Proposed CTS site in Cambridge causes division

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There were anxious and indignant faces all over the protest against proposals for a Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) site in Cambridge in July.

The opioid crisis has devastated the region and is especially divisive in Cambridge. CTS sites offer a supervised location for people to use substances and access holistic support. The two proposed locations for CTS sites in Cambridge are on 8 Oxford St., where the anti-CTS rally began, and 15 Easton St.

James Dover took responsibility for organizing the anti-CTS rally, which saw nearly a hundred attendees. Dover runs the social media for the newly formed Facebook group, No to CTS site. He and two other founding members, Clifford Vanclief and Rick Heidenreich, all spoke at the event. 

Vanclief told protesters at the rally that it wasn’t the homeless or even people who use substances who he was concerned about, but the supposed criminals who infiltrate those groups. 

“This neighbourhood has been experiencing crime for far too long. We have all been targets of theft from our porches, sheds and our garages. We’ve had break and enters, and home invasions. We’ve witnessed drug deals, stolen property and coming and going from various drug houses, which makes us all uneasy and feeling unsafe,” he said.

Communities across North America have been grappling with the devastating rise of opioid-related overdose deaths and COVID-19 has aggravated overdose fatalities—in Waterloo Region, the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths doubled during the pandemic.

Statistics Canada recently released a report that showed in 2020, there were 5,142 opioid-related offences in Canada, a 34 per cent increase compared to 2019. Drug violations include possession, trafficking, production and importation or exportation offences. 

Investigations into Canada’s failed war on drugs from the early 1900s and onward show that severe laws and enforcement—which especially targeted Chinese and Black populations—did little to stop the flow of drugs and crime in communities. 

“Canada’s first narcotic law was passed in 1908, and firmly rooted not in evidence but in selective racism. One hundred and twelve years of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results in 2021 is delusional,” Parksinon wrote. “It’s a tremendous waste of public dollars and guaranteed to kill and injure thousands of people across Canada.”

Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council’s (Un)Safe report found that participants who consumed unregulated drugs and lacked stable housing had been incarcerated an average of 12 times each. 

“That’s millions of public dollars devoted to an intervention that survey participants neither desired nor experienced as a deterrent,” Parkinson wrote. 

“More effective interventions exist for both individual and community health and safety, but they are difficult to fund, or are subject to a level of political scrutiny we would never invoke for other important but less common forms of death and injury.”

There is some evidence that a safer supply, a long-term medical approach that involves giving people who use drugs access to a legal prescription and places like CTS sites where drug use can be supervised in a safe environment will lead to a decrease in crime. Despite the data and research that addresses many of the concerns raised at the anti-CTS rally, the issue remains contentious.

The system to support people who use substances has been bending under pressure. Local shelters that have been running over capacity for years see 12 to 24 overdoses every week and have limited resources. On top of this emotionally taxing and underpaid labour, outreach workers also use their time off to advocate for those who they support.

Samantha Porte, a social support worker with the Kitchener CTS, was a co-organizer of the pro-CTS rally. She worked with other direct service workers and community members to show support for the proposed CTS sites in Cambridge. 

“There are a lot of misconceptions about how CTS sites work,” Porte wrote in an email. “I think there are also a lot of misconceptions about people who use drugs in the first place. It’s important to do the work and acknowledge that what we learn or are exposed to is not always an accurate portrayal of what’s really going on.”

Porte wrote that the plans to protest against the proposed CTS sites in Cambridge made her stomach turn. She wrote that the hatred she sees in those groups weighs on her. Part of the reason there were only a handful of pro-CTS protesters this year was because many were not able to take the time off. 

Heidi Morrison is not an outreach worker, but she attended the counter-rally anyway. She wanted to attend because she does not want her or anybody else’s child to suffer because of the opioid epidemic. She held a sign that read, “dear son, don’t use alone. Love, Mom”. 

“There’s moms worrying about their children dying and these people are trying to help and save them. How that’s a bad thing, I can’t comprehend it,” she said. 

Christina Resendes was attending the anti-CTS rally. She has been sober for 16 years and advocates for other solutions, such as increasing access to appropriate mental health care.

“Does it have to be a CTS site? Like why can’t we get proper therapy, or like some kind of rehabilitation?” Resendes said. “Because at the end of the day these are sick human beings. They’re sick and they need help….It’s just a matter of seeing things from other people’s perspectives, because when you open your eyes to that, then it kind of opens up more solutions. You can try to fight to make that change, but you gotta try to do it with love.” 

The speed of change can be disquieting and scary, and the easiest targets for hatred or discrimination are those deemed undesirable. There will be no consensus on these CTS sites anytime soon, but Porte is holding out hope.

“We have enough fact-based, person-centred, and trauma-informed work experience to know that this will speak for itself, and the reason behind the support will shine through,” Porte wrote.