A meeting with Premier John Horgan was disappointing for members of A Voice for Our Children, the group opposed to the location of Island Health’s new Wellness and Recovery Centre, but they are still optimistic going forward after the premier said he and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson are open to considering a new location.
Representatives of the group met with Horgan virtually on Dec. 4, following a promise he made prior to the provincial election in October. Ahead of the meeting, they had sent notes to Horgan, Malcolmson, and Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside. They had also previously met with Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor, who said he would discuss the issue with Horgan as one of the premier’s constituents.
The Wellness and Recovery Centre will provide services, including a safe injection site, to people with substance abuse and mental health issues, but it has caused concerns due to its location on York Road, which is close to four schools — Cowichan Secondary, Quamichan School, Alexander Elementary and Duncan Christian School — as well as the Cowichan Community Centre, Cowichan Aquatic Centre and Cowichan Sportsplex.
When the meeting with Horgan did happen, though, it did not go as hoped.
“It was very disappointing, actually; very sad,” group member Florie Varga said. “There wasn’t actually a conversation.”
As far as the A Voice for Our Children members could tell, Horgan was the only provincial representative who heard the concerns presented by Duncan businessman Will Arnold, and Varga and fellow parent Jas Doman. Malcolmson, Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau and Cowichan Valley Medical Health Officer Dr. Shannon Waters joined the meeting after that.
“Everyone else came on after,” Varga said. “They never heard our position. They never heard our argument.”
Once the rest of the provincial representatives came on, they discussed the location of the safe injection site in relation to the addicted and homeless populations. Waters said that the Cowichan Leadership Group — a coalition of 10 local leaders who were among the first to hear about the site — accepted the location.
According to Varga, Furstenau, a member of the Leadership Group, said that wasn’t quite the case.
“Sonia responded that Island Health did not come to them with ‘do you agree or disagree.’” Varga said. “It was just ‘here is the location.’”
Varga, Arnold, Doman and Ruth Hartmann told stories about kids and their encounters with addicts and the homeless in the areas around the schools, and discussed the long-term impacts of stress, violent people they know are on the streets, and drug use, but didn’t feel like they were being heard.
“It just was like falling on deaf ears,” Varga said.
According to Varga, the government representatives didn’t address the issues of the kids being in the same area as the injection site, which is the main concern of A Voice for Our Children.
“Most disappointing is that there was no acknowledgment of the children in our community whatsoever,” she said. “The only time there was a reference to children was when Shannon Waters said, ‘I have two kids. I care about kids.’”
A delegation from A Voice for Our Children was scheduled to appear before North Cowichan municipal council on Wednesday, Dec. 16, where they were going to urge council to tell Horgan and Island Health that they do not support the York Road location for the Wellness and Recovery Centre. The Cowichan Valley School District unanimously passed a similar motion in September.
The group wants council to emphasize to the province that the “impacts and effects of the environment around these services put our Cowichan Valley children’s physical safety in danger and jeopardizes their emotional and psychological well-being.”
“The only criteria in finding a location can’t be saving lives,” Varga said.