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Poilievre calls on Liberals to refuse exemption for Montreal supervised drug-use site

Construction is seen on a new supervised inhalation centre in Montreal, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. The new complex will also offer housing, a community centre and meals, and allow the injection of hard drugs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi Construction is seen on a new supervised inhalation centre in Montreal, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. The new complex will also offer housing, a community centre and meals, and allow the injection of hard drugs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi
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The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has asked the federal government to refuse an exemption requested by a safe drug use site in Montreal's St-Henri neighbourhood after nearby residents have raised safety concerns. 

The Maison Benoit Labre opened in April but has quickly come under fire from neighbours who have complained about open-air drug use, nudity, and fights breaking out. This week, it temporarily closed its doors due to a lack of staff.

In a letter addressed to federal Health Minister Mark Holland, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre asked the government to step in because "Quebecers deserve to feel safe in their own neighbourhoods," accusing the Justin Trudeau government of increasing a sense of insecurity and homelessness in Quebec because of the LIberals' "disastrous and dangerous policies."

"Mr. Holland, under section 56.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, you have the power to accept or refuse a supervised consumption site. Therefore, to ensure the safety of Quebecers and their children, you must immediately refuse or revoke the exemption granted by your government to the supervised injection site in Montreal, allowing it to operate in close proximity to an elementary school and a daycare centre," Poilievre wrote in the letter dated June 4.

Exemption in 'review stage' by Health Canada

The St-Henri site was granted a temporary exemption from the provincial government last fall. Its request for a permanent, federal exemption from Health Canada under subsection 56.1 of the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) from Sept. 9, 2022, has yet to be determined.

The Health Canada website that tracks such requests from cities across the country states the following in relation to the St-Henri site: "Review stage - Awaiting key information before decision can be taken."

The new, four-storey building has more than 30 studio apartments meant for people who are homeless and experience mental health or addiction issues. It's located less than 100 metres from Victor-Rousselot Elementary School, which has about 300 students from preschool to Grade 6.

Clients who visit the centre can bring their own substances to use under the supervision of trained personnel. It's the first site in Montreal to be able to accommodate supervised drug inhalation as well as other forms of consumption.

CTV News asked Maison Benoit Labre to respond to Poilievre's letter but did not receive a response before publication time.

When asked to respond to the Conservative leader's remarks, Canada's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Ya'ara Saks, said in a written statement that supervised consumption sites are required to take steps to address safety concerns and that local health authorities are best suited to make decisions for their communities.

"Once again, Conservatives are choosing to stoke fear instead of listening to experts. When asked about this the [Montreal] public health director made clear to the Conservatives why their solution wouldn’t work. Harm reduction measures, like supervised consumption sites, are evidence-based and save lives," the statement from her office reads.

"All orders of government have a shared responsibility and need to work together to create safe environments for our children, while we provide these evidence-based, health care services."

Quebec’s minister for social services, Lionel Carmant, has said previously that the centre is an important harm reduction service, but emphasized that social acceptability was also a key consideration.

"The safe drug use is going to keep people indoors instead of having them around the sites outdoors in front of children. So it's a positive addition," said Carmant in April. 

On Wednesday, residents who live nearby say the centre has not lived up to its expectations so far.

"Within a month, they disturbed area, children have been exposed to things that they should never be exposed to," said Jacqueline Lam, a member of the neighbourhood committee set up to facilitate cohabitation between the new centre and residents in the area. "They are exposed to people masturbating and peeing, pooping next to them. And then now, they close down because they lack the personnel."

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