Leaked document confirms opioid crisis not a priority for city

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Images from AAMHA protest out front of City Hall, October 25, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

In part three of our investigative series on homelessness, addictions and mental health, we are going to examine a document leaked to SaultOnline and the city’s official statement on the issue.

Related Stories: Part I | Part II

This document, dated January 24, 2020 is an updated presentation which the City made to the Province of Ontario. We have asked the City for the original document which was allegedly presented to MPP Ross Romano several months earlier.

Poised as an update for Romano, it lists the City’s priority asks for funding from the Province which the City wanted help with. It provides insight into the priorities of the city during this snapshot of time.

Saultites have been hearing since W5 aired “Steeltown down”, that the issues surrounding this crisis have been top and centre for the leaders of the City. The official statement we received November 5, 2021 from the City lists multiple times they have approached some portion of the Ontario Government for support.

That statement in part reads…

The City’s initial outreach regarding a Level III Withdrawal Facility occurred on March 15, 2017 when Mayor Provenzano sent a letter to the Government of Ontario requesting support for Sault Area Hospital’s proposal. City Council passed resolutions of support on February 20, 2018, May 28, 2019 and April 15, 2019.  Follow up related correspondence was issued on:

·         March 1, 2018
·         February 27, 2018
·         December 5, 2018
·         March 11, 2019
·         January 4, 2019
·         May 8, 2019
·         September 9, 2020
·         August 18, 2021

The document we have obtained appears to be based around infrastructure requests. It is 13 slides long and covers what types of funding the city would be attempting to access and what for.

The document is in direct opposition to this portion of the statement we received.

“There is no single issue that City Council has collectively spent more time discussing, lobbied more aggressively for support or made an effort to address than the opioid epidemic.”

The whole document will be made available at the bottom of this story. However, starting on slide four, the number one priority for funding from the City’s perspective was for the Downtown Civic Plaza.

They give multiple reasons to MPP Romano for making this their first request. At the time it was budgeted at $6.5 million.

  • Health of the Downtown is vital to economic development – one of hte most important factors  that businesses, labour force, students, youth, assess health of a community
  • Incentivize new development
  • Drive tax assessment and property valuations
  • Part of Corporate Strategic Plan to revitalize downtonw
  • Provide space for community events/activity downtown year round (four seasons venue)
  • Support Tourism

The second item on the list, even though it was long after Carbon Monoxide sent people to hospital, was the Twin Pad replacement.

The price tag of the replacement at that time was $25 million. In the end, Romano announced the Ontario Government supported this infrastructure project with $18 million, more than the City had even requested.

Listed third, fourth and fifth in order, Transit Infrastructure, Trunk Road Resurfacing and McDonald Avenue Drainage.

The City did present the opioid crisis on the document, but not as a concern of City Hall.

On slide 12 of 13, under community concerns, lists five separate concerns. Opioid response, OLG cluster development, health team/public health/DSSAB, labour force development and Huron Central.

The last slide was for questions and comments.

In the City’s official statement, you can see, they attest to this being the biggest issue they have faced this term. Mayor Provenzano admitted to not knowing all the statistics in an W5 interview for the Steeltown Down segment.

“When you watch the interview, you can hear the off-screen producer ask the Mayor about an overdose statistic from the day prior – to which the Mayor responds “That’s the first time I’ve heard that stat,” stated Jordan Allard, City communications advisor in a e-mail after the original story was published.

The document shows it wasn’t even in their top 5 for infrastructure requests from the province. The City could argue this document was intended specifically for infrastructure projects, however, both Sudbury and Timmins have presented asks to the Province for infrastructure related to mental health, addictions and homelessness such as shelters and safe injection sites.

Here is the full statement from the City we received Friday, November 5, 2021:

“City Council and City staff have supported, worked with, and advocated for the agencies and organizations in our community addressing homelessness, addiction issues and mental health including the Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Strategy Committee, Algoma Leadership Table and Social Services of Sault Ste. Marie and District.
 
Through FutureSSM and with the support of these agencies, the City hired a Social Equity Coordinator in 2018 (position has been transferred to Social Services) to help the City coordinate, implement and monitor projects and initiatives within the Social Equity pillar of FutureSSM; designed to improve the well-being of our citizens and our community. For example, through this position the City supported an initiative to help people transition from Ontario Works to employment. To help support Social Services programming, the City sold the former Steelton Senior’s Centre for $1. It is now being re-opened as a homeless shelter. 
 
There is no single issue that City Council has collectively spent more time discussing, lobbied more aggressively for support or made an effort to address than the opioid epidemic.
 
