Fraser Health pushes for site, potential for police backlash
By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor
Fraser Health is currently filing an application to Health Canada to open two safe drug use sites in Surrey, aimed at protecting the lives of users located near the centre of the city. One is hoping to open near Surrey Memorial Hospital. The other site is looking to open in the “Whalley Strip”—the area on 135 Ave near Gateway Station. The strip is home to many of Surrey’s most vulnerable users, who have set up tents in the area.
The sites were announced on December 7, 2016, around the same time that Surrey announced the city would be making efforts to address homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues affecting residents in Whalley.
According to the December 6 Fraser Health press release, along with providing a safe, clean, and supervised area for users to consume, both sites will provide accessible opioid treatments. The Surrey Memorial location will offer access to the Sobering and Assessment Centre, while the Whalley Strip location will offer both basic and HIV health treatments.
Fraser Health has been applauded by those who advocate for the troubled residents.
“I hear it day after day after day that people are dying from drug overdoses on fentanyl and carfentanil. It’s definitely a necessity to have safe injection sites. We need them,” said Surrey Area Network of Drug Users president Ron Moloughney to CBC.
However, the sites’ ability to function to their maximum potential has been debated. The drug use sites will be accompanied by a deployment of police forces, specifically 12 RCMP officers and 4 bylaw officers, to monitor and protect the area for users and non-users alike. This has led to some concerns about whether or not the sites will truly be accessible to all those who need them.
“There’s already been an uproar about [officers] being on the Strip, how they handle tent cities by throwing people’s belongings out,” Tabitha Naismith, chairperson of Newton ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), said to the Globe and Mail.
Naismith fears that a drastically increased police presence will cause users to fear persecution, and thus avoid the sites being set up to assist them.
Meanwhile, Downtown Eastside activist Ann Livingston explained to the Globe and Mail that the City of Surrey “…would be better off taking that money and putting it toward housing, or a day centre where [service providers] can work with [people who use drugs], talk to them about health, be kind to them.”
It is currently unknown if or when the sites will be approved by Health Canada, or when a decision on the sites can be expected.