Feds back supervised consumption sites day after Manitoba introduces bill on licensing them

The federal minister of mental heath and addictions says she is concerned some may misunderstand the role harm reduction plays in reducing overdose deaths after the Manitoba government said it would introduce legislation that would require licensing for supervised drug consumption sites.

Carolyn Bennett’s remarks come a day after Janice Morley-Lecomte, Manitoba’s minister for mental health and community wellness, introduced a bill in the legislature that, if passed into law, would require supervised consumption sites, addiction centres with beds and withdrawal-management services to apply for a provincial licence.

Bennett said the large number of overdoses that have been reversed at such sites across the country shows the sites are a form of harm reduction backed by evidence and not rooted in ideology.

“We want to make sure that nothing is increasing the barriers to people getting harm reduction,” she said at an announcement in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

The federal government believes supervised consumption sites are essential elements to addressing overdose deaths and addictions issues, Bennett said.

Governments need to be open to all forms of harm reduction that people providing services and drug users have been calling for, including access to safe supply and safe consumption, she said.

Janice Morley-Lecomte stands at a podium, answering questions from a member of the media.
Janice Morley-Lecomte, Manitoba’s minister of mental health and community wellness, says the legislation would require a licence to provide addiction services that involve overnight accommodation, supervised consumption services and withdrawal management services. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has long opposed supervised consumption sites, saying people facing addiction need to be guided toward treatment and recovery services.

Manitoba has been the only province west of the Maritimes without one.

The province shifted its stance Tuesday when it introduced a bill in the legislature that would require supervised consumption sites, addiction centres with beds and withdrawal-management services to apply for provincial licences.

The licence would spell out what kind of services can be offered, set standards of care and require minimum levels of medical supervision, among other things. The province would have inspectors to enforce the law, and providers that break the rules could face fines of up to $50,000 per day.

Bennett said it was too soon to comment on the proposed legislation, but she would be speaking with the province about the bill.

It’s not clear whether the bill will be passed into law before the Oct. 3 election. The NDP Opposition have the opportunity to hold up its passage.

Bennett was in Winnipeg to announce $13 million for harm reduction and treatment services projects across the Prairies, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Among those was the West Broadway Development Corporation, which is to receive roughly $135,000 for two part-time harm reduction workers.

Kelly Frazer, executive director of the organization, welcomed the funding.

“Harm reduction supports have been under resourced and are badly overstretched,” she said.

The workers are to team up with partner organizations in the area to expand street outreach and the ability to respond to crisis situations.