By Tali Folkins, Anglican Journal
Linda Nicholls, bishop of the diocese of Huron, has written a letter to the city council of London, Ont. in support of two proposed sites allowing for the supervised consumption of opioids and other drugs.
“We would, of course, prefer to end the prevalence of drug addictions in our city,” Nicholls wrote in a May 10 letter to city council. “However, for those who are addicted, the process leading to recovery is long, slow and difficult. Along the way the need for support including harm reduction through safe injection sites is a proven factor in assisting such healing…A well-managed safe injection site can and will be a step towards a healthier city.”
The Middlesex-London Health Unit, an agency for promoting public health in the London area, is proposing to open the two sites in the city’s downtown, one at a site currently used by a retail business and the other in a 12-storey apartment building known by some as the “Crystal Palace” because of its reputation as a haven for users of crystal meth.
The proposal has attracted some controversy, including opposition by some area residents worried the sites will attract drug users to their neighbourhood.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Nicholls said she wrote the letter after a parishioner emailed her requesting that she lend her voice to that of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a Roman Catholic order that supports the sites. In her letter, Nicholls quoted a letter that the Sisters of St. Joseph had previously written to city council, citing research on the experience of supervised injection site in Canada. According to the letter from the Sisters, that research, including study on Canada’s first safe injection facility (SIF), in Vancouver, “demonstrated that the SIF was cost-effective and did not result in increases in crime or encourage initiation into drug use” and that it “met its objective of reducing public disorder, disease transmission and overdoses.”
The Sisters, as quoted by Nicholls, also mentioned a 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, in which justices ruled 9-0 in favour of allowing the Vancouver site to continue operating, noting that that facility “has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada.”
We need to be able to provide places that encourage people, if they’re going to engage in this practice, to do it safely but also…give them information and support, and build relationships that might allow them to say, ‘I want to get out of this’.
Nicholls said she understood her letter might be controversial. “I’m not speaking for everybody in the diocese and I’ve certainly anticipated there might be some Anglicans who are not happy with what I’ve said.”
Nicholls added, however, that she had not yet had any negative reaction to the letter—something that has come as a “pleasant and good surprise.”
She said she hoped the sites would not only allow drug users to consume the drugs safely, but also help them find a way out of their addiction.
“We need to be able to provide places that encourage people, if they’re going to engage in this practice, to do it safely but also…give them information and support, and build relationships that might allow them to say, ‘I want to get out of this’,” she said.
She said she hoped that the letter would help reassure people concerned about the sites by helping foster a dialogue in which their fears are addressed.
“The way to combat fear is to sit down and have a conversation and to talk about what is needed on both sides, and to set up the kind of security and the kind of things that will assist people to be able to live together,” she said.
Nicholls said she got the impression, when interviewed by a CBC journalist earlier this week, that her stance in favour of the sites came as a surprise to the CBC.
It shouldn’t have, she said.
“I’m surprised that they are surprised,” Nicholls said. “I think the church has a responsibility to be in the public square on issues that affect all of us and to ask, ‘How do we build community? How do we strengthen the bonds of community in ways that are healthy for people and for everybody and not just a few and how do we do that with compassion and care for all the parties involved?’”
According to the CBC, about 400 of London’s residents have died as a result of opioids over the past decade.
Before the sites can go ahead, the Middlesex-London Health Unit will need to get approval from Health Canada and go through the required zoning process with the City of London.
(Featured photo: Rawpixel, Unsplash)