By Kalinowski, Tim on March 5, 2020.
A team of auditors sanctioned by Alberta Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan entered the ARCHES-run Supervised Consumption Site in Lethbridge on Wednesday. According to Herald sources, the team was tasked with looking into alleged potential spending irregularities at the SCS.
Kassandra Kitz, press secretary for Minister Luan, released a statement to The Herald late Wednesday afternoon confirming the audit.
“We expect all service providers to perform their duties to the highest possible standard to protect the safety of all Albertans,” she said. “The government recently learned of possible financial irregularities at the Lethbridge Supervised Consumption Services Site. We take any allegations made against a publicly funded health facility or service provider extremely seriously. As we provide public funds to this site, we have launched a financial audit to assess whether the allegations have merit, and if any improprieties have occurred. This audit will be completed as soon as possible, and we will not comment or speculate further.”
There is no word from the government what this audit launched on Wednesday might mean for ongoing operations at the ARCHES site.
The Herald did reach out for comment from ARCHES on the audit.
ARCHES board chair Aaron Fitchett stated his organization and staff were fully co-operating with the audit.
“We don’t know what they are looking for,” stated Fitchett, confirming the auditors had only said they were following up on an anonymous tip. “We believe we have complied with our government funding agreement, and we have done an excellent job of accounting and reporting on those agreements. It is the will of the government to conduct an audit at any time … Our staff were completely compliant and helpful. We provided anything they wanted.”
Fitchett said he felt the timing of the audit was stressful given the process would be ongoing for some time, and the auditors decided to begin the process on the eve of when the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee report was due out.
“The timing is very stressful for the staff that were asked to participate in the audit today,” he admitted. “This is a staff of people who are incredibly dedicated to serving marginalized populations in Lethbridge, people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness, people living with HIV, the LGBTQ + community, people who are living with mental illness and addiction. I don’t know if this is targeted in terms of the timing, but I am hopeful that is not the case.”
The province announced on Wednesday the Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) Review Committee would be tabling its final report today.
The SCS Review Committee visited Lethbridge for two days last September to hear about the social and economic impacts of providing supervised consumption services on the community. Critics of the process said the review committee’s mandate was too narrow, and did not seek input on the harm reduction benefits associated with the supervised consumption site from community stakeholders.
On Monday, Luan confirmed to The Herald funding for all SCS services in the province would be retained at current funding levels until the SCS panel report was released and final decisions were made on the future of the sites themselves.