My response: Drug tent another black eye

In today’s issue of the Lethbridge Herald, the publisher and advertising manager, Brian Hancock, took the liberty to use his platform to share his personal opinion about recent developments regarding the drug crisis in Lethbridge.

He disparaged the now-defunct supervised consumption site, which was operated by ARCHES, as well as the mobile overdose prevention site that the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society installed last Friday (and every evening since then).

Unlike most of the editorials we see in the Herald, this one reminded me about the controversial one run by Al Beeber, the entertainment editor, a little over 3 years ago, before the SCS had even opened.

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Like Beeber’s rant, Hancock’s is full of falsehoods, fallacies, and half truths. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to counter some of his points.

Stunned. That’s how I, and many people I spoke to, felt on Saturday morning when I got the word that we have an illegal drug shoot-up tent in Lethbridge. This attention-seeking stunt will be shut down and people arrested, I thought, but no.

Despite Jason Luan, the associate minister of addictions, insisting that the mobile site contravenes the Criminal Code of Canada, it doesn’t. The closest thing it breaks is municipal bylaw 5651, which prevents people from erecting a structure in a park without a permit (see 10.q and 13). If you think not having a permit is illegal, then I guess it’s illegal.

Also, the fact that he calls the site a drug shoot-up tent tells the reader everything they need to know about where Hancock sits on the issue, but he uses 13 more paragraphs to dispel any doubt.

Whether you are in favour of the old ARCHES concept SCS, or opposed to it, the facts are the facts regarding the current situation in Lethbridge. It’s time they were laid out in black and white.

The problem is that he doesn’t lay out the facts. Or rather he cherry picks the facts or presents the facts alongside his opinion, trying to create an authoritative narrative.

The AHS-operated overdose prevention site (mobile truck) has seen an average of 40 clients per day from September 1-20 inclusive.

This seems like such a random fact. Even so, the SCS saw over 600 clients per day.

The overdose prevention site can accommodate up to 200 clients per day.

That’s based on all 3 seats being used at once, but currently, they use only 2 for consumption and 1 for post-consumption. The SCS had 10 times that many consumption booths, and that includes 8 inhalation seats, something the AHS van doesn’t have. Their post-consumption area could accommodate 20–25 people.

For context, in the months leading up to the closure of the SCS, ARCHES was averaging about 60 visits per day.

How is that context? That’s in the middle of the pandemic, when social distancing measures were implemented by the province and the city. Of course visits are going to be significantly lower than they were prior to the pandemic.

Between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2020, the SCS saw near or above 60,000 visits per quarter. That’s about 20,000 per month. That’s way more than the 200 per day (about 600 a month) that Hancock claims the AHS van can accommodate.

Why not compare that stat. I mean, for “context”.

Pre-investigation and prior to the departure of the executive director, the number quoted by ARCHES was approximately 20,000 visits per month on average or 650-plus per day. Post-audit, the numbers dropped drastically overnight.

Like I said. And not just “quoted by ARCHES”—reported by AHS in their quarterly report.

“Post-audit” also happened to coincide with the pandemic, again with social distancing initiatives put in place. SCS usage was down “post-audit” throughout the province, not just in Lethbridge. Unless you think the audit somehow affected usage statistics of every SCS in Alberta.

AHS staff at the OPS have managed four overdose reversals which required naloxone, and nine adverse events that required other supportive measures, since the unit began operations on Aug. 17.

And ARCHES responded to 3,612 medical emergencies during the 30 months they operated. That’s 120 a month, nearly 10 times the number the AHS van responded to over a 1-month period.

There have been no deaths at the OPS.

Which happens to be the same number at the SCS and at the LOPS mobile site.

There have been more than 160 referrals made to other support services in the area.

ARCHES made 10,985 referrals to external service providers.

Despite rising numbers in the province due to the pandemic, in September after the closure of ARCHES, the City of Lethbridge has experienced a 36 per cent decrease in opioid-related EMS responses and a modest decrease in drug and alcohol overdose deaths thus far. Exact data cannot be reported, given the small numbers and the risk of identifying a decedent.

Prove it.

The province only barely reported second quarter figures last week. How did you get access to third quarter figures, especially since the third quarter ends only today?

