OPO advocates for a policy of police non-attendance at overdose calls for Emergency Medical Services in Ottawa

People who use drugs often delay or avoid calling Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for medical intervention when an overdose happens due to fear that police will also attend the call. Recent efforts to encourage calls to EMS (for example the Good Samaritan Act) have not been effective. The Vancouver Police Department has had a policy of police non-attendance at non-fatal overdoses since 2006. We call for the creation and implementation of evidence-based guidelines for Ottawa Police Services to increase access to EMS for people experiencing an overdose by limiting attendance of members at overdoses.

Earlier this month, we contacted the Ottawa Police Services Board to present this policy proposal at their upcoming meeting. The Ottawa Police Services Board is supposed to be an independent body that represents community interests. When the Board Executive Director received our proposal, she promptly shared it with an Ottawa Police Services member along with the personal contact information of the OPO organizer who submitted the application. In doing so, the Board is supporting the surveillance of community groups by Ottawa Police Services, not operating independently.

Several days after the Board agenda meeting was posted, the Chair of the Board sent the following email the OPO. The Chief of Police was not cc’d on the email.

 

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Overdose Prevention Ottawa Summary Report

In 2017, we opened Ottawa’s first safer consumption space at 307 St. Patrick Street. This report provides a brief overview of our service delivery, timeline of actions, our impact through quotes from our guests and community members and the ongoing harm reduction needs in Ottawa, calling on the need to end prohibition in order to address the overdose emergency.

Read our summary report here.

 

“We don’t have a space to go:” Neglect of Safer Inhalation Services in Ottawa

Overdose Prevention Ottawa’s (OPO) service was an essential harm reduction measure because it saved lives through a safe and inclusive space. OPO is the only harm reduction service in Ottawa’s history to provide a space where people who consume through smoking were safe from interpersonal and police violence and could access warm shelter from freezing weather. We are distraught to hear from our guests that their needs are not being met. 

“Put up a tent somewhere and we will go…I’m not picky, I just want somewhere that is safe. I loved that OPO provided a smoking area. It was fun and comfortable. Now, we don’t have a space to go.” – OPO inhalation tent guest. 

We feared this would happen when we closed our tents on November 9th, but hopeful that our service and advocacy had transformed the landscape of harm reduction in Ottawa and other spaces would provide for the needs of our guests. In the last month, Ontario has released its guide for the operation of an overdose prevention site (OPS)  and  began accepting applications. This guide explicitly refuses to allow inhalation services at OPS.

Click here to read OPO’s statement on the neglect and need for safer inhalation services in Ottawa. 

OPO Condemns Recent Drug War Violence on Lowertown Community

On December 4th, 2017, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) publicly announced that they had conducted the first wave of arrests for “Project Mitigate,” a two-month operation in the downtown core. Seven individuals were arrested in this wave, 21 individuals have been identified. In the midst of an overdose epidemic, while other police departments refer people to harm reduction services, OPS police are proud to announce that they arrest them.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) strongly condemns this initiative and the criminalization of people who use drugs.   

This operation functioned unanimously to target members of our community who are homeless, use drugs, reside in shelters, and are amongst the most marginalized individuals in our community. Reverberating from this operation, people who are most at risk of death from overdose are criminalized, traumatized, and fearful of accessing life-saving health services.

As is demonstrated time and time again, coercive police actions aggravate public health issues and result in the compromised safety of the whole neighborhood. When someone is ripped from the community through a sting operation such as this one, trusted networks are disrupted and the violence and harm of the police actions reverberate through the drug using community.

Project Mitigate removed trusted members of the community from the streets who have lived and supported their community for an extended period of time. It is their consistent neighbourly presence and undisrupted familiarity that is essential to community safety and the health of people who are both regular suppliers and users of substances.  Consistent street-level sellers care about to whom they are selling, the substance potency and advise their consumers accordingly. Consistency in supply and in relationships within the drug using community is essential to survival.  

We know, from our front line work in this neighbourhood, that these very individuals are in fact active naloxone administrators, educators and advocates, who have saved many lives on the very block they were arrested. They have done more to comfort those struggling with addictions and homelessness, or combat lost lives and overdoses during this emergency than certain people who hide behind the guise of a community group, police or politicians have in their entire careers.

