Losing Lautrec

[Trigger Warning: domestic violence]

Imagine, you are in a foreign country when a global pandemic hits… and the person you are in isolation with is increasingly abusive, verbally, emotionally.

Perhaps even physically.

You want to get home and out of the situation but the accommodations are in your name and he refuses to leave early. Wants to stick to the plan despite all plans changing.

You are worried about the damage he will do if you don’t stay… you begin to countdown the minutes until you are safe.

Thousands as the days drag on.

He tells you constantly how stupid you are; you spend most of your time hiding in the bedroom, the only room with a door though it doesn’t close properly – unless barricaded.

You smirk as you realize you are building barricades in a 7 storey walk-up in Europe during a military lockdown to keep out the person with whom you’ve been sharing your bed.

The irony of it all: the nightmare that is the person you took to support you, the person you’ve trusted, should not be lost.

Middle of the night phone call to tell your parents if something happens to you, it was him, while he pounds on the bedroom door threatening to throw you off the balcony.

You pack your bags. Again.

Your parents remind you it’s your responsibility for any damage; they call and ask him to please just keep the peace until we can repatriate; he says we are friends, we shouldn’t travel right now, let’s stay, why don’t you pick a movie?

You countdown the minutes.

He says let’s stick to the plan but doesn’t fulfil his end of the deal, he terrorizes you instead of supporting you; what he means is he still plans to take more from you.

He tells you, repeatedly, he cant decide which he’d prefer… slicing through your skin and watching the blood pool or seeing your body broken on the street, seven flights below; every time he feels his control loosening, he reminds you; you are only alive because he allows it.

You countdown the minutes, and hide sharp objects.

No one would ever accuse you of being a neat freak, nor would they call you dirty… messy perhaps. Yet you spend every day cooking and cleaning up the tiny space in which you are quarantined (what else is there to do?); you never once see him clean up after himself nor think to take his endless empties out; he leaves the toilet seat up and laughs when you fall in because the light in the WC doesn’t work.

You countdown the minutes and try not to see yourself as this moment.

You clean the shower which quickly clogs so you can have one moment to yourself; he watches you scrub the titles and wash the curtain while awaiting drain-o… then gets in when you go to undress.

He tells you people are following you and creates insane “exit plans” when you are out together; he pulls you down random alleys while eyeing people he perceives as threats; zigzagging through his paranoia, he reminds you this is your fault.

You countdown the minutes and try to remember this too will end.

You feel trapped, held hostage; in a city which has not always been kind to you, you feel powerless and silenced; you don’t feel safe; your PTSD dreams return.

The seemingly unending cruelty he is capable of should shock you…. It doesn’t; not much that does anymore.

Your friends offer you a safe space to escape him while others offer to cover your plane ticket home while he watches yet another 4 hour Russian live action war video on your laptop; you don’t trust police and he threats to call them and say you assaulted him if you leave.

You keep your bag packed, choosing to live out of the suitcase- its quarantine, who is getting dressed anyway?

You go to the grocery store on the corner and encounter military armed with assault rifles; at this point you are too numb to be triggered.

You countdown the minutes until you will be safe.

He says it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we cant get home, this despite his having contributed a sum total of zero dollars.

You start going on a daily walk to a grocery store further away so you can have one hour without be degraded; while you don’t loiter, you are risking a fine for nonessential travel but fuck if it wouldn’t be worth every euro for the moments of peace.

As you countdown the minutes, you are grateful there is an end date to the insanity.

230 in the morning, and he starts moving every piece of furniture in the apartment, going through your bags, asking what you’ve brought into the apartment which could have negative energy attached; he opens the ancient fireplace grates, flips the bed upside down, rants to himself and his social media.

He sketches on the inside of the beer box cardboard and tells you each is a story only you will ever know, our memories captured in lines of charcoal; he tells you that you aren’t deserving of his art, you aren’t deserving of him.

You countdown the minutes until you can again breathe.

He screams, he throws things; childish temper tantrums; you try to close a door between you, he puts his hand in the frame, the fury in his eyes palpable; you decide you’d like to watch a movie in bed and take your laptop from the living room, he whips a lighter, from less than 2 meters away, shattering the screen with a bull eye hit.

3 weeks; 21 days; 30,240 minutes you countdown…

And as you step into your room, finally away from him, joyful at complete isolation, you are reminded of all those who are at home, with their abuser, with no end in sight.

