By Jensen, Randy on September 29, 2020.
With old wounds reopening in the city over the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society’s decision to offer an unsanctioned overdose prevention site in public areas of downtown this past weekend, the Community Issues Committee of city council held an impromptu information session during its regular meeting on Monday.
Councillors asked the City’s senior bylaw officer Dave Henley to explain the next steps going forward. Henley told council the Lethbridge Police Service was monitoring the tent set up by the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society for illegal drug use and other criminal activity, but had yet to witness any criminal use of drugs near or within the tent.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen acknowledged the police effort, but felt the tent could be taken down immediately as it was in violation of the City’s bylaws regarding illegal structures.
Henley said there were steps the City has to take under the Municipal Government Act in order to enforce the bylaw Hyggen was referring to. First, the group would have to be officially informed they were in violation of the City’s bylaws, and they would be given a certain amount of time to comply. If they failed to comply the City would then be able to give official notice the illegal structure would have to come down or issue tickets for non-compliance.
If the group still failed to comply, the City could seek out a court order to enforce the notice.
Henley said the ones given the notice would also be able to appeal it under the MGA, and it was preferred if a mediated solution could be arrived at before it got to that point.
After Henley’s presentation, Hyggen expressed his continued frustration and confusion to reporters regarding the issue.
“There is a tent that has been erected,” he stated. “There is no permit for it. So it should be removed. I am just confused as to why that is not the case. I will look more into it and get more information from our city manager.”
Prior to the meeting, a group of about a dozen members of the Lethbridge Citizens Alliance protested outside city hall. They, too, demanded the City take swift action against the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society.
“This is not my Lethbridge,” said the group’s spokesperson Mike Hoffman. “I hope they don’t give a permit to these people to operate an illegal, non-sanctioned activity, because that is what it is. And for our City to support that, I think would be a slap in the face to every citizen that pays taxes in this city.”
He said the people in Lethbridge had worked too long and hard to have the former supervised consumption site closed to allow this type of illegal activity in city parks.
“I am here today to state our disdain to our mayor and council with regards to this last weekend’s activities that went unchecked here in our city parks,” he said. “We have our Lethbridge city police force turning a blind eye to these circumstances when we have brought it to their attention each night when they have set up these tents.”
Mayor Chris Spearman conceded the Overdose Prevention Society may be well-intentioned, but felt there was simply no room in the community for this type of unsanctioned activity.
“We encourage people to use the sanctioned Overdose Prevention Site operating by Alberta Health Services in Lethbridge,” Spearman said. “We want people going there rather than using impromptu sites in our city parks.”
“We don’t want rogue elements starting up,” he added. “We understand the people are well-intentioned, but, at the same time, you have to follow the law. And you have to make sure we are working as a community to address our challenges together.”
Police and City bylaw officials were on hand as the group set up Monday night at Galt Gardens. A ticket was issued for not having a permit and officials again pointed out that at the time no illegal activity was occurring.
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