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Lethbridge braces for closure of Canada’s busiest supervised consumption site



Arvin White Cow is taking a break at one of the picnic tables in Galt park in downtown Lethbridge.

The area is busy with young families enjoying a nearby spray park, there are some people laying on the grass basking in the late summer sun. There are people sleeping under trees and some small groups are hunkered down with what looks like all of their belongings packed in shopping carts, baby strollers and overstuffed bags. There are also a number of people who appear to be intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol.

White Cow is recovering from a recent fall at a downtown construction site that left him with a broken foot. He says it’s been a difficult summer for him and others who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

He’s worried about the impending closure of the city’s only brick-and-mortar supervised drug consumption site, run by the non-profit group ARCHES.

The site, the busiest in Canada, has been controversial since it opened in early 2018.

Downtown business owners are applauding the government’s decision to stop funding the facility, while public health experts and researchers predict more people will die if they can’t access a safe, medically supervised site to consume their drugs.

White Cow says he is an alcoholic and that he has never set foot in ARCHES, but he knows a lot of people who have and he fears for their safety once the site closes for good today.

“You have people out here who are dying, literally, they’re dying,” he said.


Arvin White Cow says he is worried people with addictions in Lethbridge won’t be able to get access to a safe drug consumption site following the closure of ARCHES on Aug. 31, 2020. (Bryan Labby/CBC)


White Cow says he knows of four people who have died of drug overdoses in the past month and he predicts the situation will become even more dire because the mobile consumption site that will replace ARCHES will not be able to meet the demand from people who need a supervised place to inject drugs, the majority of which include opioids such as fentanyl and heroin, but also crystal methamphetamine, a non-opioid stimulant.

ARCHES, which had 13 injections booths and two inhalation rooms, saw an average of about 500 visits per day. The new mobile truck will have two booths and an area to monitor people for signs of an overdose.

“Not everyone is going to go to that shelter and make it to that little trailer,” said White Cow, referring to Alberta Health Services’ new mobile service. Last week it was parked outside Alpha House, the city’s only homeless shelter.


An unidentified man sleeps in Galt park in downtown Lethbridge, Alta. The downtown business revitalization zone fears more people could use the park to consume drugs following the closure of ARCHES, the city’s supervised consumption site. (Bryan Labby/CBC)


The provincial government pulled funding for ARCHES after a financial audit found evidence of mismanagement and misuse of government funding.  No one from ARCHES responded to multiple interview requests for this story.

The closure of the supervised injection site is being celebrated and criticized, exposing yet again the deep divisions that were created in Lethbridge when the site opened 2½ years ago.

‘A real risk that we’ll see more people die’

Public health experts who specialize in at-risk groups say the closure of the site doesn’t mean that people will stop using drugs, instead the behaviour will continue in an unsafe and potentially deadly way.

“There’s a real risk that we’ll see more people die,” said Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta.

“That just really opens up the increased risk of them getting into trouble, potentially having an overdose and there not being anybody there to provide emergency medical care,” she said.


Elaine Hyshka is an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. She says there is a real risk that more people will die of drug overdoses because of the closure of a drug consumption site in Lethbridge, Alta. (University of Alberta)


Hyshka says along with a safe and supervised place to use drugs, people will lose access to a number of services that were provided by ARCHES, including treatments and medications for opioid addictions, counselling and peer support. The organization also ran a community needle pick-up service.

“We need more support, not less support in Lethbridge,” Hyshka said.

The province said the south health zone, which includes Lethbridge, had the highest per capita number of accidental drug poisoning deaths related to fentanyl during the first three months of 2020. The rate was 14.1 per 100,000 people. The rate in Calgary was 11.4.

Between January and March of this year, 142 people died from an apparent accidental opioid overdose in Alberta.


