Advertisement

Richmond council to vote on plan for supervised consumption site

Richmond Coun. Kash Heed, along with Coun. Laura Gillanders, initially introduced the idea of establishing a site to test and safely consume drugs in the city. He said misinformation is driving community opposition to the proposal. (Submitted by Kash Heed - image credit)
Richmond Coun. Kash Heed, along with Coun. Laura Gillanders, initially introduced the idea of establishing a site to test and safely consume drugs in the city. He said misinformation is driving community opposition to the proposal. (Submitted by Kash Heed - image credit)

Council in Richmond, B.C., is expected to make a decision Monday on whether to request setting up a safe consumption site near the city's hospital.

The proposal is facing a strong backlash from some residents, with thousands signing an online petition against the idea.

A motion brought forward by councillors Kash Heed and Laura Gillanders on Feb. 5 introduced the idea of a site to test and safely consume drugs, and it passed by eight votes to one.

Monday evening's council meeting will revisit the motion in more detail and will take a final vote to decide if an official request should be made by the city to Health Canada and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

The city told CBC News in an email that 72 speakers had so far registered to speak at the meeting. With that amount, it's possible the meeting might need to be extended beyond Monday to accommodate everyone, it said.

Heed says the proposal arose from Richmond's continued work to support people in vulnerable situations and from complaints by residents and businesses of people using drugs in alleys and public spaces.

He said 26 of the 2,511 people deaths from toxic, illicit drugs in 2023 occurred in Richmond, and that the city has passed motions in recent months to make naloxone available in civic buildings and is working with the province to find treatment options for drug users.

"We're considering a full supervised consumption site where we can get these people into some type of contact with health practitioners … but the most important thing is to save their lives," he said.

While Heed hopes Richmond is able to do "the right thing," he notes there has been a strong response from the community, as well as "appalling" misinformation over the proposal, in the past week.

As of Sunday evening, a Change.org petition has collected over 16,700 signatures from Richmond residents opposed to the proposal.

Staff at Insite have been credited with saving numerous lives over the two decades the site has been open.
Staff at Insite have been credited with saving numerous lives over the two decades the site has been open.

The Insite supervised consumption site in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Organizer Gady Tse wrote on the petition that they are "deeply concerned about the proposed construction" of the site and urged city council to "reconsider this decision for the sake of all Richmond residents' safety."

"The introduction of such a facility will inevitably attract more drug addicts to our city. This could lead to an increase in crime rates and public safety issues that would directly affect us all," they said.

Supporters of the petition, like Kulbir Gill, said "the site will do more harm than good."

"The safe injection site is a lie, a scam. It has been killing our young people more and more," said another supporter, Teresa Wan.

Data on supervised consumption sites across Canada show there have been no fatal overdoses recorded at any locations from March 2020 to November 2023.

Most of the established sites in the VCH region are in Vancouver, according to the health authority's website, with additional sites in Powell River, Sechelt and Squamish.

Heed says the community's response, as well as "several negative emails" sent to councillors over the past week, indicate a misunderstanding of the motion.

"It's appalling … the misinformation that's being spewed out there," said Heed, who added that someone emailed him saying, "We've only had 26 people die. Who really cares? It's just a low percentage."

"For some reason, people have become very passionate and they've been very irresponsible on how they're approaching this and very cold hearted with respect to this vulnerable population," he added.

Heed said the speakers set to speak at Monday's meeting include academic experts and community members opposed to the idea.

In a statement, the City of Richmond clarified it could neither open nor operate a supervised consumption site.

"Should council vote in favour of exploring a supervised consumption site in Richmond, it will be up to VCH to decide whether such a site is in the interests of public health and safety and develop an application to Health Canada accordingly," it said.

The city said neither the proposed site nor its staff would be able to "hand out drugs to users, but [instead] provide access to addiction treatment and recovery services."