losing their lives.”
With a safe injection site, medical staff would supervise users to make sure they are safe.
She said the advocacy cause was close to their hearts. This was because she and her classmates work with many homeless people as part of their program.
Jordon MacLean, another student organizer, led various chants and directed the march, “One, two, three, four! We don’t need no drug war!”
The proposal of the site in the Sandy Hill community is a running controversy. Catherine Hacksel, a DUAL member, one of CSCS’s organizers for the event and a self-described recreational drug user who struggled with depression in university, could not confirm that DUAL would pursue a site in Sandy Hill. However, she said that the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre was one of two facilities open to having an injection room.
“If there’s a stand-alone facility, then there’d be greater access with lower barriers,” said Hacksel. “That would be less intimidating than being in a community health centre with children and people who are in recovery around.”
The main reason behind opposition to a site in general, however, may be misconception.
“(There is) misinformation and stigmatization of people who use drugs,” she said. “(People are) under the assumption that supervised injection sites come with a bunch of problems when in truth they come with a bunch of solutions to problems.”
The safe injection site would ensure that people within it use only clean needles. This will solve problems like a one in 10 HIV infection rate and a six in 10 Hepatitis C infection rate among intravenous drug users in Ottawa: the highest in Ontario and highest in Canada, respectively.
In the rally for this cause, Sean LeBlanc, the chairperson of DUAL said he survived an opiate addiction probably by the skin of his teeth when he spoke to the crowd about what the site will mean to drug users.
“I woke up in different bathrooms across the community, overdosed, contracted Hepatitis C. These things were all really preventable,” he said.
“I know from having been there that people don’t want to be sticking a needle in their arm everyday. We need to provide them with the support, love and services, basic access to healthcare and dignity, so they can make positive changes in their lives if and when they want to do that.”