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Richmond council votes 8-1 to explore safe drug consumption site

'People cannot recover (from drug use) if they're dead': Former outreach worker
Former VPD officer and Richmond resident argued for a safe-consumption site at Monday's committee meeting.

Eight out of nine Richmond city councillors voted to explore the idea of a site at the hospital grounds where drug users can test their drugs and consume them safely.

After several people spoke on the issue at Monday’s committee meeting – the majority in favour – only Coun. Chak Au voted against the motion initiated by Couns. Kash Heed and Laura Gillanders.

Au claimed the motion wasn’t about asking staff to study whether a safe-consumption site would work in Richmond, rather it was direction to staff to implement a safe-consumption site.

“This is not an open consultation or an open study,” Au said. “It’s really a direction to staff to do it with the cover of a practicality analysis. And that’s why people felt the decision has already been made and people felt they’re not being listened to.”

Au further argued that having safe-injection sites hasn’t reduced deaths in the Lower Mainland.

“The question is if injection sites were truly effective, we should be witnessing a decline in the number of tragic deaths,” Au said.

He added safe-injection sites operate as “maintenance programs,” which allow people to use drugs “indefinitely.”

Sheldon Starrett, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2022 on Au’s slate, held a press conference earlier Monday to argue against the safe-consumption site. He was joined by half a dozen Richmond residents and former MP Kenny Chiu, who all spoke against the motion coming to the afternoon committee meeting.

Starrett also addressed city council, saying the amount of crime, needles and public disorder has increased in city centre since the opening of the temporary modular housing, which supports people who are homeless, often because of addiction.

But several Richmond residents spoke in favour of the motion, including former Vancouver police officer Ken Frail who was involved in the early days of Insite, Vancouver’s first safe-injection site.

While the Downtown East Side might seem very different from Richmond, Frail said there's one similarity in that people using streets drugs, "which aren't quality controlled," they are taking a chance of overdosing, and emergency response needs to be within minutes.

"If it doesn't occur within a couple minutes, you've just lost a life."

Former Richmond outreach worker Donna Colpitts told city council that “people cannot recover (from drug use) if they’re dead.”

“With today’s toxic drug supply, one relapse could mean death,” she said.

She added she’s known several people who wanted to recover from drug addiction, who she believes could have been successful, but have since passed away from toxic drugs.

In fact, 26 people died in Richmond last year of suspected toxic-drug poisonings.

Au claimed if a safe-consumption site were opened in city centre, it wouldn’t be the only one in Richmond and they might be opened in Steveston and Hamilton as well.

Heed, however, called this “inappropriate fear-mongering.”

The motion was to address public drug use, Heed added, and move drug users into a safe space, and for police, firefighters and outreach workers to “be able to direct people to this particular location to save their lives.”

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