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Council treads cautiously on addictions response

Some councillors say they’re ready for bold harm reduction approach - but not without more information.
City Council
City council looked for more information before deciding on possible harm reduction efforts geared to address addictions. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council isn’t quite ready to embrace a package of bold harm reduction strategies to address its drug crisis put forward by Coun. Aldo Ruberto, instead punting the issue until it could receive more information and consult with local experts.

A motion from Ruberto would have seen the city considering a pilot project including more safe injection sites, a safe supply program that would provide clean drugs to users, and lobbying the federal government to decriminalize possession of hard drugs.

Some councillors said Monday they agreed in principle with the approach, but all wanted more information before proceeding even to seriously consider the steps.

“I’m ready for some bold moves too, but let’s let administration chew on it [and get] some more information,” said Coun. Brian Hamilton.

Coun. Mark Bentz successfully moved for the package to be referred to three groups for feedback: the city’s crime prevention council, drug strategy implementation panel, and police services board. The city will be required to report back on the feedback before the end of the year.

“I’m not disputing any of this – I think this is a great start – but we’re going to need an awful lot of information before we can endorse this as a council,” said Bentz.

Ruberto proposed the motion as an alternate approach after his push to consider a loitering bylaw giving more powers to Thunder Bay police (in an attempt to deal with drug dealers, he said) was unanimously defeated.

He’s determined to see meaningful action on what he describes as a ballooning problem of drugs and addiction – particularly related to opioids, deadly new forms of which have recently entered the city.

Drug strategy coordinator Cynthia Olsen said the ideas put forward by Ruberto would be challenging to put into practice – opening the doors on the city’s lone safe injection site had taken eight years of effort, she estimated.

“It’s not quick work, and you’d certainly need to have organizations that would be willing to put forward the energy and resources to make it happen,” she said.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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