Class action lawsuit filed against South Riverdale Community Health Centre and its Safe Consumption Site

South Riverdale Community Health Centre is facing a class action lawsuit brought forward by Leslieville resident Jacqueline Court as well as nearby business JSCS Inc. (Eastside Social).

The lawsuit against the community health centre, which runs a harm reduction supervised drug consumption safe injection site at its location at 955 Queen St. E., comes in the wake of the fatal shooting of Leslieville resident Karolina Huebner-Makurat in July of last year.

An innocent bystander, Huebner-Makurat was killed by a stray bullet fired during an attempted robbery of a man by two other men outside of the SRCHC just after noon on Friday, July 7, 2023. Huebner-Makurat, a mother of two daughters ages four and seven at the time of her death, was crossing Carlaw Avenue at Queen Street East when the shooting took place. The SRCHC is located just south and east of the intersection.

Also named in the lawsuit that was filed earlier this month in Ontario Superior Court are the federal and provincial ministries of health and the City of Toronto.

Among its allegations, the lawsuit claims that the SRCHC did not follow Toronto Council’s 2016 guidelines for the city’s first three supervised Safe Consumption Sites which included the location at 955 Queen St. E.

Considering SRCHC’s close proximity to multiple schools and daycare facilities in the Leslieville area, the organization agreed to a zero-tolerance drug selling policy which the lawsuit claims that the organization has failed to abide by.

The lawsuit also reiterates some of the many complaints previously highlighted by residents in the surrounding neighbourhood regarding the Safe Consumption Site at the SRCHC including human waste and needles on the streets; illegal activities such as drug deals; vandalism and damage to property; and assault on residents.

In the lawsuit, Court shared some of her own encounters with intoxicated people in the area. One encounter involved a woman, visibly under the influence of an illicit substance, threatening to burn down Court’s home. Although it is not confirmed that the individuals Court encountered are related to SRCHC’s operation, she has lived in the area for 12 years and the lawsuit claims that the increase in violence is directly related to SRCHC’s safe consumption site.

The local business involved in the lawsuit, Eastside Social, also shed light on some of its own issues with the current state of the neighbourhood with claims of intoxicated people entering the establishment as well as reports of unconscious drug users blocking the entrance.

The lawsuit is being brought forward by lawyer Andrea Sanche, a partner with the Toronto legal firm Ricketts Harris

None of the claims by in the lawsuit have been tested in court.

The class action lawsuit comes as SRCHC is undergoing a number of changes.

The health centre has recently taken multiple measures to reconcile with the Leslieville community – measures such as appointing Jill Campbell, a former executive at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, as SRCHC Supervisor; erecting physical barriers between the Queen Street East site and the neighbouring church where people used to gather under the umbrella of illicit conduct; hiring more security and updating their system; and more frequent needle sweeps of the area.

Last month, SRCHC also three open houses “to ensure local residents are well-informed about the many health services available at the centre”.

Beach Metro Community News reached out to SRCHC for comment on the class action lawsuit but they were reluctant to comment specifically on it “given this is a matter that would be before the courts”.

“What we can say, however, is that South Riverdale Community Health Centre remains focused on both public health and public safety,” said an SRCHC spokesperson

“We are continuing to work closely with our health partners and the police to address the needs of our community,” said the spokesperson.

— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Amarachi Amadike, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Beach Metro Community News