Alberta Health Services will operate this new mobile drug injection site in Lethbridge following the closure of ARCHES, the city’s only brick-and-mortar supervised consumption site on Aug. 31, 2020. (Bryan Labby/CBC)


Researchers and academics, including Hyshka, are calling on the province to release updated opioid statistics which could provide insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the overdose crisis.

B.C. and Ontario have reported a spike in overdose deaths during the pandemic, one of the factors is believed to be an increase in toxicity of street drugs. Hyshka says it’s very likely the same trend is happening across Alberta, including Lethbridge.

“We’re getting reports from across the country and epidemiology from across the country that show that deaths and EMS calls, ambulance calls for overdoses are up everywhere,” she said.

Hyshka is calling on the government to release updated overdose data to get a better idea of what’s happening. The most recent data released publicly in Alberta covered the first three months of 2020. B.C. just released statistics to the end of July.

“We really are operating in a total information vacuum.”

She credits the government for releasing a lot of data that covers ambulance calls, impacted neighbourhoods in Calgary and Edmonton, but the information needs to be released in a more timely manner.

A spokesperson for the associate minister of mental health and addiction expects the second quarter report sometime in September.

‘Unintended consequences’

Em Pijl is an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge’s Faculty of Health Sciences. She led a study exploring the perceptions and observations by business owners and managers of social disorder in downtown Lethbridge after ARCHES opened the facility in 2018.

“While the public in general understands the merits of harm reduction services, there remains the question of unintended consequences of these services,” read the report which was completed for Lethbridge city council in January.

The findings revealed a 100-metre zone around the consumption site had the sharpest increase in some antisocial behaviours and the sharpest increase in discarded needles. Increases in antisocial behaviours were also observed in the southwest downtown zone. Pijl notes that not all antisocial behaviours were associated with the supervised consumption site.

Pijl said the findings differ from previous studies which did not find any negative neighbourhood impacts caused by supervised consumption sites, but she cautions those studies involved consumption sites in much larger urban centres and suggested the smaller, “Lethbridge context” must be considered.


ARCHES opened Feb. 28, 2018, and quickly became the busiest supervised drug consumption site in Canada. A financial audit found mismanagement and misuse of government funding. The UCP government announced it would defund the facility effective Aug. 31, 2020. (Bryan Labby/CBC)


She says ARCHES enjoyed many successes, including reversing overdoses and connecting people with health and social support services, but there were drawbacks.

“When there is social disorder new to an area, some people aren’t going to like that,” she said.

“The question as a community is ‘are we okay with those drawbacks?’ And I think that’s where our city continually seems to be a sticking point.”

Pijl doesn’t think the mobile service will be able to meet the demand or the same level of service and she echoes the same dark prediction made by others.

“I think we’re going to see overdose deaths go up and I think we’re going to see a lot of people using in public. I don’t think that’s what Lethbridge wants,” she said.

Downtown business on edge

The long-serving executive director of the downtown Lethbridge business revitalization zone fears there could be more open, public drug use and a real or perceived impact on public safety once ARCHES closes.

Ted Stilson said a number of encampments have sprung up in Galt Gardens park where he says 10 to 12 people are now living. He says the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of a number of community events in the park and thus created an opportunity for some people to move in.

Stilson said it depends on how many people can be helped through the mobile consumption vehicle.


Ted Stilson is the executive director of the downtown Lethbridge business revitalization zone. He hopes the closure of the ARCHES supervised injection site will improve public safety in the downtown, however he also fears an increase in public drug use. (Bryan Labby/CBC)


His hope is that the city can get back to where it was before it became home to the country’s most used drug consumption site.

Stilson believes the consumption site attracted a number of people addicted to drugs — and dealers — to Lethbridge and many downtown business owners continue to deal with the fallout.

“I don’t think we ever wanted the supervised consumption site,” he said.

Stilson says in hindsight he wishes the community would have fought harder to oppose it because the Lethbridge wasn’t able to provide other services for people with addictions, including treatment and supportive housing.

