After hearing from a long line of passionate deputants at City Hall, the board of health unanimously voted Monday in favour of safe injection sites in Toronto.
The issue now heads to city council where it will be debated next week.
“It will not save every life due to accidental overdose. But [the sites] are part of a comprehensive strategy intended to support those who use drugs. Treatment, prevention, harm reduction and enforcement taken together are part of a broader solution,” Coun. Joe Cressy, who chairs the city’s drug strategy implementation panel, said at the board of health meeting.
The sites allow people to take illicitly-obtained drugs while supervised by nurses, in order to prevent overdoses.
In March, the city’s medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, released a report recommending city council support the approval of three sites.
If approved by council, the sites would be the Toronto Public Health building on Victoria Street near Yonge-Dundas Square, at the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre and South Riverdale Community Health Centre.
At the packed meeting on Monday, community activists and members of the public made emotional pleas to the board of health to have safe injection sites in the city.
Tragically, the meeting came just days after the death of 22-year-old Brooklyn McNeil, an advocate for safe injection sites in the city. McNeill overdosed and passed away on June 22.
McNeil’s name was brought up several times at the meeting. Deputants spoke about how she could have been saved if there had been a safe injection site in the city.
A video of her was also played at the meeting, showing her speaking at the board of health meeting back in March.
“All accidental overdoses I believe should be prevented or can be prevented by safe injection sites,” she said at the time.
Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders have said they are in favour of having safe injection sites.
“Supervised injection services have been effective in other communities in preventing death, illicit drug use and in reducing health risks,” Tory said in a statement last month. “But in accepting their initiation in Toronto, we must recognize they are only one part of the solution.”
Debating whether Toronto should get safe injection sites. Watch the video below or click here to view it.
The latest available data, from 2013, shows that Toronto’s rate of fatal overdoses is increasing. That year there was an all-time high of 206 overdose deaths.
There are two legal safe-injection sites in Canada, both in Vancouver. Cities that want safe injection sites must go through the federal government to get permission.
According to McKeown’s report, the cost of setting up these sites would be between $100,000 to $150,000 per centre.
Public consultations were held from March to and May and included an online survey and several town halls in the affected neighbourhoods.
With files Momin Qureshi and The Canadian Press