Safe injection site reviews are complete but not yet public

By Alan S. Hale May 24, 2024

A group of people hold a banner reading Attn: Michael Tibollo save Sudbury's SCS.

Supporters of The Spot, a supervised consumption site in Sudbury that closed in April, protest at Queen’s Park on August 23, 2023. (Save The Spot)

A series of reviews of Ontario’s safe injection sites are now complete, but the government is not yet ready to release the findings publicly.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones‘ office confirmed to Queen’s Park Today that her ministry’s review, which was launched nearly one year ago, has wrapped.

“In the wake of the review, we are now working on strengthening accountability measures with existing sites, ensuring they’re living up to their requirements,” said Jones’ spokesperson Hannah Jensen.

“We will be able to provide more details on that in a few weeks,” Jensen added.

After the July 2023 death of 44-year-year-old Karolina Huebner-Makurat, who was killed by a stray bullet fired outside of the safe injection site at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, Premier Doug Ford vowed the PCs would do “everything we can to prevent this from happening again.”

What followed were a series of reviews, which varied in scale.

The province tapped the Unity Health Toronto hospital network to do a third-party review of the Leslieville site, as well as launching a broader Ministry of Health-led investigation into all 17 provincially funded safe injection sites in Ontario.

It also recruited retired CAMH executive Jill Campbell to supervise the SRCHC and tasked her with looking closely at the community’s concerns about the facility.

Campbell’s mandate is complete and she has left that supervisory position.

A source close to the situation told Queen’s Park Today that Campbell’s report was finished late last year, and it was anticipated that it would be released publicly in January, which never happened.

Meanwhile, Unity Health confirmed that it submitted its final report to the government in “early March.”

The final reports have yet to be shared with the SRCHC itself, according to a source, and Unity Health declined to comment on its findings.

In July 2023, Ford vowed to shut the Leslieville site down if any issues were found under its compliance review, but it remains in operation.

Since the review process kicked off, the PCs have refused to provide any funding for safe injection sites in Ontario, even though facilities in Windsor and Sudbury were running out of municipal money and needed provincial funding agreements to stay open.

The facility in Sudbury, known as The Spot, closed its doors on April 1 despite opposition parties’ calls for emergency funding from Queen’s Park. Soon after its closure, Public Health Sudbury and the Greater Sudbury Police Service warned that drug overdoses and poisonings had begun to rise in that city.

Before The Spot was shut down, the executive director of its operator, Réseau ACCESS Network, said she had heard the reviews had already been submitted to the government, but cash was still being withheld.

“Everyone is just waiting,” Heidi Eisenhauer told Queen’s Park Today in March. “I just got an email from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition … saying that it’s being discussed in caucus, but no reply has been given to the ministry.”

In early May, NDP MPP Peter Tabuns — whose Toronto—Danforth riding is home to the Leslieville site — also began hearing rumours that the reports were complete and sent a letter to Associate Mental Health Minister Michael Tibollo requesting to see them.

In response, Tibollo promised to reach out to Tabuns “as soon as we learn more about both the review and the availability of any related report” but noted the review was being conducted by the Ministry of Health and was not under his purview.

Tabuns never received a copy.

The most recent wrinkle in this saga is the province’s request for a wider federal review of safe injection sites.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month, Ford asked the feds “to immediately stop approving new [safe injection] sites and conduct a formal review of existing ones in the province.”

Asked why the premier is requesting yet another review, Jones’ office clarified that Ford is asking Ottawa to scrutinize the “federally funded and operated” safe injection sites that are located in Ontario, as opposed to the provincially funded ones that were subject to the ministry’s review.