By Lethbridge Herald on June 16, 2018.
Local residents fed up with the amount of drug activity and needle debris in the city held a rally at city hall Friday to voice their concerns and collect signatures for a petition they are hoping to present to city council in order to force a change to current needle distribution practices.
The “Not Another Needle Rally,” ran Friday morning into early afternoon. The event, which saw as many as 30 people at one point, was hosted by the Facebook page “Lethbridge Needle Support Group,” organized by local activist Lyra Angus and others.
Officially, there were three main points organizers were hoping to get out:
• That ARCHES switch to retractable syringes for their clean-needle program;
• That ARCHES enforce a needle exchange program, which would see needles handed out only to those who have brought back their previous needles; and
• Lethbridge needs to force the issue of a larger treatment and rehabilitation centre for the area.
Event spokesperson Sarah Villebrun said it was important to protest the distribution of needles throughout the city as part of the ARCHES clean-needle distribution program.
“The current mandate is as many as they want, as often as they want, with no expectation of return,” she said. “That is an unacceptable policy.”
Villebrun said while she accepts that ARCHES has been trying to find different ways of managing their program, more effort is needed to find safer alternatives to the single-use syringes being found in public spaces.
“If you cannot stop the needles, make them safe for our kids,” she said.
Angus said the goal is definitely not to shut ARCHES down.
“We realize addicts need help,” she said. “But we also don’t want to be putting the public and our children at risk.
“A lot of us feel like the rights of addicts are being put before the rights of our children.
“We just want to see some sort of system with the needles so they aren’t scattered all over town.”
Villebrun said the group has been working on the petition for the past several weeks, and have also collected letters of support from local businesses affected by the issue. Their hope is to collect 10,000 signatures and then present it to all three levels of government.
In the past month, they have collected more than 3,000 signatures online, and another 100 signatures were collected at the rally on Friday.
Villebrun said the group has no problem with ARCHES and are overall supportive of their efforts at the supervised consumption site.
“The fact they are getting money to expand the booths and ease up resources on EMS is the most amazing thing,” she said. “The needle distribution is the only problem we have.”
She said many feel they are not being heard by Mayor Chris Spearman. While he has been involved in some social media discussions regarding the issue, he has not yet met with rally organizers to speak about their concerns.
“We’ve openly seen argumentative points,” she said. “We’ve seen occasional press releases where he will release (information), but he will not engage directly. I’ve tried to have multiple conversations with him, and his response to me personally is ‘I’ve answered these questions before.’
“You have a lot of angry citizens. This can not be the new normal for our children or grandchildren.”
Angus said many organizers are proud the message is beginning to get through to some members of city council, but also expressed disappointment that the mayor has not been more direct in meeting with concerned parents.
“I don’t see why the mayor is so against what we are doing,” she said. “I think the majority of the city agrees with what we are doing. Maybe he should be a little bit more considerate of other people’s opinions.”
The “Needle Exchange Program” petition can be found at ipetitions.com/petition/needle-exchange-program.
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