Street-level violence will increase as a result of this action. Drug sellers, often people who are themselves addicted to and paid in drugs, will compete for new turf. Additionally, people who use drugs are forced to seek out a new source for the substances they are dependent upon. This process is fraught with insecurity, exploitation, violence, and results in greater risk of death from poisoning. Furthermore, the disruption of drug markets does not result in a reduction of drug supply, nor a decrease in drug use. What these sting operations do accomplish is traumatizing, harming and putting at risk the community of individuals involved in the bottom of the chain of the drug market. Criminalization is not a means of making our community and streets safer, despite police and politician claims.

OPS and the routinely cowardly Mathew Fleury try to portray these people as criminals and vilify them as dangers to society, demonstrating their disconnection with the community.

Contrary to claims of escalating drug market violence, the only thing that has changed recently in Lowertown is the reinvigoration of anti-harm reduction actions, hate mongering and profiling by a few select people of community members who are living in poverty and use drugs. 

As witnessed from the sheer hate and violence experienced by OPO volunteers and guests during our operation at 307 St. Patrick Street, the very individuals who harassed us, have now taken it upon themselves to relentlessly profile and photograph people who are accessing services at the trailer. This hate has led to the heightened police presence as well as police targeting and criminalization of people who use drugs in the area.

Unfortunately, Project Mitigate is no anomaly.  When it comes to OPS’ response to poverty drug trade, this operation follows predictable police practice of profiling and criminalizing street-involved drug users who are surviving.

Past OPS busts have proven to traumatize and harm members of the community. The notorious “Operation Fire Cracker” of June 2012 (a supposed five-month investigation) was portrayed by Police Chief Bordeleau as an “outstanding” and “successful” practice.  In reality, over 109 individuals (mainly people of colour and shelter residents) were arrested, and charged for a variety of petty crimes and charges, for violations like possession, panhandling, and expectorating, and a handful of other Safe Streets Act violations.  The total value of street drugs seized per person worked out to pennies.  This waste of resources and the obvious ineptitude of such actions result in severe trauma on a resilient population that is already relentlessly bombarded by prohibition, discrimination, oppression, poverty and criminalization in their day to day lives.

The war on drugs is a war on people and it must end.  It is a costly war that fails to reduce drug use and has led to many despicable consequences such as overdose deaths, HIV and hepatitis C infections among people who use drugs, prison over-crowding, severe human rights violations, and an exacerbation of stigma, marginalization, violence and corruption.  As practitioners of harm reduction delivering front-line service, we will work with our community to reduce the harms of this war and bring it to an end.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa stands in solidarity with those fighting the prison-industrial-complex

Those working in policing, the courts, and sites of confinement are among many within the prison-industrial-complex (PIC) that turn a profit through the criminalization and punishment of populations pushed to the margins in our unceded and unsurrendered communities, province, and country. The war on drugs brings some drug producers, salespersons, and users into conflict with the law unnecessarily and creates more harm to individuals and communities than benefits. The war on drugs is central to Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) actors making money off human misery. Every year in Canada, the PIC devours over $20 billion in funds that could be spent on bettering society by ending poverty, expanding access to education, health and mental health care, housing, and other basic necessities of life. We should be divesting from the PIC and its role in sustaining a flawed, inhumane, unjust, and costly drug prohibition model that is damaging and killing people, both young and old. Consider these Canadian (in)justice trends from 2014-2015:

  • Alleged drug offences accounted for 9.7% of all adult charges by the police.
  • Drug charges accounted for 6.8% of cases before adult courts, with possession allegations accounting for nearly two-thirds of those cases.
  • In cases where people were convicted and sentenced to time in a provincial or territorial prison, it cost an average of $198.50 per day or $72,452.50 per year to incarcerate just one prisoner.    
  • In cases where people are convicted and sentenced to time in a federal penitentiary, it costs an average of $301.94 per day or $110,208.10 per year to incarcerate just one prisoner.    

