Freedom Should be the Goal

In my August Herald article I shared my views on the Lethbridge Supervised Consumption Site (SCS). Upon doing so, I received a great deal of feedback by email, social media, phone, and in-person. There’s no doubt, this issue is top of mind for the residents of Lethbridge.

My team and I have knocked on thousands of doors this summer and the SCS is by far the main topic of concern, making up approximately two-thirds of the conversations initiated by residents of the Lethbridge community.

Immediately after publishing my article, I was contacted by a number of individuals from the Blackfoot Confederacy who each wanted to meet with me. Of those who reached out, I had the opportunity to sit down with a mother of an addict who had passed away due to an overdose, a father who lost his child to addiction, a recovering addict who has been clean for several years, and two concerned Elders. Each individual brought forward the same concern—they recognize the majority of those who use the SCS are Blackfoot and they desperately desire something better for their members. They want an abstinence-based approach that will allow those who struggle with addiction to walk through detox and recovery in a setting that will empower them to get free and stay free.

On the door steps of family homes, parents have shared honestly about their experiences and have aptly expressed their concern for their children’s safety. One couple lamented that they moved to Lethbridge several years ago to raise their growing family in a community they felt had a lot to offer them. Given the current state of our city, they no longer feel safe here and are looking to move to a place where their children can enjoy public parks and green spaces without needing to worry about needle debris.

Business owners have also shared passionately about the economic and social impacts the SCS and overall drug crisis is having on them. Their main concerns are staff safety, property damage, and declining patronage.

I recognize the SCS is a contentious issue and is very sensitive in nature. Sadly, the dialogue surrounding this important matter has become increasingly polarized. This has created further damage rather than drawing us closer to the solution.

What happened to our ability to engage in productive dialogue and seek understanding? Why aren’t we willing to ask good questions and listen to opposing sides without being hostile? Civic discourse and basic respect seem to be novelties of the past. But why?

I mentioned in my last article that ARCHES, the organization that runs the consumption site, has defined the centre as an “attempt to keep people as safe and healthy as possible in their given practices and lifestyle realities” by providing a supervised environment where clients can access sterile supplies to consume the drug of their choice.

There’s no doubt about it, the current approach of helping users consume their drug of choice in a manner that is safe enough to keep them alive until tomorrow but offering no opportunity to get free, is extremely degrading. But so is the belief that those who struggle with addiction should be cast from our community and “left to die” as some have vengefully stated. 

I feel it’s of a pressing nature to repeat my questions from August: when did we stop believing that each and every person has inherent value and should be treated with the utmost level of dignity, respect and honour? When did we stop believing that every person has the potential to achieve great things? When did we stop believing that words matter—people in places of authority have the ability to draw greatness out of those they influence or cause harm to the potential that lies within?

I’ve engaged in numerous conversations with users—both strangers and loved ones—and one thing they all have in common is the experience of immense trauma that propelled them toward drug use as a means to cope with the pain.

The question is, how should we respond?

If a compassionate approach is our goal—and it should be—Lethbridge must exchange its current methodology that condemns people to a life of addiction for an approach that empowers people to become their best selves.

We have an opportunity to become a centre of hope, healing, and restoration.

When we engage in dialogue, let’s start from the premise that ALL people have inherent worth and should be treated with the utmost level of respect, honour and dignity. Everyone deserves to live a life free from drug dependency and be empowered to achieve the greatness that lies within—whatever that might be! 

As one former addict put it, “Let’s stop fighting each other and start solving the problem. The solution is in helping people become free.”