By Jensen, Randy on November 6, 2020.
While still persevering in its attempts to operate an unsanctioned overdose prevention pop-up tent in Galt Gardens, Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society spokesperson Kaley Ann Boudoin admitted during her talk at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs on Thursday that the local police response has been severely hampering the group’s ability to offer its primary service: supervised injection and drug consumption.
“To put it quite bluntly, we can’t operate with the police standing there threatening people who are coming in,” she stated. “Regardless of what our legal team has advised on charges not being able to stick, the presence of police is still a deterrent and I would never want to encourage our clients to put themselves in that level of a vulnerable situation.”
Boudoin expressed her hope that eventually the group would be able to make headway and see a lessening of police presence so they can get on with providing the essential harm-reduction service they intended when first setting up their pop-up tent about six weeks ago.
“We’re not saying drugs are safe, that drugs should be done,” she said at one point in her SACPA presentation. “Harm reduction just acknowledges that drug use is happening, and there are real harms being done. And there are interventions that can be made along the way that can prevent or minimize those harms that are coming with drug use.”
Despite the contrary assessment of Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh, Boudoin once again reiterated that what the group was doing had its precedents in other communities in Canada, and that it was not illegal to offer a service which may save someone’s life.
“We are not able to operate successfully with the police presence there,” she acknowledged, “and we do plan on challenging the police on their assumption that our operations are illegal. But that is also a very lengthy process, and so in the meantime we would like to come to some understanding with the police.”
She said the group has also sought meetings with City officials to discuss potential accommodations and agreements for the LOPS tent, but has, so far, been unsuccessful in setting those up. In the meantime, the group continues to accrue regular fines from City bylaw officers after being denied a permit to operate in Galt Gardens.
“We do continue to receive tickets both for setting up the tent as well as for failure to remove the tent when directed,” Boudoin explained. “We do plan to contest these bylaws in court as there have been certain things along the way, and not everything has been above board on us receiving our tickets. We are being told it is because of our tent structure, and yet the bylaw for setting up a tent is exempted for rescue personnel. I don’t know what you would call overdose response but rescue personnel.”
Boudoin also said the group is met almost nightly by protesters opposed to their operations, who continue to try to threaten and intimidate both LOPS volunteers and their clients in the park.
“The police do stand by and allow a significant amount of verbal abuse from protesters as well as interference and destruction of our property on the grounds we don’t have lawful enjoyment of the park,” she explained. “That being said, I can’t really say what would happen if the police weren’t there – if protesters would be more emboldened to act harshly. What I do know is there was one night where the police hadn’t shown up, and we had set up, and the protesters ended up calling the police there anyway.”
While facing opposition, obstacles and various barriers, Boudoin said her volunteers remain committed to helping save lives in Lethbridge by preventing overdoses in a year where Alberta has seen record highs in overdose deaths, and 22 people have died in the city over the first six months of 2020.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “dead people don’t recover. So harm reduction tries to keep people alive and healthy long enough for recovery to happen.”
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter