Trudeau says funding for supervised injection sites as far as Saskatchewan


Trudeau said the federal government “will be a partner for anyone who wants to move forward and follow the science.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it’s up to Saskatchewan whether it chooses to fund sites where people can inject drugs under medical supervision.

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Federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett hinted last month that Prairie Harm Reduction — the Saskatoon nonprofit that operates the only such site in the province — may apply for funds. federal search after the province rejected them for the third time last spring.

During a Wednesday stop in Saskatoon, Trudeau appeared to rule out stronger action, such as making federal transfer payments for mental health conditional on funding such sites, saying health care was ultimately a provincial responsibility. .

“It’s an issue that the provinces have to make decisions on,” Trudeau said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a press conference at St. Ann's Seniors' Village during his visit to Saskatoon.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a press conference at St. Ann’s Seniors’ Village during his visit to Saskatoon. Photo by Michelle Berg /Star Phoenix of Saskatoon

The Trudeau government has backed drug policy change as thousands of Canadians die each year from the toxic illicit supply. In Saskatchewan, the coroner’s service currently estimates that a record 435 people died last year, more than double the death toll recorded in 2019.

The federal government has funded harm reduction programs aimed at making drug use safer, including so-called “safer” or “safer supply” programs that provide people who use drugs with a consistent, prescribed supply as alternative to an illicit market saturated with fentanyl, benzodiazepines and other lethal combinations.

“We are actively working with a number of provinces that are looking for innovative solutions,” Trudeau said.

None of these projects are in Saskatchewan, where the provincial government has focused spending on treatment beds for people who want to stop using drugs. The province has also increased spending and distribution of naloxone, which can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose.

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Naloxone kits like the one pictured here are being distributed across Saskatchewan in response to rising rates of overdose deaths.
Naloxone kits like the one pictured here are being distributed across Saskatchewan in response to rising rates of overdose deaths. Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Chief’s Post

Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley, who stood a few feet from Trudeau as he answered questions on Wednesday, said the government chose not to fund PHR because it wanted to spread limited resources more broadly. Others, including the association representing doctors in the province, have signed letters saying such sites save lives and connect users to other health services.

Saskatchewan Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health Everett Hindley speaks during a media event at St. Ann's Senior Citizens' Village Corporation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, May 25, 2022.
Saskatchewan Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health Everett Hindley speaks during a media event at St. Ann’s Senior Citizens’ Village Corporation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, May 25, 2022. Photo by STRINGER /Reuters

When asked how he could reconcile the differences between the federal and provincial governments on this file, Trudeau reiterated that the federal government “will be a partner for anyone who wants to move forward and follow the science.”

Trudeau was sharply critical of Alberta’s approach to the overdose crisis, which, like Saskatchewan’s, has largely focused on treatment. But unlike Saskatchewan, the Alberta government funds supervised consumption sites.

Hindley said he will spend part of the next year traveling across the province meeting families affected by fatal overdoses and suicides.

“It’s something that’s not unique to Saskatchewan. It’s something we see across the country,” Hindley said.

Like other provincial officials, he is lobbying for the federal government to increase health care transfers to the provinces and territories, which provide most of these services. That should be top of the agenda on Friday when Premier Scott Moe welcomes the country’s premiers to Regina.

  1. The interior of the Prairie Harm Reduction safe consumption site in Saskatoon.

    Saskatoon safe drinking site to ask federal government for money after province says no

  2. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits residents, like Shirley Wenzel (right), of St. Ann's Seniors' Village during his visit to Saskatoon.  Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask.  Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

    Trudeau announces a $32 million long-term care agreement between the federal government and Saskatchewan.

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