Harm reduction workers in Toronto are planning to open the city’s first unsanctioned pop-up safe injection site this weekend, VICE News has learned.
Members of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance are buying a tent and held a meeting on Friday afternoon to finalize the plans for the site, which is slated to open in an east-end park on Saturday. The group hopes to mimic similar overdose prevention sites in British Columbia that have opened as a way around intense federal application processes required for government approval.
Prominent harm reduction advocate Zoë Dodd said she and other members of the Alliance decided to take the drastic measure as opioid overdose death rates continue to climb. Health Canada recently sanctioned three safe injection sites in Toronto, which are expected to open sometime in the fall.
“Right now we’re just worried about keeping people alive”
But Dodd says the community cannot wait any longer.
“Right now we’re just worried about keeping people alive and so we need to enact things to keep people alive,” Dodd said in an interview. She explained that public health agencies pursued the safe injection sites at a time — more than a year ago — when they didn’t expect the crisis to become as urgent as it is now.
“Now we’re in an emergency.”
She said the Alliance is being provided harm reduction supplies, which they will give to drug users who attend the site. There will also be lawyers on call in the event law enforcement tries to shut them down.
A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory told VICE News in an email that he was not aware of the plan.
Under the current legislation on safe injection sites, Health Canada must grant special exemptions to public agencies who apply to open them. The government recently passed a law easing restrictions around this process, but hurdles and wait times still remain.
Toronto city councillor Joe Cressy, who’s been a lead on the city’s efforts to bring in sanctioned safe drug consumption sites, told CBC News on Friday that if pop-up sites were to open, he would “not condemn them.”
The plans for the site comes two weeks after Toronto police announced at least four overdose deaths suspected of being linked to fentanyl, and at least 20 other overdoses occurred. A number of recent deaths reportedly happened right near the proposed safe injection sites.