The City’s initial outreach regarding a Level III Withdrawal Facility occurred on March 15, 2017 when Mayor Provenzano sent a letter to the Government of Ontario requesting support for Sault Area Hospital’s proposal. City Council passed resolutions of support on February 20, 2018, May 28, 2019 and April 15, 2019.  Follow up related correspondence was issued on:
 
·         March 1, 2018
·         February 27, 2018
·         December 5, 2018
·         March 11, 2019
·         January 4, 2019
·         May 8, 2019
·         September 9, 2020
·         August 18, 2021
 
The aforementioned does not include the meetings and discussions related to this issue the Mayor and/or City staff have participated in with community partners, the Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors and government officials, including the Minister of Health and Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. The City is committed to continue advocating for health care support from the Government of Ontario, while working with community partners to support related services being provided locally. These efforts are ongoing and will continue to adapt as we seek to support our community.
 
A recent example of municipal efforts include Mayor Provenzano and City staff working with Save Our Young Adults From Prescription Drug Abuse to build a memorial outside the Civic Centre recognizing lives lost to mental health and addictions.
 
In the interest of safety and well-being, outreach workers are continuously offering support to these individuals. The City and our community partners continue to do everything we can to provide support to people experiencing homelessness, addictions and substance abuse. One-on-one support is available for those wishing to obtain assistance and connect with the appropriate services.
 
The issues are complex and require time and patience to ensure the right support and approach for each unique person and situation is addressed. We always want what is best for the people involved, but the answer is not always easy. City staff will continue to participate in discussions with Sault Area Hospital, Algoma Public Health, DSSAB and the Community Wellness Bus to discuss next steps and specialized support for these individuals.”

Stay with SaultOnline/ONNTV as we continue to dive into this issue here at home and around Ontario and Canada.

EDITORS NOTE – The original story stated that Mayor Provenzano knew nothing of the crisis when W5 spoke with him. We have corrected the story after we received communications from the City of Sault Ste. Marie to properly represent that interview. We apologize for the original misrepresentation.

The full request for retraction can be read here-

The City is also requesting a retraction of the following inaccurate statement:

“In the City’s official statement, you can see, they attest to this being the biggest issue they have faced this term. One, Mayor Provenzano himself admitted he knew nothing of when interviewed by W5 for their Steeltown Down segment.”

This is a misrepresentation. When you watch the interview, you can hear the off-screen producer ask the Mayor about an overdose statistic from the day prior – to which the Mayor responds “That’s the first time I’ve heard that stat”. The aforementioned cannot be portrayed as is presented in the story.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Your fellow citizens are dying in record numbers.

    Your neighbours are being consumed by their addictions.

    Some addicted Saultites are stealing from your neighbour’s cars, trucks, sheds and homes simply because they’re addicted.

    And some of our addicted Saultites are homeless because their addictions have caused their lives to hit rock bottom.

    If you’re not getting frustrated and upset about that 1frustratedcanadian then you’re obviously not affected by the issue, and likely don’t care about anybody who is.

    Our Mayor and Council think this issue is “the most important issue our city is facing” given all of their “discussions”, “Resolutions”, and “letters”, and even though they only have a few positive things to show for their efforts I don’t see you calling them a bunch of “journalistically biased” W5 “wound up” “outraged” “left of centre” cheerleaders (i.e. solution seekers) like you’re calling us.

    But, hey, you don’t care about this Sault Ste. Marie addiction epidemic, but still I’ll try to help you overcome your online gaslighting addiction, 1furstratedcanadian, by saying thanks for your opinion, but we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    To me, if you’re not part of the solution, 1fc, you’re part of the problem.

    Have a great day.

    Sincerely,
    Mark Brown

  2. What alot of the people who don’t want the “Plaza ” built dont seem to realize is that you can open all the rehabs you want in the Sault, that might help some of the addicts but most of them don’t want help, others will be in and out of rehab several times due to going back to the same environment they left to go to Rehab
    Before the Plaza plans that everyone complains about, it was the Studio 10 they complain about
    Yes the Mayor is a Idiot but it’s the wrong person people are going after to get the job done, he doesn’t have the power to say Yes let’s get a rehab here, That’s Justin’s job. This is a Canada Wide Epidemic with Drugs and its only gotton worse with Covid
    Bill C75 has to go unless you actually Kill someone you have No consequences for any crimes which equals Drug Dealers not going to jail therefore supplying Drugs to all the Addicts
    It will keep going around and around and around.

    • Health is a provincial responsibility, not federal. You’re correct it’s not the mayor’s responsibility, however it’s also not the prime minister’s. Lay the blame where it belongs; Ross Romano and Doug Ford.

    • What silo do you put opioid addiction, and all of its related ills:
      – addiction,
      – stigmatization,
      – social isolation,
      – illegal drug consumption,
      – illegal drug importation and mail fraud (border security violations),
      – drug dealing,
      – organized crime,
      – criminal drug consumption,
      – homelessness, and
      – death

      to name a few of the societal ills of drug addiction.

      So which silo is it Soo Guy? Provincial? Federal? Municipal? Which?