Can Men Sit On A Women’s Committee?

As originally featured in the December 2019 issue of The Sound StC https://thesound.rocks/can-men-sit-on-a-womens-committee/

The starting point for dialogue is mutual respect: something which has long been lacking from Niagara regional council. Whether the consistent lack of decorum is a result of disrespect for the institution, contempt of the public, a lack of civility, or just plain ol’ privilege, is not for me to say… but it is incumbent upon us all to call out bad behaviours, particularly in governance.

As Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley stated in his Chairman’s address to council on November 14, 2019, “… your intent is not what members of the public notice. Instead, sometimes our offhand comments can be easily perceived as disrespectful and unprofessional”.

Chair Bradley’s comment was in regards to complaints that some councillors, usually male, banter across chambers with comments which, in my opinion, are blatantly sexist, promote an unhealthy work environment, reenforce outdated gender roles, model misogynistic behaviours to those watching (they think they are droll; they are not).

While this issue is not new, what is new is having this discussion in conjunction with a debate on whether it is a Charter violation to specify that preference shall be given to those with lived experience of female identity for membership to a women’s advisory committee.

The Great Male Privilege Debate of 2019, Niagara edition: Can men sit on a womens advisory committee (only if their wives let them).

I honestly didn’t see this coming; I thought opposition, if any, would be to the creation of the committee, not on its proposed membership.

Unlike so many of my friends, I did not study women and gender at university: I was raised to believe we are all equal regardless of whatever social constructs are placed upon us – and have long studied human rights (concepts and history (or lack thereof).

I assumed committee membership would be given to the most qualified applicants with lived experience and/or knowledge of barriers women face, such as child care, poverty, gender-based violence, with preference for those who identify as female, Two-Spirit, transgender, and non-binary; I would further hope Indigenous women and women of colour would be amongst those to sit at the table.

It seems simple enough to me… if not obvious. I was wrong. I was wrong when I went into these discussions touting equality; I was wrong about the complexity of the issue. I thought it didn’t matter whether or not men sat on a women’s advisory committee because I believe in inclusiveness and equality; but that belief is not incongruous with the acceptance that women are not, in reality, treated equally or given equal opportunity.

Because, let’s face it, most of the conversation had absolutely nothing to do with women or barriers faced by those who identify as female.

Why do we need to specify whether men are expressly excluded and discuss men’s Charter rights? Because the men made the discussion about them.

I don’t believe Mayor Redekop intended to incite such a lengthy debate when he posited the question of whether men could sit on a women’s committee during the November 6t Corporate Services committee meeting (Grimsby’s Councillor Fertich replied only if their wives let them).

With that, a debate was born – and make no mistake, it is an important societal discussion.

Some of the commentary during the November 14 council meeting include:

“My challenge is actually from a system perspective. If we have an all womens committee, if we go down that road, that we, in that sense, we’re bound somehow, if the committee makes a recommendation or suggestions, and I don’t know that scope, and then we turn it down, that council turns it down, that we create a polarization or that it goes out to the region that we are sexist somehow.”
— David Bylsma, West Lincoln (Mayor)

“I hear regularly that we should stay in our lane and I don’t think this is our lane…
I just don’t understand excluding people or how legal that is.”
— Gary Zalepa, Niagara-On-The-Lake

“I vote for the committee but excluding men feels like it exposes us to liability, I can’t support that.”
— Bob Gale, Niagara Falls

“I have one wife, two daughters, one daughter in law, and only one son in law to help me… I believe we need to go ahead with this project, if a male wanted to apply to sit on this, as discussions move forward, a male perspective can assist.
— Tim Rigby, St Catharines

What do we mean by Equity Versus Equality?

According to a report by the Canadian Ministry of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE), on roundtables held nationwide, the consensus from frontline workers, advocates, and stakeholders is:

• All solutions must be inclusive;
• Equity does not equal equality;
• Work with men and boys is urgently needed, but it must be in addition to ongoing, critical work with women and girls.

Equity is not the same as equality – equality assumes we are all equal, while equity acknowledges historic disenfranchisement and the need to address inequalities to achieve true equality.

Just as it is not enough to be “not racist” and must actively engage in anti-racism behaviours, to ensure equality, we must actively work to breakdown gender-based barriers.