He says the site has been devastating for many downtown business owners who’ve been dealing with panhandling, loitering, shoplifting, needle use and the proliferation of drug paraphernalia.

Bracing for fallout

One of the organizations that helps vulnerable people in the community is the Diversion Outreach Team, which is run by the Canadian Mental Health Association. DOT, as it’s known, is preparing for the transition to a mobile consumption site but the impact is already being noticed. There have been more calls about needle debris and people loitering at school sites.

There’s a call for social agencies in Lethbridge to work together to help people who will be impacted by the demise of ARCHES.

“I think for the individuals going through it, it’s going to be scary, it’s going to be nerve-wracking,” said David Gabert.

“Our community really needs to have a good sense of empathy towards them and towards each other as we all go through this.” he said.

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC

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Canada's top doctors reveal flip side to public praise: 'I've had death threats' – CTV News



The top health officials co-ordinating Canada’s COVID-19 response say the majority of public reaction to their work has been positive — but they’ve also received some abusive feedback that ranges from “well-thought-out insults” to “death threats.”

“I’ve got a lot of positive responses, but there are many people who don’t like what I do, or don’t like the way I say it or don’t like my shoes and feel quite able to send me nasty notes, to leave phone calls, to harass my office staff,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s top doctor, speaking Tuesday.

“I’ve had to have security in my house, I’ve had death threats,” she added.

Her comment made headlines after she revealed the death threats she’d been facing — and it prompted reporters to quiz other health officials about how they’ve been treated by the public.

While the other public health officers did not report death threats, they said they had been on the receiving end of some abuse.

Dr. Heather Morrison, who serves as the top doctor in P.E.I., said she’s received a small amount of feedback that’s been frightening.

“Overwhelmingly, it’s been so wonderful,” Morrison told CTV News in an interview.

However, she conceded that “there have been threats, at times.”

“It makes me concerned for my family, and my children, and my staff,” Morrison said.

While some doctors, such as Henry and Morrison, reported outright threats, others said that while they hadn’t faced any threats, there had been a heaping of criticism levelled towards them.

“Dr. Hinshaw has received a wide range of correspondence from Albertans,” said a spokesperson for Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“While this includes strong personal and professional criticisms, she has not received death threats or hate mail to date.”

Newfoundland and Labrador’s top doctor, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, said in her Wednesday press conference that it’s “unfortunate” people feel public servants “deserve to be the target of such harassment.”

“In the Public Health Division we’ve had our share of emails that aren’t necessarily in agreement with some of the things that we have done, but you know, we have to accept that as part of the job I guess,” she added.

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said in her own Wednesday press conference that she has also been on the receiving end of insults — but no threats.

“I haven’t had any threats. I’ve had some very-well-thought-out insults sent my way, but for the most part, no, no threats,” she said.


At least one study indicates that the numbers reflect what these doctors are describing — and may point to a gender divide in the negative feedback they face.

Erin Kelly is the CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc., which uses Artificial Intelligence for human behaviour research. She studied the feedback these public health officer face using a randomized, controlled sample of 270,000 Canadians taken from Twitter.

Kelly said the randomized, controlled sample she studied was taken from Twitter between October 1, 2019 to September 22, 2020. She said her results had a margin of error of +/- 1 per cent, with a 95-per-cent confidence interval 19 times out of 20.

She said they found, overall, discussion about Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry was “well in excess of 80 per cent positive, so overall Canadians feel they’re doing a good job.”

“However, we have seen for some of them like Bonnie Henry, feelings about her have been on the decline since about April, and especially since July, that contestations questioning her competence have been increasing,” Kelly said.

She added that roughly a quarter of the discussions about Tam were what she would “classify as racist.”

“But the bigger picture that we see is a gender bias in how public health officials are being perceived,” Kelley said.

She explained that where there are negative comments directed at public health officials, “it comes overwhelmingly from men.”