      I lay the responsibility squarely at the feet of all three levels of government, but most especially I lay the responsibility in the bailiwick of the Municipal Government in an EMERGENCY like the Sault’s current opioid addiction epidemic which is FLOODING the streets of Sault Ste. Marie with all the ills of opioid addiction mentioned above.

      There’s a FLOOD of addiction-related ills coursing through the streets of Sault Ste. Marie.

      And if you have a bad enough FLOOD you declare a State of Emergency.

      I guess the question is:

      Does Mayor Provenzano think the opioid addiction epidemic in the Sault is bad enough to call a State of Emergency?

      So far the answer to that question looks like no, he doesn’t think it’s bad enough.

      I say that because Mayor Provenzano has had the ability to declare a State of Emergency on Sault Health issues (like opioid addiction and its related ills) since December 11, 2017 when Mayor Provenzano and City Council passed the EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLAN By-law 2017-236:

      https://saultstemarie.ca/Cityweb/media/Fire-EMS-Services/EmergencyResponsePlan.pdf

      Read it, and you’ll see that we could have had the Sault’s opioid addiction epidemic well on the way to being solved if Mayor Provenzano had just used that Municipal Law in 2018, or 2019, or 2020, or 2021 as the problem got worse, and worse, and worse, and worse…

      Mayor Provenzano knows about the Emergency Response Plan By-law 2017-236. He just doesn’t seem to want to use it for some strange unknown reason?

      Even though, apparently, the opioid addiction epidemic in the Sault is our Mayor and Council’s #1 priority?

      Yeah, right.

      I mean they’ve had the solution to the opioid addiction at their disposal since the beginning of 2018. And yet they decided to have discussions, write letters, and pass Resolutions instead of using the only law in their Municipal book of By-laws that permits them to get focused Provincial and Federal resources to immediately begin to solve all the aspects of a multifaceted and dire Emergency.

      Nope, they just didn’t pass a Resolution to get Mayor Provenzano to Declare an Addiction (Health) State of Emergency as per Section 7.1 of the Sault’s Emergency Response Plan By-law 2017-236.

      But I guess there’s no excuse now.

      The Mayor, CAO, and all City Council Members have received at least one email from me about the Sault’s Emergency Response Plan By-law 2017-236.

      Their response?

      Crickets.

      Oh, and one acknowledged email from Mayor Provenzano after 3 prior emails went completely ignored. At least I know he got my emails with the details of ERP By-law 2017-236.

      I guess they all had more important things to do?

      No, that can’t be it. The Sault’s opioid epidemic, they claim, is their #1 top priority.

      Hmmm???

      Oh well, they all have the solution they’ve been looking for now.

      We’ll just have to wait and see what they do that solution.

      So far, after 11 days when I first emailed all of them to alert their attention to the ERP By-law 2017-236, they’ve done exactly nothing.

      Zip, zero, nada.

      At least as far as I can tell.

      Maybe some reporters should start asking them why they didn’t start using ERP By-law 2017-236 in January of 2021 when they found out that the Sault went from 17 coroner-confirmed deaths in 2019 to 51 coroner-confirmed deaths in 2020.

      A whopping Emergency-worthy 300% increase in opioid deaths in a single year.

      And, sadly, we’ve already had more opioid deaths in 2021 than we had in 2020.

      But still crickets on ERP By-law 2017-236 from our Mayor, CAO and City Council.

      Read it again:

      https://saultstemarie.ca/Cityweb/media/Fire-EMS-Services/EmergencyResponsePlan.pdf

      It was written for the Sault’s Opioid Addiction (Health) Emergency.

      Sincerely,
      Mark Brown

  3. Codeine, Demerol, Dilaudid, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Oxycodone and of course Heroin. These are examples of opioids. Most are initially prescribed! I want our leaders at City Hall, Provincial and Federal Levels and individual people to be more involved, educated, committed and active in solutions to this crisis that is causing so much pain, needless deaths and destruction to members of our community and environment. This problem is much more far reaching than City Hall. I believe this is beyond their scope and it also appears some of our elected officials can use education on opioid addiction, how it often starts (to treat pain), how it progresses, how it affects the addicts, their loved ones and the community as a whole. I think there needs to be more liaison between the Health Care Agencies, Pharmacies, Mental Health Agencies, Addiction Agencies, Outreach Programs and each of us who care about our residents and our city. There most definitely needs to be a more streamlined and timely management approach to accessing care, and an efficient and timely referral system when a referral is required. We all can do our part, and yes our City Leaders need to be more active and consistent in what they can do. To focus on it only when called out about it leaves people to question their integrity regarding this crisis.

  4. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/services/substance-abuse/supervised-consumption-sites/apply/how-to-apply.pdf

    Application Form
    Section 56.1 Exemption for Medical Purposes under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for Activities at a Supervised Consumption Site

    This is the application form for a Safe Injection/Consumption Site, which Sudbury, Timmins and Thunder Bay have or will have.

    City Council could at least just pretend to care and maybe at least fill out the paperwork.

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