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School trustees raise concerns over safe injection site

Residents call Northern Health plan a 'massive oversight'
Proposed location for a supervised drug consumption site on 100 Avenue in Fort St. John.

School trustees in Fort St. John want answers from Northern Health on its plans for a safe injection site near a downtown elementary school.

The health authority is looking to open a site at 10067 100 Avenue by the end of the year, less than 200 metres as the crow flies from Ecole Central on 99 Avenue.

Trustee Thomas Whitton said at the March 13 board of education meeting that there “was a breakdown in communications somewhere” and the school district is owed an opportunity to give its input.

“They should consider the feedback from the school district when choosing a site that could potentially increase risk to students,” said Whitton. “I appreciate Northern Health has a mandate… but we’re here for the kids.”

Superintendent of schools Stephen Petrucci said while he’s not privy to the health authority’s processes, changes to city bylaws or zoning affecting schools have traditionally required the district's input, he said.

“Not in this case,” he said.

Whitton as well as board chair Helen Gilbert both wanted to know where else safe injection sites have been located near schools in the province, and the issues they’ve experienced, positive or negative.

“Whichever side it was, I’d be interested in seeing that,” said Whitton. “It might even be an opportunity to invite Northern Health for a conversation with the board."

“We’re here, we’re open, we’re willing to have discussions," he said.

Whitton also wanted to know what the district was doing to prevent drug use among local students and educate them about B.C.'s overdose crisis.

“I know we’ve had some great programs in the past, like the PARTY program, but those have gone to the wayside due to other organization’s going under,” he said.

“I am worried about our children, that is my biggest concern. How are we educating them with regards to this?”

Sixteen concerned residents attended the trustee’s meeting, who called Northern Health’s plans a “massive oversight,” considering there are also three day cares located within less than a block of its proposed site.

They also noted that city bylaws prohibit commercial cannabis retailers from opening stores within 200 metres of a school or 100 metres of a park.

Gilbert acknowledged the ministry of health has mandated a response to the province’s overdose crisis, and that the health authority has decided Fort St. John needs a safe injection site.

“To my knowledge, there was no government to government contact about that,” Gilbert said.

She told the concerned residents, “Now, we’re hearing you people here tonight with a concern, and we will go through a process of raising the concerns from this table and from our public.”

Twelve people died of a toxic drug overdose in the Fort St. John and North Peace area in 2022, according to the provincial coroner.

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