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Debate reignites on safe drug consumption site

Ward 4 councillors Derek Giberson and Rick Kerr have both brushed allegations they are trying to reopen the discussion on bringing a consumption and treatment site (CTS) to Oshawa. Council turned down an application for a CTS in March.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A group of residents believes two councillors are trying to reignite the debate on bringing a consumption treatment site (CTS) to Oshawa.

In late-March, city council voted against supporting an application for a CTS site at the Midtown Mall.

The application was developed jointly by the Durham Region Health Department, Lakeridge Health and the John Howard Society of Durham Region.

Last fall, the provincial government announced consumption and treatment sites would replace the former model of supervised consumption services, also known as safe injection sites, and overdose prevention sites.

Ontario is investing approximately $25 million to fund 21 sites across the province, but applications require municipal support to move forward.

When council said no, the application was abandoned.

However, some residents believe it could be back on the table at some point.

Resident Jeff Davis argues the way the March 28 meeting minutes read councillors only turned down the Midtown Mall location.

He suggests this leaves “the city and citizens open to a repeated attempt for an ill-fated CTS to be located within our city limits.”

Davis requested council pass a motion to state, in no uncertain terms, it is opposed to a CTS at any location across Oshawa.

He voiced concerns the regional health department is working towards another application.

“It stands to reason that any future proposal would once again target Oshawa…my concern is that members of this council would consider a new proposal with a new location,” Davis stated.

Davis also hints Durham Region may have authority to overrule the city and force zoning to allow a CTS in Oshawa.

However, Mayor Dan Carter said the application has to have local approval, and the region cannot overrule that decision.

Stating Ward 4 would be the only one to benefit from a CTS, Davis insinuated Ward 4 councillors Derek Giberson and Rick Kerr, who both voted in favour of the application, are continuing to push the idea.

Giberson contested this, stating there was “no loophole” or push in the background to bring a site to Oshawa.

The first-term councillor later told The Oshawa Express he found it “interesting” that he is believed to be part of a local grassroots campaign to bring a CTS to the city.

“I actually had the pleasure of introducing myself to some of their members for the first time [during the meeting],” he said.

Giberson said while council didn’t support the application earlier this year, the affect of the opioid crisis is still being felt.

“Even if council has decided to decline the application that came forward in March…that doesn’t mean that people have stopped overdosing and dying from overdoses in our community,” he states. “It hasn’t changed the fact that we’re still seeing an increase in the catastrophic emergency responses needed when there are overdoses in the community.”

As long as he sees the opioid crisis as a threat to the wellbeing of citizens, Giberson said he will continue to speak about it publicly.

“I can’t apologize for that,” he adds.

Kerr said in no way has he been campaigning to “re-advance” the discussion on a CTS.

“How is it I’m going against council’s decision, because I’m not,” he says.

However, Kerr says he was informed by Paul McGary, director of mental health at Lakeridge Health, that the province had not enforced a previously stated deadline of March 31 for applications.

Based on this information, Kerr believes there is a chance another application could come to council in the future.

Kerr sits on the Downtown Oshawa BIA board, and noted a common concern from BIA members was they hadn’t received enough information about the CTS application and exactly what it entailed.

He said it may be helpful for the organization to reach out to McGary or other experts in the field of mental health and addictions to gain knowledge, but that he would not be part of those efforts.

Eventually, the BIA board decided not to move forward with such a meeting, Kerr said.

Should another application come forward, Kerr said council will need to do its due diligence and consider it, but until that happens, for him it’s a “dead issue.”

Another resident, Fitz Matheson, said it would be “unfortunate” if any councillor used their position to reopen the debate.

“Residents of Oshawa want to know a decision has been made…having a second kick at the can because you didn’t get what you wanted out of it also doesn’t serve the community at large,” Matheson said.