It is not about excluding men, rather, it is about ensuring women are included in politics, engaged in our community, and safe to debate the merits of programming and services without being interrupted, without being triggered and without being made to feel barriers.

That should have been the conversation…

Instead, the debate flowed over from committee to council; lines were drawn, sides were picked, and rather than be about empowering women in Niagara and ensuring inclusivity, the men made the discussion about them.

Is it legal to exclude men from a women’s committee?

Yes, it is legal to exclude men from a women’s committee. Further, it is compatible with the Charter of Right and Freedoms to frame the requirements for the executive of said women’s committee to only be open to those who identify as female.

In case you are wondering, the reverse is not true.

While Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants Equality rights to all, Section 15(2) specifically allows for laws and programs aimed at improving conditions for disadvantaged groups – including women’s equity.

This concept of equity over equality has been consistently upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) when it’s purpose is to eliminate barriers to full participation by historically disadvantaged groups.

— Eldrich v British Columbia (Attorney General), [1997] 3 SCR 624
Equality for people with disabilities – equality does not mean identical treatment for everybody. Disadvantaged groups may need more services or programs and governments must consider the need to eliminate barriers to allow for their full participation in society.

— Vriend v. Alberta, [1998] 1 SCR 493
Discrimination based on sexual orientation – discussion of how even human rights laws may violate equity rights when they fail to protect individuals who have been historically discriminated against.

— R. v. Kapp, 2008 SCC 41
SCC found no discrimination by allowing Indigenous communities fishing rights because the special priviledges were granted for legitimate purposes of assisting those disadvantaged communities.

Government can, and should, seek to improve the lives of historically disadvantaged peoples by passing laws and creating programs intended to help them and further recognized these programs are entirely compatible with equality protections under the Charter.

The Uncomfortable Truth: What Privilege Really Means

Just as white privilege is not related to socioeconomic status and, rather, refers to the unearned privileges that white people experience, often unconsciously, because they are not subjected to racism, women’s equitable treatment is not about equality.

Equity seeks to take the work further by acknowledging we do not all start from the same place and providing advantages through programming and services to ensure we all have what we need to be successful.

And, there, dear readers, is the crux of the issue.

No one is arguing that anyone is better than anyone else – the issue at hand is whether those who identify as female have equal opportunities for success through current institutional structures in the Region of Niagara.

The starting point for dialogue is mutual respect: how does this council model respect for female opinion and leadership?

By “allowing” women their seat at the table?

A few final thoughts, taken from my email conversations, with various councillors, in the days before sitting down to write this for you; thank you all who took the time to engage.

Lincoln’s Mayor Sandra Easton has been a vocal supporter of including men, going so far as to insinuate those who do not agree, hate men. In a follow-up email, Mayor Easton did relate:

“I know we are not entirely in synch on the matter of Committee membership, however your comments have raised my antennae on group dynamics that create barriers to women’s expressing themselves.”

While Port Colborne’s Barbara Butters had this to say, “I truly wish, as a society, we were more advanced on this issue, but the reality is we (collectively) deal with the inequalities and the either disguised or outright misogyny on a regular basis. Some more than others, some less. Bottom line, it exists….

I still believe in the power and strength of women and the need to change our society. To be included, respected, our opinions, our choices, our lives valued, whatever they might be. So do men need to be on this committee to accomplish great things? No. Should we exclude them? No.”

St Catharines Councillor George Darte replied: “I feel all things about the committee are proper now. It would be wrong to exclude men the opportunity to be in the committee… Keep in mind that I grew up with 4 sisters, so to me, I have never even thought there is inequality as I never grew up thinking that way. I believe like many, that we were all created equally”.

Or, as Councillor Kelly Edgar so succinctly wrote me: “I think that men have been advising women for long enough and it’s been my experience that if a woman wants my advice on equality then she will ask me for it.”

OPIOIDS: We Can’t Stop Here. This is Bat Country

As published in The Sound @TheSoundStC


I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn’t die…”  

– Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Before we talk about solutions, we need to understand the problem. There are several theories, or schools of thought, on drugs; chemical use, abuse, and/or addiction, as a disease of the spirit, or a moral weakness, is as old as chemical use while philosophizing. It’s the model on which the Temperance movement and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are based and… it doesn’t work.

Early twentieth century temperance movements were focused on alcohol consumption – and despite short periods of prohibition, it’s known addictiveness, and morbidity and mortality rates alcohol is still widely consumed and accepted.

