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Premier's office guided health authority response on possible drug consumption site at Richmond Hospital


Vancouver Coastal Health quickly shot down a controversial city council proposal to explore the possibility of creating a drug consumption site at Richmond Hospital – but it turns out Premier David Eby’s office played a role in directing the health authority’s response.

The motion, which Richmond council passed by a vote of 7-2 in February, called for city staff to work with VCH to explore the feasibility of a supervised consumption site.

It erupted into a political firestorm involving politicians at both the municipal and provincial level.

Richmond councillor Kash Heed was one of the councillors who sponsored the motion.

"We were going through a due process, we were going through the science, we were going by what the experts were saying,” Heed said about the motion, which did not specifically call for the creation of a site.

Nevertheless, misinformation about the council motion fuelled intense debate and protests over two nights at Richmond City Hall.

Politicians from the opposition BC United and the BC Conservatives seized on the opportunity to take aim at Eby’s NDP government and its harm reduction policies.

A week before the city hall debate on the motion, Richmond Medical Health Officer Dr. Meena Dawar wrote a letter to the mayor and council.

“I am writing to you as the Medical Health Officer for the City of Richmond to extend my support for the motion calling for overdose prevention services in Richmond,” Dawar wrote on February 5.

Despite that support, and the motion passing at council, Heed says VCH did not engage with city staff to discuss the issue.

Instead, in statements issued to media outlets the day after the vote, VCH kiboshed the idea of a new supervised drug consumption site in Richmond, saying “a stand-alone supervised consumption site is not the most appropriate service for those at risk of overdose in Richmond.”

It turns out the premier’s office guided that response through provincial communications staffers.

In an email obtained by CTV News, Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions communications specialist Preet Grewal explained as much to VCH communications staff.

“As discussed earlier this morning via text, the Premier’s Office has directed us to direct VCH to issue a statement to quell some of the misinformation surrounding the proposed Richmond SCS. Below is the frame for the statement for you/your team’s input,” Grewal wrote.

The body of the email contained eight bullet points but four were redacted by VCH’s Information Privacy Office in the copy of the email seen by CTV News.

Some of the unredacted bullet points in Grewal’s email almost exactly match portions of the statement VCH eventually sent to CTV News the day after the council vote.

"Coastal Health was working hand in glove with the City of Richmond to explore the idea,” said Heed about what he views as about face by VCH on the motion. “So, they were getting their ducks in a row ready to move on it, and then we have this interference from the premier's office before the final vote."

CTV News reached out to Grewal at the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and the Office of the Premier with questions about why staff at the highest levels of the B.C. government were involved in a very preliminary discussion between Richmond city council and VCH.

The premier’s office did not respond to the request.

Grewal replied to say she had forwarded the email to VCH communications staff who would then respond.

“VCH worked with government to communicate Vancouver Coastal Health’s position to the public in order to address some of the misinformation that was circulating,” VCH said in an email that also contained most of the bullet points sent to its communications staff by Grewal in February.

At the time of the debate at city hall, many protestors opposed to the motion were under the mistaken impression that a regulated safe supply of narcotics for drug users was part of the motion.

Some of the fear-mongering around the proposal came from politicians, including Conservative Party of Canada leader Pierre Poilievre.

“Common sense Conservatives call on the Trudeau government to stop handing out taxpayer-funded narcotics that fuel crime, chaos, drugs and disorder in our streets,” he wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, which called on people to sign a petition to oppose a possible new drug consumption site in Richmond.

Now that the pressure Eby’s office put on VCH staff has come to light, opposition BC United MLAs accuse the premier of playing politics with health care in an election year.

"It's never appropriate for the premier to stick their thumb on the scale of what medical professionals and others in that realm are trying to do,” said Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar.

As the debate rages on, first responders in Richmond remain busy with drug-related calls – even on the steps of city hall, where shortly after speaking with Heed CTV News observed firefighters and paramedics helping a man appearing to be experiencing an overdose. Top Stories

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