By Lethbridge Herald on September 29, 2020.
The City of Lethbridge confirmed it gave the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society a $300 fine Monday evening after the group failed to comply with a request to remove its unpermitted tent from Galt Gardens.
“I asked if they had a permit,” explained the City’s senior bylaw enforcement officer Dave Henley just after issuing the ticket. “They failed to provide the permit. They believed they are exempt from the permit under one of the provisions of the bylaw. They couldn’t provide evidence in fact they are exempt to support that type of claim. And so after a couple of directions asking them to take it down, we identified what their options were: their options were to take down or get a ticket. They chose to keep the tent up, and they received a fine.”
Again, Henley confirmed, the Lethbridge Police Service witnessed no criminal drug activity within or near the tent; so the City was acting under provisions of local bylaws which require permits to set up any kind structure or operation in public areas. This is, admitted Henley, not a perfect solution to the problem.
“We are trying to address an underlying social issue, and trying to apply a bylaw that was never intended to do that,” he explained. “The City isn’t in a position to regulate those health services, and that’s certainly what these people say they want to do: they want to provide a health service. They clearly acknowledged tonight they were not going to do that, but they set up a tent. And they had coffee.”
Henley said the LPS would continue to monitor the situation as he worked with the City Solicitor’s office toward a solution, but their options will remain limited to what is allowed under the Municipal Government Act as long as no criminal activity is taking place at the tent.
“It has clearly been identified (to the Overdose Prevention Society) the City is not in any position to issue permits for any sort of illegal activity,” he stated.
Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf issued a statement to The Herald on Tuesday stating he was disturbed by the actions of the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society.
“When ArcheS was closed due to a misuse of provincial funding,” his statement reads in part, “Alberta’s government stepped in to provide a legal, sanctioned overdose prevention site within blocks of the previous location with adequate capacity for the community.
“ The well-being and safety of the citizens of Lethbridge has always been the priority of our government. This illegal site contravenes the Criminal Code of Canada and we expect the City of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Police Service to enforce the law. We would urge you to refer your questions to the mayor for matters that pertain to local law enforcement.”
Neudorf highlighted his government’s recent investments in new addiction treatment beds ($10 million) in the region, additional funding to support greater access to detox at the Foothills Centre ($1.7 million), and its commitment to funding 42 new supportive-housing units in Lethbridge ($11 million) on top of funding an officially-sanctioned, three-booth, fully-staffed overdose prevention ste in the city operated by Alberta Health Services.
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips also issued a statement on the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society’s attempts to create their own, unsanctioned harm-reduction site in downtown Lethbridge.
“Like the MLA for Lethbridge-East, I support supervised consumption as part of the overall package of health-care supports for people living with addictions,” Phillips’ statement reads in part. “Those health services should be available to all who need them. It is not clear to me how law enforcement will be able to justify arresting people at a pop-up site but not the mobile supervised consumption site installed by the UCP government just a few blocks away.
“This seems to set up a very difficult situation for our city’s police force,” she adds. “Citizens have the right to be free from arbitrary police actions, and the supervised consumption site set up by the UCP government is virtually indistinguishable from this new pop-up site.”
Phillips goes on to state the UCP government must take leadership in funding more programs like local housing, counseling, detox, intox, and replacement therapies to address the needs of the community’s most vulnerable.
— With files from Ian Martens.
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