Alcohol is legal because the majority enjoy it, the economics of banning alcohol is prohibitive, and criminalization led to tainted homemade product and sky-rocketing death rates.

(Sound familiar?)

In short, regulation saves lives and builds government coffers through taxation while those who over imbibe, abuse and/or are addicted to, alcohol, are seen as having an illness and treated medically.

Just as AIDS would be a “gay issue” and crack cocaine would be a “Black issue”, the issue of opiate usage was seen as a race and poverty problem – best dealt with by locking people away. But, addiction is indiscriminate… even when society is not. Racialized, criminalized, stigmatized; enter the Age of Jazz, white children of counter-culture movements, and drug use in the twentieth century becomes a War on Drugs.

You can jail a Revolutionary,
but you can’t jail a revolution.

– Dr Huey P. Newton

Hemingway was fond of saying he drank to make other people more interesting… people forget alcohol is a drug and has the same use. Drug and alcohol use by intellectuals, artists, and those seeking to expand their reality, will always take place. Not everyone uses drugs and alcohol to mask pain, just as not all of those who use will become addicted; people do not fit in boxes.

Generations of this shit and we are no more evolved in our treatment of drug use and addiction than we were a century ago. We continue to lock people up for drug use despite it having no consequence to the user, even withdrawal isn’t assured – 5 people overdosed in 1 day last month at Niagara Detention Centre, while Hamilton-Hentworth Detention Centre saw 10 overdoses in 9 people in 6 days. Let that math sink in.

We continue to treat addiction like a moral fault with little regard for the biopsychosocial aspects of drug use. Those who do seek help for addiction, are faced with long waitlists for 21 day inpatient treatment, the current OHIP covered standard, which is basically supervised withdrawal and no better than prison.

Detoxing alone does not address the underlying issues: why did someone begin using in the first place? what has their use done to their relationships? how is their self-image?

In order to successfully maintain sobriety, people need a comprehensive approach including ongoing counselling, not groups or relapse prevention but actual psychotherapy, integrated life skills, employment programs, stable housing, and, if they choose, pharmacotherapies.

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change.
Only those who can leave behind everything
they have ever believed in can hope to escape.

–  William S. Burroughs

People who are street-involved, as many addicts are, are one of the most elusive and difficult populations to reach having been burnt, repeatedly, by the system. These are often the people with multiple problems, who shun offers of assistance, and are frequently loners.

People who isolate and avoid contact with others. People who live alone, use alone, die alone. It takes patience, consistency, and, honesty, to build trust; in a world where addicts have few choices, when we only offer limited services, at limited locations, we limit the persons ability to access help.

People are dying and whether you believe addiction is a weakness of the soul or a medical illness, we need to be discussing other strategies; we must do more than make token band-aid gestures.

Supervised injection sites are but one harm reduction strategy and, in a region as vast as Niagara, aren’t expected to have the efficacy we see in denser urban areas. One solution, being used in BC, is supervision of injection opioid use via webcam – you don’t get the immediate CPR help but you do get EMS immediately dispatched.

If we really want to prevent overdose deaths, we need to invest in providing drug purity testing kits with Naloxone. We need to offer the option of supervised injectable opioid agonist treatment (siOAT), a prescription hydromorphone, outside hospital settings as an alternative to methadone or suboxone treatments.

What we have been doing, for over a century, does not work. The economics of our failed system need to be addressed through decriminalization of drug use, to be replaced by long term treatment options.

In a region that is known for its wine, and it’s soaring overdose death rates, we need to be asking why we aren’t treating drugs like we treat alcohol – taxable, regulated, and most importantly, readily available for those who wish to consume it.


NOTL: Not A Bee City

How many committees does it take to advise Niagara-on-the-Lake Council whether or not to declare itself, the Heart of Fruitland Ontario, a Bee City?

Two… Council referred the conversation about pollinators to both the Agriculture and In Blooms Committees.

Is NOTL so anti-pollinator that they must defer a motion to support pollinators to two committees ? The crowd heckled the Bee City presentation; it’s the twenty-first-century and I’m looking around for pitchforks and torches like we’ve been accused of witchcraft.

(A farm rich community one would think promoting pollinators would be a no brainer… but, alas, that doesn’t take into account the love of vinyards, soft flesh fruit, and golf courses – all known users of  pesticides).




