It’s election season in northwestern Ontario!

Q104, KenoraOnline and DrydenNow asked each Council and Mayor candidate for their thoughts on a variety of issues in the community, and we’ll be running a series of articles with candidates’ responses.

Do you support the Northwestern Health Unit investigating the possibility of a Safe Injection Site, and the use of other harm reduction services to tackle the region’s social issues?

- Andrew Poirier
“The Northwestern Health Unit, as a standalone organization has the right to study and review any program they so choose. I completed the survey and anxiously await the results, so that I have the necessary information to make an informed decision. I will not make decisions with minimal data.

I understand the concept of a Safe Consumption Site and why they are required, however, my concern lies with location, funding and who would run such a facility. Adding more drug-related issues to our downtown core does not help this city or its residents. The focus should be on educational programs which assist people to not get hooked on drugs in the first place.”

- Mort Goss
“Harm reduction is a proven strategy; it keeps people out of our hospitals, courts and jails. I am in favour of any project that helps our community through our current substance abuse crisis. I would accept any research on a project that could move us forward in the fight against the problem.

However, council has little say in the study, or even the implementation, but if a safe injection site were proposed, I would want to see it in a location/facility with minimum impact on the chosen neighbourhood.”

- Sharon Smith
“The goal of supervised consumption sites are meant to save the lives of the addicted population and to connect them with treatment services. All lives have value and I believe in harm reduction. If and when Council is consulted with respect to a SCS proposal any decision I make will be based on the facts presented.”

- Lisa Moncrief
“Harm reduction is already taking place in our community. Methadone is dispensed at Shoppers Drug Mart and there are existing managed alcohol programs.

The NWHU survey was a lost opportunity to educate the public on the subject of harm reduction.  The survey felt tilted in favour of a specific outcome. Paying $20.00 to vulnerable people to complete the survey has fostered discomfort with their methods and widespread mistrust of their motives.

Safe Injection – a temporary measure for addicts seeking treatment – as one stage in the treatment continuum might make sense to me once the other pieces are in place – not now.”

- Mark Perrault
“I support the investigation but my own conclusions based on the latest numbers from BC says it's like having ONE lifeguard to prevent drownings on Lake of the Woods.

74% of deaths are not from injection. Only 50% of users are registered at insite and they use it 40 times a year on average or less than 10% of their injections are observed. Ten times more likely to die somewhere else and 3 times more likely to die from inhalation.

Band-aid solution as it doesn’t deal with the addiction and the destructive anti-social behaviour that is destroying our community's trust. It's a lifestyle we are normalizing, a subculture that can only exist through enabling.

Mandatory treatment out of the City.  Stop making it easy to do nothing.  Making them work, volunteer to get supper – little kids are expected to pick up after themselves. There should be a discharge plan to return people back to their home communities, back to their culture.”

- Kelsie Van Belleghem
“Municipalities do not create or mandate public health policy, the provincial and federal governments (Represented in our area by MPP Greg Rickford, and MP Eric Melillo) mandate public health.

Safe consumption sites fall under those public health mandates as a tool to mitigate the burden on our health care systems (by reducing overdoses, and unsafe consumption practices, etc.), and are a place to make sure drug use debris is collected and disposed of properly, and potentially lead to a pathway towards treatment.

If the All Nations Health Partners, based on the data and facts collected throughout the feasibility study recommended that a safe consumption site is feasible and necessary in Kenora, there is no world where I would think that I have more knowledge and understanding of this topic than all of our health care professionals in this region, and go against it. I support them looking into the feasibility as they are the experts, and this is what they are mandated to do.”

- Mark LaBelle
“I support Northwestern Health Unit investigating the viability of a safe injection site. Based on their findings we can develop more focus on dealing with this.”

- Joel McGrath
"Harm reduction is already working in Kenora through the Managed Alcohol Program. Harm and emergency services costs related to MAP participants have been all but eliminated. A supervised consumption site would do the same, as well as opening doors to rehabilitation. I would support such an initiative if managed effectively and located appropriately."

- Chris Poate
“Yes, I am leaning in favour of this as long as it helps to identify, in a non-threatening manner, those who need and want help to ‘get clean’. 

These people are here with us now and aren't going anywhere.  We should get them help and training so that they can enjoy a good life in our community.  Lord knows we need the help in the local service industry, construction industry, and others.”

- Lindsay Koch
“NWHU is investigating Supervised Consumption Services as part of a broader All Nations Health Partners project. Whether folks support the investigation or not is moot. It’s almost done.”

Harm reduction services are evidence-based and are intended to reduce harm for drug users. That’s the mandate, and that’s what’s happening. While the associated outreach can be linked to ‘tackling the region’s social issues’, this is not meant to be a solution. It’s the prevention of illness, not only for those you see in the downtown, but all drug users who access the program – they’re not all homeless, not all Indigenous. And further, for those who interact with drug users in some ways. 

Lastly, while there are impacts to the community, this is not municipally driven and there are real limitations on what council or city staff can actually influence here.”

Every candidate was asked for their responses to five questions related to issues in the community. As of the time of publishing, we did not receive responses from: Louis Roussin, Cecile Marcino, Logan Haney, Barbara Manson, Graham Chaze, Bob Bernie, Andy Scribilo, David Byers-Kitt

Advanced voting is underway in Kenora and voting begins in Dryden on October 14. The Municipal election will wrap up on October 24.