By Stuart Mann
The diocese’s College of Bishops and four clergy have written to Minister of Health Christine Elliott, expressing their concern over the provincial government’s recent decision to reduce and limit the number of overdose prevention sites in Ontario.
In the April 2 letter, the bishops and clergy say the opioid overdose crisis in the province is “the major public health issue of our time” and is a health emergency that is costing many lives. More than 1,250 people died of opioid overdoses in Ontario in 2017.
The letter was sent by bishops Andrew Asbil, Peter Fenty, Riscylla Shaw, Kevin Robertson, Jenny Andison, the Rev. Alison Falby of All Saints Church-Community Centre, the Rev. Maggie Helwig of St. Stephen in-the-Fields, Toronto, the Ven. Stephen Vail, archdeacon of Trent-Durham, and the Rev. Leigh Kern, the diocese’s coordinator of Indigenous ministries and reconciliation animator.
The letter specifically asks that the overdose prevention sites at St. Stephen’s Community House and Street Health in downtown Toronto be given licenses and funding by the government to remain open. The sites are located near All Saints Church-Community Centre and St. Stephen in-the-Fields and have close ties to those churches.
“They are both sites which are well-run, locally appropriate, and have strong community support, and a demonstrated record of saving lives,” write the bishops and clergy. “Because they are smaller sites, based in multi-service agencies, they are particularly able to focus on building relationships, connecting people to medical care and counselling, and helping them to build healthier, safer lives, more integrated into the local community.” The letter also asks the government to grant a license and funding to the site at The Works, one of the busiest sites in the city.
The letter states that the diocese would be willing to play a role in a “coordinated public health strategy” to address the issue. “Can we be part of bringing together community voices and helping this discussion to move forward in a constructive way?”
The letter is just one of the ways that bishops, clergy and laity in the diocese have been responding to the government’s announcement on March 29 to close some sites and limit the number of them in the province. Bishop Robertson along with other clergy and laity attended a press conference at Toronto City Hall on April 1 to show support for the safe injection sites slated for closure. Anglicans are also being encouraged to attend some rallies that are being planned.
Here is the full letter:
The Hon. Christine Elliott, M.P.P.
Minister of Health and Long-Term Care
Hepburn Block, 10th Floor
80 Grosvenor St.,
Toronto ON M7A 1E9
April 2, 2019
We are writing you urgently, to express our great concern about the provincial government’s decision not to grant licenses or funding to the Overdose Prevention Sites at St Stephen’s Community House and at Street Health, which had applied to operate under the new Consumption and Treatment Service protocols.
First, we do want to thank you for granting licenses and funding to fifteen sites across the province. We are very pleased that these sites will be able to provide life-saving health care to residents of Ontario. But we are troubled by a number of other aspects of the decision, including the arbitrary cap of 21 sites across the province, and the fact that those sites which were denied licenses were given no warning and no time even to communicate with their users, a highly vulnerable population, in an appropriate way.
We are writing at this moment, first, to ask that you reconsider, and grant licenses and funding to the St Stephen’s Community Centre and Street Health sites. Both of these sites have historic connections with Anglican parishes, and ongoing close working connections with St Stephen-in-the-Fields and All Saints Sherbourne. They are both sites which are well-run, locally appropriate, and have strong community support, and a demonstrated record of saving lives. Because they are smaller sites, based in multi-service agencies, they are particularly able to focus on building relationships, connecting people to medical care and counselling, and helping them to build healthier, safer lives, more integrated into the local community.
We also ask you to grant licensing and funding to the site at The Works, one of the busiest sites in the city, which has saved many lives already.
The opioid overdose crisis is the major public health issue of our time, and is a critical health emergency which is costing many lives. Every opioid overdose death is preventable. In this circumstance, no sites should be closed. We need all the existing sites to continue to operate, and ideally we need more sites opened. We urge you to keep all existing sites open until this emergency is over. This will require a major, coordinated public health strategy, of which these sites are a crucial part.
The church is willing to play a role in this. Can we be part of bringing together community voices and helping this discussion to move forward in a constructive way? We would be very happy to talk to you as soon as possible about assisting this discussion.
Given that more neighbourhood centres for safe injectable drug use are required, can the church help with community planning and engagement? Again, we are very happy to use our community base in this way.
With hope for a quick response, and with Christ’s blessing,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil,
Bishop of Toronto
The Rt. Rev. Peter Fenty,
Area Bishop of York-Simcoe
The Rt. Rev. Riscylla Shaw
Area Bishop of Trent-Durham
The Rt. Rev. Kevin Robertston,
Area Bishop of York-Scarborough
The Rt. Rev. Jenny Andison,
Area Bishop of York-Credit Valley
The Ven. Stephen Vail
Archdeacon of Trent-Durham
The Rev. Leigh Kern
Coordinator of Indigenous Ministries and Reconciliation Animator
The Rev. Maggie Helwig,
Incumbent, St. Stephen-in-the-Fields
The Rev. Alison Falby
Priest-in-Charge, All Saints Church-Community Centre