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Trudeau criticizes Ford’s ‘ideological’ move to shut down some drug consumption sites

Trudeau criticizes Ford’s ‘ideological’ move to shut down some drug consumption sites
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Premier Doug Ford and his government are putting Ontarians’ lives at risk, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, by forcing the closure of supervised drug consumption sites for “ideological reasons.”

Trudeau, taking reporter’s questions Friday after announcing $1.3 billion in federal funding for Toronto Community Housing, slammed Ontario’s premier and other critics of sites where people safely inject street drugs and get treatment options.

“We are very concerned with the Ford government’s talk of shutting down safe injection sites, safe consumption sites. We’re a government that believes in evidence-based policy. We know that the evidence is very clear — safe injection sites save lives,” the Prime Minister said in front of a Scarborough apartment block.

Ford’s government stunned site operators and local health officials last week by yanking funding for three safe consumption sites, two of them in Toronto. The fate of the city of Toronto’s The Works at Yonge and Dundas Sts., the busiest such site in Ontario, is under review as are plans for two sites yet to open.

The Ford government did approve continued operations by 15 other sites in Ontario.

Trudeau said “the fact that the Conservative government in Ontario, and indeed Conservative politicians across the country, are putting vulnerable people at risk by shutting down consumption sites really makes you wonder where their priorities are.

“As a federal government we will continue to work with experts, with frontline responders and with community organizations, and municipalities leading on this issue, even if we have, unfortunately, a few governments that for ideological reasons are putting people’s lives at risk.”

Last Friday, Trudeau’s government gave the targeted local sites, Street Health at Dundas and Sherbourne Sts., and St. Stephen’s Community House in Kensington Market, emergency exemptions so they could continue operating legally.

The Prime Minister did not, however, offer federal funds Friday to the sites. Operators of the sites say access dramatically reduce chances of a fatal overdose away from medical supervision.

Toronto’s medical officer of health is also warning the Ford government it is putting lives at risk.

“I expect you will see deaths,” if sites are forced to close, Dr. Eileen de Villa told reporters last Friday. “I don’t think that’s hyperbole nor do I think that’s exaggeration. I think it’s calling the facts as they are.”

The premier has brushed aside criticism, saying he had to respond to some residents who don’t want safe-injection sites in their “backyard.”

He pointed to Cabbagetown residents “upset” there are four sites in their area and promised to visit. “It’s all right for people to say, ‘Yes help ‘em, help ‘em,” Ford told reporters. “But with all due respect … if I put one beside your house, you’d be going ballistic.”

Asked for the provincial government’s reaction to Trudeau’s comments, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said consultations with experts persuaded her “we are confident the model we have brought forward is the right approach to connect people struggling with addiction with the care they need and deserve.”

The only sites rejected were close to “fully accessible approved consumption treatment service sites,” said Hayley Chazan, and the province continues to accept applications for other sites.
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