Opioids: The 110 Year War

medicine 3

As featured in @TheSoundStC, Niagara’s Largest Independent News: https://thesound.rocks/opioids-the-110-year-war/

On March 26th, Health Canada announced it had corrected a disconnect between federal drug regulations and the ability of doctors to prescribe synthetic heroin for long term users who have not benefited from other harm reduction, and medication, programs thereby removing undue barriers to treatment.

Preliminary death data by Public Health suggests more people died in Niagara of suspected opioid overdoses in a 6-month period of 2017 than all of 2016. Make no mistake: this will save lives.

NRPH death data 2017 Aug - Oct
Between August and October 2017, there were a total of 29 death from opioid-related causes in the Niagara Region.
Cases of opioid-related morbidity and mortality, Niagara Region Public Health, 2003 – 2016
2017 saw 60 suspected opioid-related overdoses by the end of October. By contrast, 2016 had 40 opioid-related deaths, 2015- 36, 2014- 35, 2013-33, 2012- 34.

Pre-criminalization: From war to taxation

Once upon a time, all granny had to do was walk down to her local apothecary and order herself up some cocaine or prescription heroin; soldiers, left addicted to morphine after being wounded, could order up opium by mail until 1908. One hundred and ten years : that’s how long it’s taken Canada’s government to criminalize, to stigmatize, and finally, to take some real action on opioid addiction.

Like alcohol, opium was considered a commodity, a revenue stream for the Crown; ever wonder how Hong Kong became a British subject? Opium. For real. Hong Kong island was ceded in the treaty ending The First Opium War. A decade later, in 1856, Britain again went to war with China, this time joined by France, in an attempt to further open China to foreign merchants, and legalize the opium trade, in what is commonly called the Second Opium War.

Even Canada imposed a tax on opium factories in 1871; because consumption of opium and cocaine were viewed in terms of medical uses, opiates were not only perfectly legal, they were completely unregulated. Medicines didn’t list their ingredients until the early-twentieth century and most users of opioids and cocaine, or some combination thereof, had no idea they were even taking these compounds, they just knew they felt better.

While therapeutic usage was not the only value to opium, recreational use is as old as the Mesopotamians, addiction for most was accidental (insert deja-vu reference).

With the synthesis of morphine, then heroin, and the advent of the hypodermic needle, opium use gained popularity throughout the nineteenth century. The medical profession was beginning to explore psychiatry and even Freud spoke of morphine addiction in his 1884 On Coca (still controversial, Freud, himself a regular intravenous cocaine user, advocated the use of cocaine as a cure for morphine addiction).

Yet  wasn’t until 1908 with the passage of the Opium Act of 1908 and the Proprietary and Patent Medicine Act 1908, that regulations around opiates and cocaine were introduced.   

So what changed in the years between 1871 and 1908? Why did Canada move away from taxation to classify substance use as criminal and vilify those we deem to reject proper societal rules?   

Moral Propagandists

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar; the world is in chaos as Imperial powers fight for control of key trade routes and resources. Mass waves of immigrants and refugees flee political turmoil and famine. Colonial institutions are failing as national protectionists are blaming the loss of jobs on reciprocity agreements, or lack thereof.

Don’t forget cheap labour, provided by new arrivals to the country! (If the men don’t have work, the men drink, and when the men drink, they beat their wives)

Even worse, women are marching. For rights. Equal rights of personhood! (feign moral indignation) if women drink or smoke opium, that leads to prostitution and other moral atrocities like unplanned pregnancy, venereal disease, and, worst of all… she might engage in sodomy (collective gasp) as the Church loses it’s congregation to new morals and a new society not entirely made of the Old World.

No, I am not dishing the salacious details of Trump’s as-yet-unnamed manifesto. Surprisingly, or not?, the more things have changed in the last century, the more they have stayed the same. So it was, with the first true waves of globalization, little more than a century ago, so-called proper society rejected mind and mood altering substances in favour of advocating temperance and sexual repression.

Racism, Fear, and Moral Agendas

Where once the government saw revenue, by the early-twentieth century, labour disputes and strikes brought with them rising racial tensions and newly created drug laws.