This is a time of grave injustice. As the municipal government fails to reign in the budget of the Ottawa Police Service, the provincial government pursues an uninformed plan to build a new and bigger jail to replace the Innis Road jail, and the federal government refuses to decriminalize drugs in the midst of an opioid crisis that has taken thousands of lives, Overdose Prevention Ottawa stands in solidarity with all groups – local, national and international – that are fighting the PIC and seeking an end to the war on drugs. We commit to working alongside all those involved in building a more compassionate world where social harm is met with non-violent, collective, healing, and transformative justice.

STATEMENT: OPO transitioning to the second phase of advocacy and service delivery.

It is with heavy hearts that Overdose Prevention Ottawa share that we are closing the service we have provided on the patch of grass located at 307 St. Patrick Street since August 25, 2017. In over two months, we have had 3445 visits, reversed five overdoses with naloxone, and prevented hundreds more through various interventions, including enhanced monitoring, providing a safe space for people to consume drugs, to be able to take their time, and experience connection and belonging within the community.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa provided the first public safe space in our city for people to use drugs, primarily through injection and inhalation. At that time, there were no harm reduction services that provided a space for people to safely consume drugs. We have built relationships of trust with people, the building blocks of healing deep wounds. Every day, our guests tell us that they and their friends are alive because of our services.

In just over two months, we have accomplished much to make our city safer for people who use drugs, to combat stigma and criminalization, and fix some of the many gaps in the healthcare system. For 74 days, we have operated without any support from any level of government. It is only through the tireless efforts of our more than 200 volunteers, and through the donations of thousands of private supporters were we able to stand up where our government had failed so many. It is shameful that so many individuals have had to sacrifice so much to fix that failing. But it is also truly inspiring to see the love, the compassion, and unwavering support of our neighbours in the face of this emergency. We have created a powerful community of advocates and we will continue to use that strength to both demand and actively build a better city for everyone.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa has been successful in our mission to bring accessible, safer consumption services to the area of our city most affected by the overdose emergency. Thanks to our efforts, there are now two supervised injection services operating within two blocks of our site. Although they operate in distinct ways from Overdose Prevention Ottawa, their openings warrant a reconsideration of the need for our services in Lowertown. Through our dedicated service and our advocacy, we have forced harm reduction service providers to respond, and have helped pave a path towards a more equitable healthcare system, one that treats drug users with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Now, we are going to redirect our efforts to address other failings in the healthcare system throughout Ottawa. For that reason, we will be closing the 307 St. Patrick overdose prevention site this week and transitioning to the second phase of advocacy and service delivery. We will continue to monitor and respond to the needs for overdose prevention services throughout the City of Ottawa and take steps to ensure the health and well-being of those who are most at risk of preventable death.

Along with our guests and volunteers, we are angry and ashamed by the responses by each level of government to this ongoing emergency. Overdose Prevention Ottawa operated its service less than two kilometres from Parliament Hill and City Hall, where local and national decisions that, for many people, can mean life or death. Despite that proximity, governments continue to operate largely according to business as usual. Particularly reprehensible are the actions of Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Mathieu Fleury, and Minister of Health Dr. Eric Hoskins who profess to take action to address the overdose emergency in one breath and then deny services to people who use drugs in another. Canada is facing a preventable health emergency that is driven by prohibition, criminalization, and stigma. We will continue to demand action from federal, provincial, and municipal governments.  These same levels of government and harm reduction organizations have benefitted from Overdose Prevention Ottawa providing this service and doing their work for them.

Significant changes have taken place over the past two months, but much still needs to be done. Safer inhalation services, like the kind provided by Overdose Prevention Ottawa, are an essential and currently lacking service in this city. We have long known that the government and health and social services abandon and criminalize people who use drugs. Overdose Prevention Ottawa stepped in to care for the community. Since these structures have not provided meaningful support for Overdose Prevention Ottawa. They are again abandoning people who use drugs.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa is not going anywhere. We will remain engaged in overdose prevention work and advocacy. We have thrived because of this shared understanding from our supporters and the community. For that, Overdose Prevention Ottawa is forever grateful. We have made long-lasting connections, saved lives and made history together. And we will continue to do so, together.

Overdose Prevention Ottawa