Alberta advocacy groups sue province over harm reduction changes

CALGARY — A collective of harm reduction groups and clients of recovery programs in Alberta are taking the provincial government to court over recent, controversial changes to supervised consumption services.

Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society filed a statement of claim against the Government of Alberta last week.

It alleges the new provincial approach to the overdose crisis will have a significantly negative effect on those who access services in Alberta.

“It’s scary taking your government to court, but we felt compelled to do this,” said Petra Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, a national advocacy organization pushing for drug policy reform.

Her son Danny died from a fentanyl overdose in 2014.

“(The government) blindly follows their ideology, leaving dead bodies in the wake. We can’t allow that to happen,” she said.

SUPERVISED CONSUMPTION SITE CLOSURES

The province is set to overhaul the harm reduction approach, which it has repeatedly called “ineffective.” The changes include the closure of the Safeworks supervises consumption site (SCS) inside Calgary’s Sheldon Chumir Health Centre. 

That site provides a private, safe space where people can use their pre-obtained substances, primarily opioids, in a monitored setting. 

The province found it “disruptive to the neighbourhood” and announced its impending closure in May. 

A spokesperson says it will eventually be replaced by two new, unannounced sites. 

The location in Calgary’s Beltline had 53,725 visits in 2020, which accounts for the second most in the province, behind ARCHES in Lethbridge. 

The UCP closed that facility in July 2020 following unfounded allegations of financial misconduct. 

The southern Alberta city has since seen a spike in deaths. 

OVERDOSE PREVENTION GUIDE UNDER FIRE

That swap is part of the United Conservative push to implement its Recovery-oriented Overdose Prevention Guide, which has been repeatedly slammed by health experts and addictions advocates.

Part of that document outlines a long list of standards that Alberta’s safe consumption facilities must now meet to become licensed.

The statement of claim filed Friday argues the guide will lead to less access to “life-saving treatment” and will result in more deaths and overdoses in the province — something the government denies. 

CLAIM ALLEGES “CRUEL” TREATMENT

The basis of the legal action is that the implementation of the new approach breaches sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically Section 7, which reads “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

It also mentions Section 12 of the Charter, which states “everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.”

The claim alleges “the decision to implement the Guidelines constitutes cruel and unusual treatment that is grossly disproportionate and so excessive that it outrages the standards of decency.”

It also mentions a 2017 move by the federal government that aimed to streamline the process of opening supervised consumption services. The statement alleges the provincial government has broken the law passed in Ottawa by putting up more barriers.

DEADLY STATISTICS

In the first five months of 2021, 624 Albertans lost their life to a overdose. 

That’s an increase of 41 per cent over the same time last year — which was already the worst in the province’s history. 

A total of 1,316 overdose-related fatalities were recorded in 2020.

IMPROVING TREATMENT?

Premier Jason Kenney insists his government remains committed to improving addiction treatment in the province. 

“We can do all of those things in a much more effective way without the kind of very negative implications for the local community,” Kenney said in May.

The lawsuit also points to prior social media posts made by members of the UCP government. 

One from the premier called the consumption facilities “NDP drug sites,” and another, now-deleted post from the previous associate minister of mental health and addictions Jason Luan, alleged the sites were “funded by the multi-billion dollar pharmacy industry.”

None of the allegations in the claim have been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed. The province has 20 days to respond. 

With files from The Canadian Press

View original article here Source

Related Posts