Jason Kenney, Rick Wilson, Alberta’s Indigenous relations minister, and Jason Luan, Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addictions, were on Kainai Nation’s reserve lands over the weekend to announce two more recovery centres.
One of the communities will be on the reserve, and the other will be at an undisclosed location somewhere in Lethbridge County. The province will fund up to $5 million for each location, which is the same amount committed to the Red Deer location, announced earlier this month.
The location on the reserve will consist of 75 beds, while the Lethbridge County one will have 50 beds. Oddly, the announcement used “Lethbridge County” and “Lethbridge” interchangeably, so it’s unclear where the actual location will be; although several people, including local politicians, have reached out to me to tell me they are certain it will be South Country Treatment Centre.
This brings the total to 3 of the 5 recovery communities the province promised to build. No word yet on where the remaining two locations will be.
As if in answer to the question I asked in my previous article, the announcement said that the government will provide ongoing operational funding for the recovery communities. It didn’t specify, however, whether the communities will be privately or publicly run, whether the funding provided will be the entirety of the operational funding needed to run the communities, or how much that operational funding will be.
Also included in the announcement was a commitment of 16 new publicly-funded medical detox and transition beds at the Foothills Centre in Fort Macleod and 15 in Lethbridge. The announcement didn’t specify where in Lethbridge, despite specifying a location for Fort McLeod.
For reference, South Country Treatment Centre operates 21 non-medical beds for alcohol, drugs, and problem gambling treatment. As well, a 2017 Lethbridge Herald article reported that South Country had plans to eventually build a $4.5-million, 24-bed facility. The price tag would fall under the $5 million announced by the province, but that’s only half the number of beds the province promised.
This announcement, of course, follows on the heels of Luan’s announcement to defund Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site. There still has been no announcement regarding a long-term replacement for the site, operated by ARCHES Lethbridge, which recently was the subject of a financial audit and is under investigation by the Lethbridge Police Service.
In fact, during the announcement, when a reporter asked Kenney about the defunding of the Lethbridge supervised consumption site, he responded with:
Handing somebody who’s deep in addiction a needle is not a continuum of care. I don’t even think it’s terribly compassionate simply to facilitate an addiction rather than to offer a full spectrum of services for recovery and lifetime treatment. If you think the harm reduction obsession is really successful when it comes to preserving human lives, then I invite you to take a stroll down East Hastings on the downtown east side of Vancouver.Sarah Rieger, “Premier rejects harm reduction model during funding announcement for new addiction recovery centres”, CBC News, 25 Jul 2020
Kenney’s problem is the same as what he accuses harm reduction supporters of doing, just in the opposite direction: he’s too binary in his thinking. To him, the only options are harm reduction or recovery. If you support harm reduction, that must mean you reject recovery, and vice versa. To him, it’s unfathomable for the two to exist together: harm reduction keeping others alive until they’re ready for recovery and recovery for, well, when they’re ready for recovery.
“Handing a needle” to someone with an addiction is part of the continuum of care. The only way it isn’t is if you don’t think that keeping someone alive is caring, or trying to mitigate the spread of disease is caring, or reducing health risk to the public is caring.
Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site didn’t facilitate addiction. People who are addicted are going to use drugs. Whether the SCS exists doesn’t change that. What its existence does is reduce the spread of disease by providing clean equipment, and it keeps people alive by reversing overdoses, something that is harder to do if they consume unsupervised. Reducing disease risk and preventing deaths is absolutely compassionate.
And on the note of East Hastings, I’ll take up Kenney’s invite. I have taken a stroll along East Hastings. Many times, as someone who lived in the Greater Vancouver area and who worked in Downtown Vancouver. And you know what I saw during my stroll? Many people still alive.
The facilities announced this past weekend—while needed—will help only those who are ready for recovery. Lethbridge still needs services to keep people who use drugs alive until they’re ready for recovery.