And a decrease compared to when? August? The second quarter? September 2019?

Because EMS responses doubled to over 300 between the first and second quarters of 2020. And that’s with lower SCS usage. If you’re trying to connect the 36% reduction in EMS responses to the SCS closure, then you have to connect the Q2 increase to the SCS service reduction, too.

Many, if not all, of the staff in the mobile unit were the best of the staff from SCS. They have the knowledge, experience and relationships with the clients to not have to start from square one.

That’s awesome. I’m glad you find value in the knowledge, experience, and relationships that former SCS health workers provide. Although, I do find it odd that you frame them as experts right after trying to disparage the work they were doing at the SCS. They weren’t any less of experts when they were at the SCS.

That being said, the LOPS volunteers who are former SCS health workers have the same knowledge, experience, and relationships.

The stability of a consistent location is key to the success. Users of the tent have to guess where it will be; how many will die roaming the streets looking for the pop-up?

First of all, LOPS moved locations one time. Every other time they’ve set up, it’s been at Galt Gardens. So, that shouldn’t be an issue for you anymore.

Even so, when they did move the location Saturday, they personally let people at Galt Gardens know where the new location would be.

Does the tent opening sound like it’s addressing the real drug issue or is there something else going on?

The former. Not sure what the “something else” could be. You should really be more specific; otherwise, it comes off as dog whistling.

It would seem that the new “mobile unit” option is handling the real traffic and, as a taxpayer, I’m OK with my money going to saving lives, referral programs and steps to help addicts get back on their feet.

These were all things the SCS did as well.

A GoFundMe page was started to support the illegal tent, and of the 90 people who donated as of Sunday night there were only 14 people from Lethbridge; the rest were from Vancouver, Toronto and a few from Edmonton.


Now we stay here and have to worry about them funding illegal drug sites in our city? It would seem groups with outside interests are playing games with a Lethbridge experiment.

LOPS hasn’t received any of the money yet, so none of the donors—British Columbians or otherwise—have funded anything.

As well, the people on the ground—the people volunteering for and working behind the scenes with—are Lethbridgians. They aren’t outside interests. They’re Lethbridge residents concerned that many of the people on the street have been abandoned, concerned that their lives and safety are at risk.

Enough. This is another black eye for the taxpaying residents of Lethbridge.

How? LOPS isn’t taxpayer funded. And even if it was, why are you concerned with only the residents who pay taxes? What about the residents of Lethbridge who live in the park?

Our provincial government stepped in and ended a system that was not working (criminal investigation still pending) and replaced it with a better system focused on rehabilitation.

The AHS van isn’t better than the SCS. It has a lower capacity and fewer amenities. It’s certainly better than nothing at all, I’ll most definitely admit. I don’t have any negative feelings toward the OPS. My negative feelings are to the actual act of shutting down the SCS, something the OPS staff had nothing to do with. And the OPS staff are still providing a needed service, and I doubt it’s their fault the van isn’t closer to the epicentre of the drug crisis in Lethbridge instead of being hidden in a cul-de-sac that’s below street level.

Even so, the system “focused on rehabilitation” doesn’t exist yet. The recovery communities announced this past July aren’t receiving clients until next spring. The 21-booth SCS that provided 17 health services was replaced with nothing, except a 3-seater van. There is no system focused on rehabilitation yet.

It’s time we let our elected officials and police force know that we have had enough. Call the mayor, call all council members, call the police chief, send us your letters and voice your concerns. Enough is enough.

Agreed. It’s time our elected officials once and for all create and fund a comprehensive solution to the drug crisis, one that includes prevention, harm reduction, detox, and treatment, as well as addresses poverty and homelessness.

Because what we have now won’t be enough.

And at least the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society is trying to do something about the drug crisis. They’re not just complaining in roast and toast Facebook groups about all the needle debris or about the people sleeping in city parks.

In closing, I just want to add that because of your editorial, we’ve cancelled our Lethbridge Herald subscription today, a subscription we’ve had for over 20 years.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

4 replies on “My response: Drug tent another black eye”

Kim, thanks for caring so much about our community and applying your formidable intellect to the analysis and truth-seeking that are so urgently needed.

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