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As election looms, city's CTS application stalled in creation phase

Despite achieving approval at all levels of local government and justification among the local healthcare community, the Consumption and Treatment Site planned for 150 Main St. is still a key issue mayoral candidates have weighed in on
150 main st.
A Consumption and Treatment Site at 150 Main St. was endorsed by city council in Oct. 2021.

One of the most heated topics heading into Monday's municipal election, Cambridge’s Consumption and Treatment (CTS) site at 150 Main St., remains in the infancy stage of approval as the next council is set to be elected.

So the lingering question remains, could the newly elected council put the project on hold?

After reaching out to the Ministry of Health, the region, Cambridge MP Bryan May, Cambridge MPP Brian Riddell, and several community organizations, CambridgeToday failed to get a definitive answer.

But the fact that many candidates, including incumbents are raising the issue again seems to point to the idea as a distinct possibility, despite over four years of debate and community consultation, a city endorsement, regional approval, and support from the Cambridge and North Dumfries Ontario Health Team.

It's been a year since council voted to endorse bringing the CTS to 150 Main St. and nearly six months since the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Waterloo and Kitchener announced it was applying to run the facility.

But that's where work on the Cambridge CTS has stalled. In comparison, it took about four months for Kitchener's CTS site to go from endorsement to open doors back in 2019. Since then, workers there report saving hundreds of people from overdoses.

According to the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy website, there were 99 suspected overdose related deaths in 2021 and an additional 55 in 2022, as of Sept. 7. Many of those deaths happened in Cambridge.

The number of overdose related calls has also topped 1,000 for the fourth consecutive year.

Incumbent mayoral candidate Kathryn McGarry and mayoral candidate Jan Liggett stand on opposite ends of the CTS debate, with McGarry endorsing the site and Liggett opposed to it.

Liggett has expressed concerns over the proposed location due to the impact it could have on families, the surrounding neighbourhood and the local economy given the proximity to the downtown core. Instead, Liggett recently said she’d prefer to see services offered at doctors offices, something McGarry has referred to as a "back-of-the-napkin" plan.

Former community engagement coordinator with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council and current regional council candidate in Kitchener, Michael Parkinson, feels the whole process around the Cambridge CTS has become too political.

"The drug poisoning crisis is hyper political in a way that other efforts to prevent or reduce death are not," Parkinson said.

"I've worked in a consumption site and at the end of the day it’s a table, a chair and a set of eyes. Seconds can mean the difference between life and death. The whole issue around consumption sites has become so medicalized and there's so much bureaucracy."

Parkinson believes it's an issue that has unfairly fallen on municipal levels of government.

"Issues of drug poisoning and related issues are ending up in municipal council chambers right across Canada and that's precisely where they don't belong," he said.

"It’s a health issue and it's the jurisdiction of the province. It’s always like this, when senior levels of government don’t pull through then those issues end up in council chambers where citizens can reach out to their representatives. It's the level of government that is least equipped to deal with these issues. It's beyond anything resembling rational life saving decision making."

Cambridge resident Elle Benitez, who resides in Galt, doesn't agree that a CTS is the answer for the city and questions how effective one would be.

"Since when is enabling an addict the way to help one?" Benitez said.

"The only way to put our tax dollars to help is using all those funds to set up a clinic that will detox and help them get clean, and therapy to teach them life skills to get a job and live a healthier lifestyle both mentally and physically."

Benitez also has serious concerns regarding the location and says many residents of Galt are being ignored.

"The distance between this centre on 150 Main Street and an elementary school is ridiculous," she said.

"How can the city take this risk, to put a CTS so close to a school where little kids are. The people of downtown Galt have raised their voices loud and clear and aren't being heard. What does that say about the ones who are supposed to represent us? This decision is neither looking out for the well being of those who have drug addiction problems or the people living nearby. Let's help them but do it somewhere safer for everyone."

With that being said, where does the current application stand?

The AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Waterloo and Kitchener, the organization that is helping spearhead the application, is in the data gathering and report creation stages says executive director Ruth Cameron.

“ACCKWA is doing a lot of report preparation and amassing data,” Cameron said.

“The CTS application is a 14-page outline that once populated appropriately is a 120-page document that shows proof of concept and justification on implementing and operating a CTS. It also shows we have completed every mandated section for justification and the ability the operate safely.”

Once the application is complete it will then head to the province’s Ministry of Health and Health Canada for the final stamp of approval.

Cameron says as of right now, the submission of the application would happen in early 2023 but there is no timetable for how long the Ontario Ministry of Health or Health Canada will take to approve it.

Cameron points out that the site is necessary to save lives.

“We do know that people who use substances are going to use anyways, and if they could stop cold turkey that could be deadly because withdrawal can be deadly,” she said.

“What is important here is that the most readily available options to them are often poisoned. What we are trying to do is give people a safe location with qualified personnel.”

The CTS will also provide critical wraparound supports, Cameron said.

“People desire to have the full range of support in highly accessible ways,” she said.

“The mandated service that needs to be available alongside the medical professionals are supports around treatment, mental heath and addiction.”

One of the biggest issues Cameron wants to see addressed is the stigmatization around the CTS and the people that use.

“It’s important for people to understand that for change to happen, they need to be part of that change,” she said.

“We’re offering people a starting point. We have a bunch of evidence-based supports, caring workers, volunteers and a whole bunch of organizations that want to be a part of the solutions. There are amazing, compassionate people in the community. If we deny people’s humanity it doesn't make sense to me how they can make a monumental change.”