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Video: Emotions run high at Richmond discussion about safe-consumption site

Compassion for people struggling with substance use but fear of drug use being normalized were some of the messages conveyed to Richmond city council.

City council is not a theatre or a carnival.

This was the stern message from Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie after applause and chants of “no drugs, no drugs” broke out in chambers after a tearful presentation opposing a safe-consumption site in Richmond at Monday night’s city council meeting.

“I can tell you I’ve been doing this since the mid-'90s and this is the first time I’ve had that kind of reaction here in the city council,” Brodie said. “It’s not going to happen. Is there anybody who doesn’t understand that?”

He said there would be no “demonstrations” in council chambers, and the only way to give input was to get on the speaking list and tell city council “what’s on your mind.”

“This is not some kind of theatre or a carnival,” Brodie said. “This is a very solemn occasion where we are making important discussions and decisions for the city.”

City council proceeded to hear about 50 delegations for four hours on a motion to ask the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to explore having a safe-consumption site in Richmond.

The harshest criticism came from Will Siu, who said drug addicts only belong in mental institutions or prison. He blamed shoplifting, other crimes and disorder on people using drugs near his home, which is close to the temporary modular building.

He said Canada is turning into a third-world country and blamed drug addicts for crime in the community.

Dozens of other opponents expressed compassion towards people who use drugs but said they fear for their children growing up in Richmond where drug use would be normalized by a safe-consumption site.

Several people repeated Coun. Chak Au’s argument against it, saying that deaths from drug overdoses and poisonings have increased since the opening of the first safe-injection site in Vancouver, Insite.

In fact, no one has ever died of a drug overdose or drug poisoning at Insite. The safe-consumption site has had about 400,000 visits since it opened.

Several parents whose children have struggled with addiction or have passed away spoke in favour of the motion.

Leslie McBain, who started the advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm after her son died from “drug harms,” said the only goal of a safe-consumption site is to save lives. 

Lisa Weih said the stigma around using drugs is driving people to use alone and not seek help. She also noted drug addiction can hit all segments of society.

Her daughter Renee died four years ago from toxic drugs.

“Renee was a smart, beautiful, kind person with hopes and dreams for a good life,” Weih said. “She grew up in a loving, middle-class family with many opportunities. Renee never stopped trying to recover from drugs. Along her courageous path to wellness, she lost her life."

The BC Coroners Service has noted deaths are occurring because of the presence of fentanyl and other substances in street drugs that cause respiratory arrest which, without reversal, can lead to death.

The meeting was adjourned at 11 p.m. It will pick up again on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Last week city council voted 8-1 in support of asking VCH to look into a safe-consumption site on Richmond Hospital grounds. 

Au was the only councillor to vote against this motion.

A post on Reddit notes there will be another demonstration at city hall at 5:30 p.m. preceding this second meeting.