Ontario’s ‘Feel Good Town’ won’t endorse unsanctioned, volunteer-run overdose prevention site

Community outreach activists and volunteers plan to erect a nomadic overdose prevention site on private property in the small town of Cobourg.

Ontario’s ‘Feel Good Town’ won’t endorse unsanctioned, volunteer-run overdose prevention site
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Earlier this week, Cobourg Council denounced the development of an unsanctioned overdose prevention site, as reported by Today’s Northumberland.

A nomadic style shelter is to be erected on private property on March 24 to provide harm-reduction services to individuals in the small town approximately 100 kilometers east of Toronto along the 401 corridor.

Organizer Missy McLean believes that offering illicit drugs in a “safe and supportive” nomadic pop-up tent is an act of resistance.

Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland made it clear that the town was not endorsing this anarchist-style endeavour.

Cleveland brought forward a motion that required urgent voting. To do so, council voted to temporarily suspend the rule of order to facilitate immediate debate and subsequent voting.

The motion read:

WHEREAS the Council of the Town of Cobourg and Municipal Staff were unaware of the erection of the Unsanctioned Overdose Prevention Site where individuals are utilizing the use of illicit drug use within the Town of Cobourg; and
WHEREAS the Town of Cobourg does not endorse the operation;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council urges that the Organizers wanting to create this space to follow the legal process to operate a supervised consumption site (SCS) as approved and licensed by Health Canada who may grant exemptions for an SCS after satisfactory completion of an application which includes consultation with a broad range of people in the community.

The motion passed unanimously, with blindsided Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty abstaining, citing the need for more research.

Ms. Beatty was unable to comment on the training, or lack thereof, of the volunteers who would be administering the illegal drugs.

“This is not a gray matter. There is a way of doing this the right way and then there is what they are doing. I just had to get this dealt with,” Cleveland said in an interview with local media.

Cobourg Police Services Board Chair Ron Kerr issued a statement clarifying the ability of the police in this situation.

The Police Service and the Board shall follow the rules and standards under the Police Service Act, the Criminal Code of Canada, and other directives. Under these laws and guidelines, police have no legal authority to take enforcement or any other action to remove the overdose prevention site or any safe consumption site on private property. 

The police service continues to adhere to the Federal Crown’s 2020 directive to not charge or arrest individuals for simple possession and to focus on more serious Controlled Drugs and Substances Act offences that raise public safety concerns, such as drug trafficking.

The Town of Cobourg Municipal Law Enforcement and Licensing department issued a Notice of Violation to owners of a local property that is not zoned to be used as a safe injection/overdose prevention site, on March 23.

Fines range from $25,000 to $50,000.

The volunteers are hopeful that a temporary, traveling overdose prevention site will eventually morph into a permanent safe injection site.

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  • By Sheila Gunn Reid

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