Controversial pop-up drug consumption site in Maple Ridge dismantled within hours
A pop-up safe consumption site for drug users that was launched in Maple Ridge Wednesday was dismantled within hours as advocates squared off with police.
And while the tent has been removed for now, advocates pushing for a permanent site for safe drug use say they have now set a Monday deadline for Fraser Health to respond to their concerns over what they feel is a lack of services in Maple Ridge.
The organizers of the pop-up say they set up the Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) after waiting months for the local health authority to open a permanent safe consumption site in the area.
The makeshift site was set up in the yard of the Royal Crescent Modular Housing development.
RCMP remained on scene at the modular housing development Thursday morning, even after the removal of the tent.
"We think overdose prevention sites are necessary in response to the overdose crisis, but they are the absolute minimum that a government can do," said Ivan Drury, an organizer with the Alliance Against Displacement.
Fed up that authorities have not opened a permanent location, activists hoped the unsanctioned site would put more pressure on health officials.
More than a dozen RCMP officers looked on and tensions escalated when officers threatened to arrest people for mischief.
Lawyers said the unsanctioned site should be allowed to stay open legally because Section 7 of the Charter guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of a person in jeopardy.
"Shutting down sites like this is almost a guarantee that more people will die. Police officers actually have discretion about when they pursue enforcement. They don’t have to act on every complaint they receive," said Anna Cooper with Pivot Legal Society.
The mayor of Maple Ridge is frustrated by the pop-up OPS, adding the police response is a "waste of our local resources."
"We've got more than a dozen officers here and that's on the taxpayers' dime. This is an illegal activity and we can't, as a city, be condoning this. There is a proper process to go through these things and this is not it," Mayor Mike Morden told CTV News.
'Blood that's in their hands'
Activists say officials closed the city's only overdose prevention site, which was run by those living at Anita Place Tent City.
Since residents were evicted from the homeless camp in March, Fraser Health has not opened a new site.
"In the event that someone dies, because this site is closed, then that is blood that's in their hands," Cooper said.
In an email to CTV News, Fraser Health said it currently has overdose prevention services for residents living at two modular housing facilities.
"We will continue to work with the City of Maple Ridge to find solutions to the challenges we face in connecting with people, and providing outreach services since Anita Place was dispersed," spokesperson Dixon Tam said in an email statement.
The health authority also said people can also access overdose prevention services through Rain City and the Salvation Army's local shelter.
The Ministry of Housing said it recognizes the importance of OPS for people with addictions, but the location of the pop-up OPS is "not an appropriate location for an unsanctioned overdose prevention site for the broader public."
Activists had said the pop-up site would stay open 24 hours until a permanent location is opened.
It appears the unsanctioned site could pop up again in Maple Ridge, if advocates feel progress on a permanent site isn’t being made.
"Next time we’ll be ready to meet the RCMP and we won;t make it so easy to take down the site," Drury said.