“Criminality is Already Present”

CACTUS Montreal Continues to Fight for Supervised Injection

  • Cactus community organizer Jean-Francois Mary hopes multiple supervised injection sites will open in Montreal. Photo courtsey CACTUS Montreal.

The “Respect for Communities Act,” introduced by the federal government on June 6, will make it harder for CACTUS Montreal to open a supervised drug injection site—but it won’t affect the group’s determination to make it happen.

CACTUS, a not-for-profit organization that helps people including illicit drug users, sex workers and street youth, currently distributes needles and prevention materials. In order to maintain a supervised injection site however, it must obtain an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Its main challenge is to prove the project is socially acceptable.

For CACTUS, that proof is in the fact that “the persons that are the most specialized and concerned by this project sustain it,” in the words of CACTUS General Director Sandhia Vadlamudy.

The organization works with community partners such as the Montreal Health and Social Services Agency, and receives support from local security and health representatives, including the police, emergency services and nursing and doctors’ networks.

But those might not be sufficient. Indeed, the recent bill adds a public consultation requirement for the approval of the project.

“If only one voice is opposed, would it be sufficient for the demand to be rejected?” said Vadlamudy.

Residents of the Latin Quarter, where CACTUS is located, witness injection regularly and recognize such a centre might reduce public drug use. However, most would rather have the centre far from their own backyards.

“Having a lot of people with a lot of problems next to my door […] oh no, I would move,” said Sebastien, a local resident.

The main concern is that it may cause a rise in criminality.

“Because of all the things that come with heroin addiction […] I personally wouldn’t want to live next to an injection centre,” said another resident.

Vadlamudy said those fears are legitimate, but that a supervised injection centre could only change the community for the better.

“Criminality is already present in the neighbourhood,” she said. “Drug consumption is there too. We don’t think it’s going to create a ‘honeypot’ effect.”

She estimates CACTUS receives between 100 and 200 visits a day for sterile material, and that half of them could be related to injection.

“It would be the same visitors,” she said. “But instead of finding a place [elsewhere] to do their injection, they could do it here, under supervision and with more security.”

She also insisted on CACTUS’s continued cooperation with local police.

“It is also very clear there will be no tolerance for drug sale or petty crime around the centre,” she said.

CACTUS is planning on submitting the application for exemption in November. But it will take at least two years before Montreal will see the realization of the project.

The organization is also submitting a request for funds to develop such a space.

“Chances are it might take longer,” said Vadlamudy.

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