Vernon councillors know a town hall on safe injection site is likely futile. They’ll have one anyway - InfoNews

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Vernon councillors know a town hall on safe injection site is likely futile. They’ll have one anyway

May 14, 2019 - 7:00 PM

VERNON - The City of Vernon is going to hold a town hall to talk about a proposed overdose prevention site.

That doesn't sound too complicated, does it? 

It took an hour and a half of public debate, during which some councillors said it has already been done twice, the Mayor said he doesn't believe town halls are effective, and the timing would suggest it's too late anyway, before Vernon city council unanimously agreed.

They want to allow Vernon residents and business owners to voice their concerns on crime, vagrancy, open drug use and the proposed overdose prevention site and the negative impacts on the downtown.

If this sounds familiar it's because similar meetings have taken place over the last couple of years.

In the lengthy May 13 debate, councillors hammered out the finer points of the town hall meeting - deciding on a neutral venue, finding a neutral facilitator, setting a three-hour time limit, giving each person two minutes to speak, and agreeing it would be held within the next 30 days.

At the core of the discussion is the Interior Health Authority's overdose prevention site. The province has mandated the site will open in Vernon and, as discussed in previous meetings, the Council is powerless to prevent it.

The question of why hold a meeting when Interior Health's decision is already made, circulated throughout the discussion.

"We are essentially repeating what the activate safety task force did two years ago,” Coun. Brian Quiring said.

Coun. Kelly Fehr agreed.

"I think what we are really doing is really pissing off a whole lot of people by repeating the same process regarding the exact same information we've already done twice," Fehr said. "I really am struggling to see what we're hoping to create out of the information that we've already received."

Coun. Kari Gares, who proposed the motion to hold the town hall, disagreed.

"My vision on this is obviously discussion around (the overdose prevention site) but it's also a discussion around possible solutions around other elements that are happening within our community because there are a lot of individuals that have solutions we just don't know about them, we haven't asked," Gares said.

Coun. Scott Anderson agreed saying he'd like to hear from the community about the site.

"This is coming apparently whether we like it or not and whether the community likes it or not, but I would at least like to be able to present something to IHA that suggests what the feelings of the community are," Anderson said.

While councillors were split on the benefits of holding another meeting, Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming dismissed the idea outright.

"I have a very low expectation that it will give us anything that would be a broad spectrum. That's why it's not used as a technique very much, because of its tendency to skewed results," said Cumming. "I have no concerns about having a town hall but I have no desire to sit there for an evening and have a toing and froing.... Nor is this a chance for us to change... IHs version of what should be done in an opioid crisis.... None of us here at this table have experience at managing [an opioid crisis]."

And while the meeting may go ahead it appears council may have left it too late to give substantial feedback regarding the site.

Coun. Brian Quiring pointed out Interior Health's deadline to submit a Request for Proposals for the site is May 24. As one of the functions of the town hall was to allow council to give feedback before the request for proposals was submitted, they would have to have the town hall within the next 10 days.

Council agreed to ask Interior Health for an extension to the May 24 deadline and committed to holding the town hall within 30 days. A date for the meeting has yet to be set.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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