February 22nd, 2020

Freedom should be the goal

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on September 6, 2019.

This month’s ‘From The Hill’ column by MP Rachael Harder

In my August Herald article I shared my views on the Lethbridge Supervised Consumption Site (SCS). Upon doing so, I received a great deal of feedback by email, social media, phone, and in person. There’s no doubt, this issue is top of mind for the residents of Lethbridge.

My team and I have knocked on thousands of doors this summer and the SCS is by far the main topic of concern, making up approximately two-thirds of the conversations initiated by residents of the Lethbridge community.

Immediately after publishing my article, I was contacted by a number of individuals from the Blackfoot Confederacy who each wanted to meet with me. Of those who reached out, I had the opportunity to sit down with a mother of an addict who had passed away due to an overdose, a father who lost his child to addiction, a recovering addict who has been clean for several years, and two concerned elders. Each individual brought forward the same concern – they recognize the majority of those who use the SCS are Blackfoot and they desperately desire something better for their members. They want an abstinence-based approach that will allow those who struggle with addiction to walk through detox and recovery in a setting that will empower them to get free and stay free.

On the doorsteps of family homes, parents have shared honestly about their experiences and have aptly expressed their concern for their children’s safety. One couple lamented that they moved to Lethbridge several years ago to raise their growing family in a community they felt had a lot to offer them. Given the current state of our city, they no longer feel safe here and are looking to move to a place where their children can enjoy public parks and green spaces without needing to worry about needle debris.

Business owners have also shared passionately about the economic and social impacts the SCS and overall drug crisis is having on them. Their main concerns are staff safety, property damage and declining patronage.

I recognize the SCS is a contentious issue and is very sensitive in nature. Sadly, the dialogue surrounding this important matter has become increasingly polarized. This has created further damage rather than drawing us closer to the solution.

What happened to our ability to engage in productive dialogue and seek understanding? Why aren’t we willing to ask good questions and listen to opposing sides without being hostile? Civic discourse and basic respect seem to be novelties of the past. But why?

I mentioned in my last article that ARCHES, the organization that runs the consumption site, has defined the centre as an “attempt to keep people as safe and healthy as possible in their given practices and lifestyle realities” by providing a supervised environment where clients can access sterile supplies to consume the drug of their choice.

There’s no doubt about it, the current approach of helping users consume their drug of choice in a manner that is safe enough to keep them alive until tomorrow but offering no opportunity to get free is extremely degrading. But so is the belief that those who struggle with addiction should be cast from our community and “left to die” as some have vengefully stated.

I feel it’s of a pressing nature to repeat my questions from August: when did we stop believing that each and every person has inherent value and should be treated with the utmost level of dignity, respect and honour? When did we stop believing that every person has the potential to achieve great things? When did we stop believing that words matter – people in places of authority have the ability to draw greatness out of those they influence or cause harm to the potential that lies within?

I’ve engaged in numerous conversations with users – both strangers and loved ones – and one thing they all have in common is the experience of immense trauma that propelled them toward drug use as a means to cope with the pain.

The question is, how should we respond?

If a compassionate approach is our goal – and it should be – Lethbridge must exchange its current methodology that condemns people to a life of addiction for an approach that empowers people to become their best selves.

We have an opportunity to become a centre of hope, healing, and restoration.

When we engage in dialogue, let’s start from the premise that ALL people have inherent worth and should be treated with the utmost level of respect, honour and dignity. Everyone deserves to live a life free from drug dependency and be empowered to achieve the greatness that lies within – whatever that might be!

As one former addict put it, “Let’s stop fighting each other and start solving the problem. The solution is in helping people become free.”

Rachael Harder is the Conservative MP for Lethbridge. Her column appears monthly.

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3 Responses to “Freedom should be the goal”

  1. Jagtech says:

    Those parents who sadly lost family members to addiction need to take a large part of the responsibility, rather than blame it on society. They have failed as parents. They were in the very best position to correct this behavior at the onset.
    Close the SCS and put responsibility for the lives back on the family, where they might get some early help.

