Government appoints panel for supervised consumption site review

By Catherine Griwkowsky August 20, 2019

An eight-person committee, chaired by former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht, will review crime and safety issues associated with supervised drug consumption sites in Alberta, but will not touch on how the services they provide help reduce overdoses and save lives.
Appointed by the United Conservative government, the panel will study the “social and economic” impacts of supervised consumption services (SCS), including crime rates, needle debris, complaints of social disorder, impact to residential property values, emergency medical services calls and impact to businesses.
“We’re trying to balance the system,” Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan told reporters. “The existing government already has a wealth of information supporting the merits of supervised consumption sites in terms of their contribution to harm reduction and overall system of care.”
Luan suggested the previous NDP government failed to listen to the voices of communities and businesses in the areas near SCS.
Knecht, who was Edmonton Police Service chief for seven years before retiring in 2018, said he stands by statements he made in 2016 in support of SCS as harm reduction tools, but told reporters that communities near the services should not have to deal with higher crime rates. 
He pointed to Edmonton, where Knecht said has seen needle debris, social disorder and garbage in the streets in the area around the Royal Alexandra Hospital (there is a SCS for patients in the hospital). 
Currently, there are seven SCS in the province — four in Edmonton, one in Calgary, one in Lethbridge and one in Grande Prairie. There is an interim overdose prevention site in Red Deer while the community awaits Health Canada’s approval of a full SCS.
There are also three proposed sites — a mobile site in Calgary, one in Medicine Hat and a full-fledged SCS in Red Deer.
Knecht says he wants to see police get ahead of addiction by arresting drug traffickers and spoke in favour of addiction treatments that will end the “cycle of despair.”
The panel’s vice-chair, Geri Iininaatoáákii Bemister-Williams, is a professor, criminologist and member of the Blackfoot Nation who is in long-term recovery from addiction. She said her role is to look objectively at the facts and does not have an opinion on SCS either way.
The other panel members are:

  • Dr. Charl Els;

  • Joan Hollihan;

  • Dr. Rob Tanguay;

  • Dr. Ray Baker;

  • Paul Maxim; and

  • Steve Cormack

The panel, which will meet next month, will not be considering whether any additional sites should be opened, nor will it look at funding or the broader social context such as homelessness or the need for social housing.