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Ontario's Politicians Greeted by 1,265 Crosses on Their Lawn

The grave markers represented the number of overdose deaths across the province last year.
Photo by Gillian Kolla/Twitter

The lawn of Ontario’s legislature in Toronto briefly became a graveyard for opioid overdose victims Monday morning—at least before security started pulling out 1,265 wooden crosses erected by local harm reduction workers.

The crosses aimed to send a message to Conservative Premier Doug Ford that lives are on the line as the province reviews the former Liberal government’s opioid crisis strategy, leaving a handful of the city’s overdose prevention sites in limbo. The grave markers represented the number of people who died of overdose across Ontario last year.


“We wanted to emphasize to our government and decision makers that these are real people,” Gillian Kolla, Toronto Overdose Prevention Site volunteer and doctoral fellow in public health at the University of Toronto, told VICE. “The 1,265 people who died, these are family, friends, and community members, and they’re very much missed.”

Overdose prevention sites are an emergency response to the epidemic of opioid-related deaths affecting communities across Canada. Harm reduction workers supervise drug users, provide harm reduction supplies, and administer naloxone when they see signs of overdose.

During Ontario’s election campaign this summer, Ford said he was “dead against” safe injection sites. After his Progressive Conservative government was elected, the province announced it would put all overdose prevention site approvals on pause until a review was completed. That review, which will also decide the fate of 16 sites already operating in Ontario, was supposed to be completed on Friday.

In the meantime, harm reduction workers have opened an unsanctioned site in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood to address the unrelenting overdose crisis. The Toronto Overdose Prevention Society also runs a sanctioned Moss Park location, which is in danger of being shut down depending on the results of the review.

So far, three new sites approved by the previous government and five applications submitted before the review are waiting to be processed. “The already approved sites in Parkdale, Thunder Bay, and St. Catherines must be allowed to open immediately,” reads a Toronto Overdose Prevention Society press release. “Medical and public health experts, as well as everyday Ontarians across the province have been calling on the government to stop this waiting game and confirm that they will allow these life-saving services to remain open.”


Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott released a statement Friday saying her review was in its final stages after months of consultations. In the meantime, the feds approved a six-month extension of a temporary exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which allows some sites approved by the Liberals to keep their doors open.

"I immediately granted the extension and am pleased that the Ontario Government is considering the evidence we have shared," federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement to CBC. "I'm confident they will reach the same conclusion that I have; these sites save lives."

Between August 2017 and July 2018 the Overdose Prevention Society in Toronto has seen 9,062 visits, and intervened in 251 overdoses, according to Kolla.

Across Canada, nearly 4,000 people died of opioid-related overdose in 2017 alone.

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