  2. Dennis Bremner says:

    Its quite easy to understand why dialogue is literally lost in this debate. The Pro SCS people have one party line, if you are not FOR SCS, then you are FOR KILLING PEOPLE.
    Its there fallback, if they are losing an argument or are caught in the many distortions they participate in to save their 174 jobs, they immediately use the fallback “YOU WANT TO KILL PEOPLE”!

    Every and I mean EVERY SCS does the same thing. The idea is to get established quickly, attract as many clients as possible (and they are clients because they are money makers for them) as soon as possible so they can then say the NEED is there, and they have proof by their never ending growth. Growth that was created by their pulling in of every addict within 100 miles of Lethbridge.

    I love the “cast from the community comment”. They did not belong to our community, they CAME to our community because of the sweet heart deal SCS has with the Police Chief which is; do as many hits inside or outside the SCS and, conduct as many buys you need, to support your habit, and I will leave you alone. Remember, for every 675 visits per day, there was 675 non-arrested, un-prosecuted drug deals per day.
    You say it’s “acknowledged” that most are “Blackfoot” clients. So, the Blackfoot acknowledge this and are taking ZERO responsibility ? The Blackfoot purposely TOSSED them out of THEIR community so they would end up in Lethbridge, Why did you not mention that not so subtle issue, why is it US that is “casting them out”, you have things backasswards?
    So Ms Harder, how do you discuss anything with these people (SCS or Blackfoot ) when they are hell bent on destroying our community, our businesses, our downtown, and our sense of security ?
    Tough question, I challenge you to answer it!
    I really have only one question! No one has said, the 4 Pillars should be “on, or next to” the Blood Reserve, why is that?

    The SCS and the Blood Reserve is out maneuvering all of you political or professional deep thinkers knowing full well you would NEVER state the obvious, they sure called that right!

    Give us a “starting point” Ms Harder to commence “dialogue” that does not involve any Pillars in downtown Lethbridge !

    They want the 4 Pillars in downtown Lethbridge, (they have the support of the Mayor, majority of council and the NDP) that way, as more and more Blackfoot get addicted, they just “CAST” them out of their community to “Downtown Lethbridge” where; our Soup Kitchen Feeds them, our SCS drugs them, our Police Chief ignores them, our taxpayer money houses them, and our personal property supports their habit! So is that where you suggest negotiations begin, because that’s where this is headed?

  3. Southern Albertan says:

    Again, we only need to look to Portugal and their wholistic approach. “Since their decriminalization of drugs in 2001, the number of people voluntarily entering treatment has increased significantly, overdose deaths and HIV infections among people who use drugs have plummeted, incarceration for drug-related offenses has decreased, and rates of problematic and adolescent drug use has fallen.”
    And, to add, their drug-related crime rates have also dramatically decreased…perhaps of interest to Canada/ Lethbridge, et al……
    There is much info online re: “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal.” Why we are not seriously considering it is interesting. Perhaps the powers-that-be are not willing to invest financially in it? It might take all politics in Canada taking a more serious approach to our revenue problems, not just spending problems.
    Even though this is from 2012, it might be worth a read:
    “10 ways for the government to raise revenue”
    Here are 2 which the Liberals and the Conservatives might heed: “Get the wealthy who don’t pay tax, and, stop subsidizing big business.” Two examples which come to mind is my now deceased multi-millionaire relative who played 2,3 or 4 corporations off on one another and he likely paid less tax than me, a lowly wage earner, and, how us courteous taxpayers still subsidize the oil and gas sector by $billions/year in various ways. Justin Trudeau promised to phase out these subsidies and did not, another broken promise. Perhaps this is why, the second vote choice for many disillusioned Liberal voters, is Conservative…..brings back thoughts re: the political satire, “Mouseland’…..the black cats, the white cats, and the mice. 🙂