Some will argue that drug laws were entirely morally based but that simply isn’t true; the Opium Act of 1908 was initiated by then Deputy Minister of Labour MacKensie King after helping negotiate the end of two major labour strikes in 1907, both directly related to cheap Asian labour. While we might like to judge history less harshly, or turn a blind eye to the chronology of events, Canadian archives show that, by 1922, nearly three quarters of those imprisoned for opium offences were Asian Canadians.

The disproportionate number of Chinese charged under the Opium Act, and subsequent narcotics legislation, lead to the general population, European Canadians, to believe the laws didn’t apply to them.

And they didn’t; while opiates were restricted, there was nothing in the original legislation to prevent doctors from writing themselves scripts. That’s right. While granny could no longer walk over to the apothecary, Doc Magoo could… and so could granny after doc wrote her a script.

How many people do you think sought a doctor before Tommy Douglas gave us universal health care? Don’t hurt yourself, it was a rhetorical question.

If you still question whether race plays a factor in the application of drug laws, let’s look at current data. According to a 2013 report by the Office of Correctional Investigator, one in four people incarcerated in Canada are Indigenous, despite representing 3% of the general population; Black Ontarian’s are 3 times more likely to be charged for drug possession or trafficking and despite Black males representing 2.9% of the general population, they represent 9.8% of Canada’s incarcerated population; visible minority offenders increased 40% in the 5 years covered by the report.

And still, people use drugs; the threat of death by overdose and/or incarceration simply do not work as a deterrent; while we are busy locking people up, people are dying. Not just on the streets but in detention centres – there were 5 OD’s at the Niagara Detention Centre on March 24th (thankfully, all are expected to recover).

As our prisons grew to overcapacity, people found new ways to get high, and disputes over social moors continue. We’ve bumbled along, incarcerating and marginalizing; we’ve synthesised new, deadlier opioids; we’ve created a third Opium War.   

Peeling Back The Shame of the Twentieth Century

Alcohol use by humans predates the written word while archeological evidence points to opium being discovered around 5,500 years ago and chewing coca leaves around 5,000 years ago; addiction has been around as long as humans have sought to alter our perception through the use of chemical compounds. Colloquially known as the village drunk, it is only with societal disacceptance, and the advent of modern psychiatry, that we have tried to conceptualize drug and alcohol (ab)use.

One hundred and ten years after first passing regulations on opioid use, there is hope for drug users and those who suffer from addiction. We are peeling back the stigma we created to see the human beneath and acting on scientific data not moral superiority. We are easing access to medical treatments that have proved successful in managing addiction while providing users a modicum of respect and humanity… for that’s what harm reduction is: seeing the human being inside the addiction.

Once upon a time, all granny had to do was walk down to her local apothecary and order herself up some cocaine, morphine, or even prescription heroin; soldiers, left addicted to morphine after being wounded, could order up opium by mail.

After one hundred and ten years of stigmatization and criminalization, anyone who seeks to reduce the harm of their addiction to opioids through the use of medical heroin will again have access outside of a hospital setting. Those who seek to manage their opioid addiction through methadone, will have easier access and doctors who wish to prescribe methadone will no longer need to seek an exemption from drug laws.


For hundreds of years, Colonizing powers have fought for Afghan poppyfields; Britain, Russia, the US, have all sought control of, and benefitted financially, from Afghanistan’s main harvest: the poppy. There is a direct correlation between the ongoing war in the middle east and the inability of world powers to stabilize the region, an addiction older than our love of fossil fuels, opium.

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium production was up 87% in 2017 – over 2016 – to 9000 metric tonnes. To put that in perspective, in 2001 opium production was at an all time low of 180 metric tonnes while in 2002, after the US invasion, it jumped to 3000 metric tonnes. If we are to understand how the twenty-first century has led to soaring opioid death rates, we need first examine the economic benefits. But alas, that is a topic best covered in depth; til next time, Niagara. Stay safe.   

Dozens Dead, Numbers Expected to Rise

I have recently completed the first in a series on opioids for The Sound @TheSoundSTC,
Niagara Region’s largest independent paper, and will be releasing it in the weeks to come.

As an addictions counsellor, I am not only qualified to speak on this issue but have experience working with street-involved youth and adults struggling with addiction and active mental health crisis.

As first printed in The Sound, March 2018:

Dozen’s Dead, Numbers Expected to Rise

I could write an opus on drugs; explain how our brains are wired with neurotransmitters or discuss how different chemicals have different rates of bioavailability, half-life, and pharmacokinetics. I could explain how the therapeutic index (TI) of a drug – the prescribed dosage – is the ratio between the effective dose (ED) and the lethal dose (LD) in 50% of the population; but, it’s time, Niagara.

