Residents split over link between crime, injection site

Some residents of Ottawa's Chinatown and Little Italy neighbourhoods say they've noticed a spike in crime since the opening of a supervised injection site in the area.

Landlord Anthony Cava said he's seen a rise in theft since the site opened at the Somerset West Community Health Centre in May 2018.

"The concerns are not so much with the safe injection site, but what it brings," Cava said at a community meeting Thursday night. "We've seen stuff disappearing from the properties, coin-operated laundry being broken into, cars broken into. You can't leave anything in the yards, it's gone by morning."

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Several residents who attended the meeting echoed Cava's remarks, but others argued the injection site is an important step toward overall community safety in the midst of an overdose crisis.

Sure, there is crime in our neighbourhood ... but when that happens my solution isn't to criminalize folks. - Leslie Robertson, resident

"I would never relate the crime to people who use drugs, or the safe injection site," said Leslie Robertson, who described the mood at the meeting as tense at times, with community members disagreeing on solutions.

"Sure, there is crime in our neighbourhood — my car has been broken into dozens of times — but when that happens my solution isn't to criminalize folks, or more policing in the neighbourhood," Robertson said.

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Officials who attended the meeting tried to address the crime concerns, but also highlighted the benefits of the supervised site.

"We are here to talk about what we really do at the service, and the kind of life-saving work we are doing, and the kind of wrap-around supports we are providing the community in helping them integrate and stabilize," said Naini Cloutier, the health centre's executive director.

When the site opened in May 2018, the centre pointed to a 2016 Ottawa Public Health report that said the ward has the second-highest rate of average emergency room visits related to unintentional drug overdoses in the previous three years.

Ottawa Public Health said from its May 2018 opening until the most recent data this past September, emergency room doctors in Ottawa treated 717 opioid overdoses.

The province said the recently dismantled Champlain LHIN, which covered communities including Ottawa, Pembroke, Hawkesbury and Cornwall, had 94 people die of opioid-related causes in 2019, up from 49 in 2016.

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Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said the meeting was an opportunity to have an open discussion on safety concerns surrounding the site.

"[Community members have] seen more people out on the street. The drugs have changed over the last year or so," McKenney said. "People's behaviours can seem a bit off-putting, and it makes people nervous."

Other speakers at the community meeting at St. Luke's Anglican Church included officials from Ottawa Public Health and the Ottawa police.