Missing money found, no criminal charges involving Alberta drug site: police

·3 min read

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Police say there will be no criminal charges involving a supervised drug consumption site in southern Alberta that was forced to close after the province alleged financial problems.

The province says it still has concerns and won't be restoring funding.

The Lethbridge Police Service said Tuesday that prosecutors supported its finding and determined there wasn't a reasonable likelihood of conviction in the case involving ARCHES.

Alberta's United Conservative government, citing an audit that revealed financial irregularities, pulled its funding from the centre in July. The facility, one of the busiest in North America, closed its doors at the end of August.

A report by accounting firm Deloitte commissioned by the province said $13,000 had been used for parties, staff retreats and gift cards, and thousands more was spent on travel, including $4,300 for a manager to attend a conference in Portugal.

It also said $1.6 million was unaccounted for at the non-profit organization which oversaw the safe injection site.

"The funds that were unaccounted for were actually found during this investigation and now they are accounted for," police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh told a news conference.

"Police's role in this has been to look at whether there were any criminal wrongdoings and provide the findings to the special prosecution unit. In this case, our recommendation was there wasn't enough to proceed with criminal charges."

Acting Insp. Pete Christos from the force's criminal investigations unit said it turned out the money wasn't missing — it was "misallocated."

He said auditors for Deloitte didn't have access to all bank accounts.

"In all fairness, the initial information that was brought forward, these individuals didn't have access to the means that we did," Christos said.

"We wrote production orders to financial institutions and through those records were able to account for those missing funds."

Christos said individuals involved with the organization explained in extensive interviews with police that the cash had been put in another ARCHES account.

The police findings are to be shared with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

Kassandra Kitz, press secretary for the ministry's associate minister, Jason Luan, said the government doesn't yet have the police report.

She added that the Deloitte audit found poor organizational management and several instances of non-compliance with a grant agreement, "including high executive salaries, significant abuse of taxpayer dollars, European conferences, and staff entertainment."

Premier Jason Kenney said the government has no intention of restoring funding to ARCHES.

In addition to serious questions about its operations and staff salaries, some Lethbridge residents have talked about damage the centre has caused to the community, Kenney said.

"We think that management lost public confidence and certainly the confidence of government."

A quarterly surveillance report from Alberta Health showed a monthly average of 439 clients made more than 60,000 visits to the Lethbridge site in the first three months of this year.

A report commissioned by the Alberta government released last March suggested supervised drug consumption sites have sown chaos in communities, overplayed their life-saving effects and lacked accountability.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

The Canadian Press