We need to talk some real shit.

At least three people have died following suspected opioid overdoses in the Niagara Region between Valentine’s Day and February 20th, 2018; at least one opioid death in February could have been avoided if St Catharines had a safe injection site.

According to Niagara EMS, they responded to 155 suspected drug overdoses in 2016 and 520 in 2017. Preliminary death data, released by the province, shows 40 people died from opioid overdoses in Niagara in 2016 while numbers for 2017 are expected to at least double.


For the three months available (May-July 2017), there were 7 suspected opioid deaths in each month – 16 confirmed and 5 probable opioid overdoses – for a total of 21 deaths. In 3 months. Compare that to 40 the entire year before.

If we look further, we discover Niagara emergency departments treated 43 overdoses in July 2017, 7 of whom died (6 confirmed opioid, 1 probable). While the death data is not yet available, if the death to ER visit ratio was 7:43 (1/6) in July, and data shows 62 people were treated for opioid overdoses in both August and September, statistically speaking, 10 people probably died in each month.

NRPH_ERThat would mean we surpassed the total opioid deaths in 2016 in just 5 months of 2017 (May through September); the total lives lost to opioids in 2017 is probably around 87… if not higher.

People are dying; this is no longer a problem to be swept into the darker corners of the region. Niagara needs wider-sweeping harm reduction initiatives including a supervised injection site. Mayor Sendzik, of St Catharines, has been vocal in his support, stating he’d like to see a site open in his city as quickly as possible.

“Everyone knows someone who has struggled with addiction.

Just like lifting the stigma of mental health, we have to lift the stigma around addictions to tackle the opioid crisis.”

–  Mayor Walter Sendzik, St Catharines

The City of St Catharines, which has one of the highest overdose rates in Ontario, is currently working with the Region of Niagara Public Health and a coalition of local organizations – known as the Overdose Prevention & Education Network Niagara or OPENN – to open a temporary safe injection site in St Catharines.

Public health officials anticipated the ‘nearly complete’ application for a temporary supervised injection site, once submitted, will take approximately 10-12 weeks (although I was unable to ascertain when, exactly, submission was anticipated to occur).

What Is A Supervised (or Safe) Injection Site?

Supervised injection (SI) sites are a safe place for someone to use their IV drugs; when someone uses their pre-purchased drug in a controlled environment, it allows for the immediate detection and treatment at the onset of overdose symptoms.

Administering Naloxone (formerly Narcan®), a compound which binds at the opioid receptor sites in the brain displacing the drug molecules from those receptors, in combination with respiratory and cardiac support, at the onset of overdose symptoms, saves lives.

In fact, the data shows in 86% of opioid overdoses, Naloxone is effective, and, within 10 minutes the person is conscious.

Here’s where the supervision comes in: how do you self-administer Naloxone if you have lost consciousness? How do you self-administer chest compressions? or call for EMS?

Efforts to train and pass out Naloxone kits are having a positive impact within the community but that doesn’t save the life of the man who uses, alone, in a Tim Horton’s bathroom, does it?

Benefits to the Community At Large

Don’t supervised injection sites encourage drug use? Studies show this to be false, nobody starts shooting heroin because they can do so while supervised; to say otherwise is ridiculous and contrary to the data.

A recent study in Toronto found that 36% of people who use drugs reported injecting in public places such as washrooms and alleyways. In St Catharines, we could replace alleyways with parks.

Supervised injection sites promote safety and hygiene while discouraging inappropriate disposal of used needles. Proper disposal of paraphernalia, such as needles, reduces the risk of accidental needle sticks for first responders, and in our public spaces including parks.

With some simple changes to the way we treat addiction and narcotic abuse, we can reduce the overall costs to our healthcare system – including emergency rooms and EMS resources. We end up with a net positive for the entire community.

We are not going to solve age-old issues of narcotics use, and abuse, by providing harm reduction programs and safe environments to addicts, but we may regain some of our humanity.

Every interaction a worker has with an addict or at-risk client is another opportunity for non-judgmental conversation and education; every interaction is another chance to build trust and, when the person is ready, change.

We created the stigma, the hair shirt, addicts wear; it’s time we share the burden.