She said that when this was compared to the comments Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams faces, “the comments from men were overwhelmingly positive.”

“So it’s not as though they’re always negative about public health officials generally, it seems to be splitting along gender lines,” Kelly said.

When asked about this gender difference, Alberta’s top doctor said it would be “difficult” to compare what she’s experienced with the feelings among her colleagues.

“It’s not something I’ve discussed with my male colleagues across the country so that might be something of interest to find out if they’re experiencing some similar frustrations,” Hinshaw said.

“I think it is quite understandable that people do feel angry, it’s just really important that, if people are feeling angry, that they frame their concerns in a respectful way…whether people in leadership are women or men.”

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Coronavirus: Canada adds 1,329 cases, 5 deaths Thursday – Global News



Canada added 1,329 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday and five deaths.

That brings the national total to 148,941 cases and 9,249 deaths, with two deaths added from earlier in the week.

Read more:
Ontario reports 409 new coronavirus cases with most in Toronto-area, Ottawa

Ontario reported 409 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing its case total to 48,496 and count back into the 400s after 335 cases were reported Wednesday.

Currently there are 88 people in hospital with the virus in the province, with 27 of them in intensive care and 11 on a ventilator.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported 582 new cases on Thursday, bringing the province’s total to 69,670. Hospitalizations increased by six to 184, with 31 in intensive care.

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Coronavirus: Quebec health minister asks Quebecers to limit social interactions

One additional death was announced that occurred between Sept. 17 and 22. The province has the most deaths in the country at 5,810.

Out west, British Columbia reported 148 new cases on Thursday, with 61 currently in hospital, 20 of them in intensive care. The province has seen 8,543 cases total.

Two new deaths were reported as well.

Alberta announced 158 new cases, with 58 people currently in hospital, 14 in intensive care. There are 1,462 active cases total.

Read more:
Coronavirus: Alberta has 1.02% positivity rate; 4% of schools have active cases

The province also announced one new death — a man in his 80s from Calgary.

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Manitoba reported 37 new cases of COVID-19. The province currently has 449 active cases, with 11 in hospital and six in intensive care.

The province also confirmed the death of a woman in her 90s in a long-term care home in Winnipeg, which was first reported on Tuesday.

Saskatchewan added five new cases to its tally of 1,835 total cases on Thursday, and currently has 130 active cases with eight people hospitalized. No new deaths were reported.

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Coronavirus: Trudeau says Canada can ‘bend the curve’ together again

In the Maritimes, New Brunswick reported one new case of an individual from Fredericton but who is currently in Ontario.

Nova Scotia added no new cases to its sole active case. The province currently has one person in ICU and has had 1,087 cases total.

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No cases were reported in Newfoundland and Labrador, PEI or any of the territories.

There have been 32,091,257 cases reported worldwide and 980,299 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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CP Holiday Train won't roll across Canada this year due to pandemic –



Since 1999, the annual Canadian Pacific Railway Holiday Train has pulled into communities across Canada and the United States to raise money for local food banks.

But like so many events deemed unworkable amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the festive train won’t be leaving its station this holiday season.

Keith Creel, the railway’s president and CEO, said CP will instead donate to food banks across the railway network this year and host virtual concerts in lieu of the annual event.

“COVID-19 has created many challenges for communities across our network and has only increased the need at local food banks and food shelves,” he said in a release.

“It is our honour to continue to donate to communities across our network this year, even if the train itself will not run.”

Over its 21 years of operation, the holiday train has raised $17.8 million while collecting 4.8 million pounds of food for local food banks.

Calgary Food Bank president and CEO James McAra said that support would be especially needed amidst rising demand during the pandemic.

“The need for food bank services has risen substantially over the course of this year and heading into the high-demand winter months. We hope CP’s concert will prompt the train’s supporters to give as generously as they’re able,” McAra said in a release.

Details about the virtual concerts will be released at a later date. CP said it plans to resume the holiday train in 2021.

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