Afternoon protest near Manitoba Legislature calls for province to support safer consumption sites

A group of about 100 people gathered and danced in a circle to the beat of drums near the Manitoba Legislature Thursday afternoon, calling on the Progressive Conservative government to heed calls for supervised consumption sites.

Traffic was blocked at the intersection Broadway and Osborne Street for about 20 minutes by the protest, which began just after 3 p.m.

Knowledge keeper Leslie Spillett says with people dying due to a toxic drug supply in the city, there is an immediate need for a site that would would give people a safer place to use drugs.

“We know that we have solutions in the community that can, if not altogether stop it, at least to reduce the numbers of those unnecessary deaths,” she said. “Our youth should not be dying because our drug supply is so toxic.”

By not providing a consumption site, the province is complicit in those deaths, said Spillett.

“There is blood on their hands.”

Knowledge keeper Leslie Spillett says with people dying due to a toxic drug supply in Manitoba, the province needs to take action on establishing safe consumption sites. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Last year, 407 Manitobans died from overdose due to illicit substances like fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, etizolam or a combination substances, according to data from the chief medical examiner — more than any other year.

The provincial government has previously indicated — under both former premier Brian Pallister and his successor, Heather Stefanson — that it does not plan to allow supervised sites for illicit drug consumption.

In an interview with CBC last week, Stefanson pointed to “unintended consequences” in other jurisdictions to explain why she does not support the creation of supervised consumption sites in Manitoba.

A news release from the province last week said it is committed to a “recovery-oriented” model.

The Progressive Conservative government’s approach is “to maximize investments in programs and services,” such as the province’s rapid access to addictions medicine, or RAAM, clinics and “ensuring treatment is available to Manitobans when they are ready for recovery,” the Nov. 10  release said.

Jordyn Sheldon, education co-ordinator with the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network, says the provincial government needs to ensure the creation of safer consumption sites is a priority. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba Harm Reduction Network education co-ordinator Jordyn Sheldon, who organized Thursday’s protest, said the province needs to consult with experts who advocate for safe consumption sites and pay attention to scientific evidence, in order to prevent more overdose deaths.

“We are tired of the provincial government not listening to the calls from harm reduction organizations across the province who have made it clear that we need safer consumption sites in order to keep our relatives safe,” Sheldon said.

She said the idea for the protest came following the network’s recent conference, in which Albert McLeod — a two-spirit elder and member of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation — encouraged organizations to demand action from the province.

“I hope this sends the message that we are not only committed to loving our relatives and keeping them safe with the little funding that we do get … but that we will come to the streets and we will not stop fighting until we get safer consumption, and ultimately until we get safer supply,” Sheldon said.