This is the first in a series on opioids; check out The Sound (@TheSoundStC) for more. Up next, Social Indicators: Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Poverty.

Emily Spanton, @FEW_Niagara

UPDATE: On February 26th, St Catharines City Council unanimously voted to support an application by Niagara Region Public Health and a collective of harm reduction and social service agencies to the Province for a temporary supervised consumption site.

Opioid Crisis and Overdose Prevention Site

At the meeting of February 12, 2018, Mayor Sendzik provided notice that he would present the following motion:

WHEREAS the use of dangerous opioids is contributing to an epidemic of drug overdoses across the country, including 520 suspected opioid overdoses attended by Niagara EMS in 2017; and

WHEREAS the federal government has responded with temporary exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for overdose prevention sites; to permit temporary overdose prevention sites to respond to the opioid crisis; and

WHEREAS the Province of Ontario has created a program to establish overdose prevention sites on a time-limited basis as a low barrier, life-saving service providing supervised injection, naloxone, and the provision of harm reduction supplies, to be funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care; and

WHEREAS first responders, including St. Catharines Fire and Emergency Services, are being equipped with naloxone kits and trained to respond in the event of an overdose medical emergency call;

WHEREAS the Overdose Prevention and Education Network of Niagara (OPENN) is a network of local agencies coordinating the response to this crisis, including St. Catharines Fire and Emergency Services, Niagara Region Public Health and Positive Living Niagara;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that St. Catharines City Council supports the Opioid Prevention and Education Network of Niagara / Positive Living Niagara application to the province for a temporary overdose prevention site and requests that the City be consulted in the location of a temporary site and any future considerations for a permanent site in St. Catharines.



Taking A Seat At The Table

As featured in the February edition of The Sound STC: @TheSoundSTC or Facebook

“Remember who put you in office:
it wasn’t you, it was the people.”
– Debbie Zimmerman,
Niagara Regional Chair (1997-2003)

We live in a time and place where racism and misogyny are rampant and unchecked. Just ask Mohamad AlJumaily, who was accosted by another resident at Regional Council in December and accused of being a terrorist – simply for being a man of colour. What kind of values do we project to the rest of Canada, and the world, when we have a regional council who stands by while our Charter Rights are trampled on? From Andy Petrowski’s antics to the Press Freedom Fiasco, Niagara politics have become a national joke.

I recently attended a workshop at the St Catharines library entitled How You Can Build A Better Niagara: Running for Municipal Office. The event was put on by A Better Niagara, a local non-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to bringing Accountability, Integrity, and Transparency, to politics throughout Niagara. I was tasked with reporting on this event for you, the good readers of the Sound, but as I wrote I realized I took more away from this workshop than political campaign knowhow: I left excited and truly believing we may be at the cusp of a great change in Niagara.


When asked what advice she’d have for candidates, former Niagara Regional Councillor Eleanor Lancaster was quick to state,

“If you are not at the table,
you are probably on the menu.”

That idea has stuck in my head; for far too long Niagara politics have not adequately reflected the community which it serves. Current Niagara Regional council features four women (one in eight councillors); of the six regional councillors who represent St Catharines, Debbie MacGregor is the only woman. At city council, St Catharines is represented by twelve councillors, two of who are women. Meanwhile, not a single person of colour represents the people. Not one. Anywhere.

How do we propose to attract, and retain, businesses and workers if they do not see themselves represented at the table?

There is hope; two thirds of the Running for Municipal Office event attendees were women and one out of every five attendees were people of colour. Local activist, and workshop attendee, Haley Bateman had this to say: The number of people ranging in ages and stages of their career was remarkable. It is inspiring to see so many people invested in making a better Niagara.

It is heartening to stand in solidarity with so many varied and diverse people as we try to shine a light on the darkness within our community. To witness the past, present, and the hopeful future, of Niagara politics working together regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, socioeconomic background, or even party politics, left me in awe. I awoke optimistic that a better Niagara is not only possible, it is feasible. Women and people of colour are no longer the minority; we are empowering ourselves, and each other, to get off the menu and take our seats at the table.

The Running For Municipal Office series will continue in the months ahead- if you would like more information please reach out to A Better Niagara on your favourite social media platform or abetterniagara.com. While I am a member of A Better Niagara’s Communications Committee, the opinions featured herein are my own.