Tensions boil over as OPO supporters bring protest to council office
The stand-off between OPO members and city officials who would like to see them close down their pop-up overdose prevention site was only made more tense today.
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Over 100 supporters of Overdose Prevention Ottawa packed the waiting room outside councillor's offices at city hall on Friday, hoping to meet with Coun. Mathieu Fleury.
Fleury says that the group never confirmed a meeting with his office, and that though he had invited a small group to come in to his office, The group of protesters declined.
The group called Fleury's refusal to meet with the group as particularly upseting, given that it is his constituency that is feeling much of the crisis' worst effects.
"These are all people dying in his area, and he can't even come out here when we have a meeting," said Bob Jamison. "He should be ashamed."
The group vowed to continue to press for a meeting with the councillor. "If this crisis continues, and he continues to make disgusting comments in the media, we will absolutely be back," said Leila Attar, a volunteer with OPO who herself has experienced a fentanyl overdose. "For it to be his ward, and for people to be dying—shame.
"I think I'm speechless at this point. I'm shocked and I'm hurt and I'm speechless."
"I'm asking them to sit down with public health," said Fleury on Friday evening. "I've asked them to transition and to work with public health, but they're not responding to that.
He said that the environment of the meeting would have been inappropriate, and criticized the group's methods of protest. "There are fundamental elements I disagree with that they are bringing forward," he said. "I think they're making it black and white."
Fleury said that his position is being misrepresented by supporters of OPO. "I'm supportive of supervised injection sites, I opened the first one in Ottawa," he said. "
The group, made up of volunteers working at the site and its supporters, held a rally outside of city hall over the lunch hour before marching to Fleury's office to deliver over 600 letters of support from the community, and 30 empty naloxone kits that were used in only the past three days.
Councillors Catherine McKenney and Tobi Nussbaum both spoke briefly with the group, expressing support for the work they have been doing over the past month. Members of the group were appreciative, but hoped that the councillors would use their position to urge Fleury to at least meet with the group.
A staffer from Fleury's office offered to accept the letters on Fleury's behalf, but left after protesters insisted upon handing him each of the 600 or so letters individually.
Before leaving, the group taped signs on the walls inside the lobby and spread used naloxone kits across the reception desk.
Earlier in the week, Fleury said that his community "feels held hostage"—something that OPO volunteers took particular offense to, pointing out that many of the people using the pop-up injection site are also members of Fleury's constituency.
Volunteers and peers expressed their frustration with the politics surrounding the site, which have only become more polarized in the past week. They say that the issue is more important than political fights.
"Saving the lives of my brothers and sisters makes me feel good," said Jamison—Bobby J, as he is known in the community. "It makes me feel like I'm doing something."
The issue became increasingly tense this week as Fleury warned of a police intervention at the site, and again refused to visit the site. Mayor Jim Watson also called the site "illegal," and reiterated his hope that the site close down in the near future.
Watson also disputed OPO's claims of how many visitors they have had and how many overdoses they have reversed, saying the numbers were unverifiable. OPO have been publicly tracking the number of visits to their site, which now exceeds 1,100.
What has emerged is something of a standoff between supporters of the site and city officials, some of whom have been vocally opposed to the site's continued operation. On Monday, OPO announced that they would continue to offer services despite the city running their own supervised injection site nearby.
That site, they say, is not enough—its rules are too restrictive, and they don't have nearly enough space to meet the demand that exists in the community.
It was the first tension point of two on Friday. OPO volunteers say the city approved a request by four members of the community, who have led the opposition to the pop-up site, to rent the park for a bocce ball game. OPO says they are hoping to avoid conflict with the police by setting up their tent in the parking lot nearby.
Note: this story has been updated from a previous version to include comments received early Friday evening from Coun. Mathieu Fleury.