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.



Apparently, Not All Canadians Are Polite

Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON – As you know, I often attended municipal council meetings across the Region; never have I witnessed anything as rude or entitled as the crowd at Niagara-On-The-Lake.

…there really are no other words for it.

Even at the most heated NPCA board and Regional Council meetings, people are reminded to act with decorum.

The council chamber is a place for meaningful debate and all should feel welcome to voice what matters to them without fearing public mockery.

They heckled; it’s the twenty-first-century and I’m looking around for pitchforks and torches like we’ve been accused of witchcraft.

According to an article in The Standard, Lord Mayor Pat Darte said if he had tried to control the audience any more, the situation would have become worse.

I was shocked not only at the behaviour of the crowd but at Lord Mayor Pat Darte’s inaction; asked to comment, I could think only of words such as ‘aghast’ and ‘mortified’ – words that rarely feature in my lexicon; I’ve seen school children act with more maturity and respect.

A politics and policy writer, and I left the meeting speechless.

Who left NOTL without adult supervision?

More NOTL: Not A Bee City



Union Waterfront by Fortress

Now and when

Port Dalhousie has long been embattled over plans for the Old Port Mansion site at the corner of Lock and Main Streets. Almost a decade after an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing, and three years after finiciers Fortress Real Developments took over, no decision on the future of the current reinvented proposal has yet been made by the City of St Catharines.

First, St Catharines Council must decide on the future of our commercial core and heritage district. See: Port Dalhousie Secondary Plan

What are the issues?

Residents fear City Hall will allow height restrictions beyond what the character of the heritage area demands for 3 currently planned condos. The proposals for the current Lincoln Fabrics building and the Royal Canadian Legion next door hinge on 2-storey allowances, both propose 8-storey’s.

The historic Lincoln Fabrics building is currently 6-storeys, the Official Plan calls for 3. Note: in real estate, a storey is generally accepted to be approximately 10 feet, or 3 metres, in height.  This is why although the Lincoln Fabrics building has 4 floors at it’s highest, it is considered to be a 6-storey building.

Other than that, I believe the plans have been well received by the community; the site at Lock and Main Streets is far more complex.

A tower, by any other name, is still a tower.

Once upon a time, in a Port called Dalhousie, the crowning gem in the City of St Catharines, there was a proposal for 17-storey tower that went to the OMB. After all was said and done, the fight exhausted, Port Place was never built.

Some buildings demolished, a scar on our heart, the site has sat like an open wound; the years passed.

One day, the people were informed the project had been taken over by financiers Fortress Real Development. They proposed a 14-storey mixed-use building with 157 units, and over 23,000 square feet of commercial floor space and a total of 258 underground parking spaces.

Gone was the 17-storeys and the theatre, replaced with 14-set-back-storeys and more units.

Seasons changed, the lake rose, the lake receeded, and the people of Port Dalhousie waiting to hear their fate.

Spring 2018

On Friday, April 13th, 2018, the Ontario branch of the RCMP executed search warrants on 6 locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), tied to Fortress Real Developments, as part of an ongoing investigation into syndicated mortgage fraud.

How does this effect Port Dalhousie? It may not… but, fraud investigations can lead to seizure and/or forfeiture of property.

Why does this matter? If St Catharines Council votes to accept the proposed Amendment to the Official Plan, that amendment is irrevocable – should a new developer want to build, the amended heights would be applicable.

Doesn’t the 2009 OMB hearing overide the Official and Secondary Plans? Yes, and no. A decade has passed since that decision and, with the adaption of a new Secondary Plan, and a new proposal, the existing ruling can be revoked. That’s right – we are not stuck with 17-storey’s.

The current Official Secondary Plan calls for 3-storey’s at street level; the Amendment currently in front of Council, allowing for the 14-set-back-storey’s of the new plan, would fix the allowable height at the Lock and Main Streets site at 14 storey’s.

Let St Catharines Council know – Port Dalhousie demands a moratorium on a decision regarding Fortress Real Development’s Union Waterfront Proposal until such a time as the RCMP investigation is complete or Fortress proves financial capability to continue with the project.

Port Dalhousie Secondary Plan

I have attended Open Houses regarding the Port Dalhousie Secondary Plan, and proposed condos, at both the Lion Club and Performing Arts Centre (PAC); I feel the community’s position has been consistent and clear: Lincoln Fabrics should RETAIN ITS EXISTING HEIGHT and be the ruler by which we measure new construction.

I would like to be clear – I am not anti-development and share the business communities desire to see something, anything, built sooner rather than later – but not at the expense of our heritage; Port Dalhousie is the crown of St Catharines; it is attractive precisely because it has a 19th century village charm. Tall buildings do not belong nor do we see them in other heritage sites.

When my parents started speaking about retiring to Niagara, it never occured to any of us they would settle in St Catharines. I was living in Ohio at the time and, even though we drove home to Toronto bi-weekly, via Niagara, I could barely place St Catharines a map. Then, one day, when i received an email declaring they’d bought a heritage home in Port Dalhousie and would be restoring it – to be honest, I still didn’t realize it was St Catharines, not until I started to exit the QEW to visit on my way through.

That was a few years ago and, when the time came, I choose to follow my family and also relocated to St Catharines, first downtown, now in Port.

(I’ve come to realize living on a beach in wine country is not a bad gig)         

Why did we have open houses if not to present a plan that reflects the publics desire to retain our heritage? My friends and neighbours, my parents friends and neighbours, may have diverse views about most topics but on this we all agree: Lincoln Fabrics should be the HIGHEST building in Port and retain its existing height, while the proposed Port Place, at the Legion site, should be built to match.

Why did we pay for a report if we are just going to ignore it? Why did we need to file FOI requests to have it made public? Why did council delay this plan for a full year allowing developers the chance to apply under the existing rules?

I am left with more questions than answers and feel frustrated that the community’s input, which is consistent with the consultants original report, is being ignored.

It is time that Staff and you our elected representatives listen to us the voters.