08/20/2019 13:34 EDT

Alberta City Decides To Keep Safe Injection Site After Debate Draws Hundreds

Lethbridge rejected a motion that would've asked the province to stop funding the facility.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Needles sit out in the open outside on the streets of Toronto in May 2018.

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — City council in Lethbridge, Alta., has voted down a motion that called on the provincial government to pull funding for a supervised drug consumption facility in the city.

Coun. Blaine Hyggen, who brought the motion forward, said during Monday’s meeting that he’s heard users at the site get goodie bags and chocolates.

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said Hyggen’s comments were unsubstantiated, while Coun. Rob Miyashiro argued people would die if the site closed.

The motion was defeated by a 6-3 margin.

Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue rallied outside the meeting while police used barriers to separate the groups.

People who crammed the council chamber’s public gallery were scanned for weapons on their way in due to what the city’s manager said were threats issued on social media.

I don’t want us to be on national and international news because we have the highest crime rate.Lethbridge Coun. Blaine Hyggen

Prior to introducing his motion, Hyggen said Lethbridge’s drug consumption site is one of the busiest in North America.

“I don’t want us to be on national and international news because we have the highest crime rate. We’re number one. I don’t want us to be number one,” he said.

He described drug use and drug dealing outside the site, saying he is opposed to enabling addicts to consume illegal drugs.

The mayor challenged Hyggen, saying his accusations can’t be backed up with fact.

“I’m saying you have cried wolf too many times,” said Spearman.

Council did approve three other motions that includes a call for an information contact sheet for residents to report drug and crime-related issues on the city’s website. Another would establish an illicit drug-use task force.

The meeting came the same day the province of Alberta announced a government-appointed panel to examine the social and economic effects of safe consumption sites for drug users.

Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said the panel would not consider the health benefits of such sites, or the social issues surrounding drug abuse.

Heather Sweet, the Opposition New Democrat’s critic for mental health and addictions, called it a rigged panel that will pave the way toward closing or moving such sites.

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