The Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society (LOPS) received a $300 fine from the City of Lethbridge on Monday night, as city bylaw enforcement visited the pop-up tent after it set up for a fourth consecutive night.
“So this was a violation ticket,” said senior bylaw officer Dave Henley. “Tonight’s actions were specific to what we see tonight, which is a structure that’s been erected, where there is no permit to do so.”
The City of Lethbridge Parks Bylaw states, in part, that “no person shall: unless allowed by permit: (p) camp in a park (q) erect a tent or other structure in a park.”
“They believe that they do understand the bylaw and that they are exempt from the provisions of the bylaw,” Henley said.
“So in that instance, they chose to leave the structure — temporary pop-up tent — in place, and they have been issued a fine.”
LOPS member Tim Slaney said after he and Henley explained their positions to each other — alongside Lethbridge police officers — he chose to respectfully disagree with the city’s position.
“We maintain that as respondents to overdose, that we are rescue personnel,” Slaney said.
“The bylaw has a specific exception drafted that excludes us from those regulations.”
Henley said an exemption would need to be vetted through legal documentation that the group would need to provide to the city.
“The bylaw doesn’t regulate the activities that they have described that they’re going to do,” he said.
“So those activities aren’t regulated by the City of Lethbridge, those activities are regulated federally and provincially — when it comes to the provision of health services — and that’s what they have identified, is they are providing emergent health services.”
Slaney told Global News that LOPS had a conference call with federal officials on Tuesday and the conversations were encouraging as they continue the process of seeking an exemption.
But on a provincial level, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Jason Luan made his feelings about the pop-up site clear on Tuesday in an open letter.
“There is no need for this service or the confusion that it stands to cause among those with addiction,” Luan said. “For this vulnerable population, what they need are stable, safe and effective services — which is exactly what Alberta Health Services provides merely one block away from the illegal tent, with adequate capacity for the community.
“If this group truly wanted to protect and support our fellow citizens who are not well, they would be directing them to legal health-care services rather than creating chaos, confusion and using them as a political tool. Shameful.”
Until an exemption is given, Slaney said LOPS plans to continue on, even under the watchful eye of Lethbridge police.
“Lethbridge city police have continued to state that they will arrest anyone for possession who attempts to inject within the tent,” he said, adding that he believes the tent is necessary.
“Having a tent provides shelter from the elements, from the wind, it provides privacy and really just a controlled environment for people to inject within,” Slaney added.
“That’s really at the spirit of harm reduction [and] what we’re trying to do, so we wouldn’t be able to fulfil our mission without that tent.”
Slaney said despite pushback from the city, the province and protesters, LOPS intends to push on and if that means more tickets, so be it.
“It’s more important than the monetary penalty, and I honestly believe that in the end, when we contest those tickets in court, we’re going to be found to be correct and we won’t have to pay any fine,” he said.
Slaney added that he and his colleagues plan to approach Lethbridge city council and ask councillors to exercise their discretion and rescind the ticket, as well as confirm that the bylaw doesn’t apply to the group.
Protesters in Galt Gardens on Monday night were outraged that Henley and city bylaw enforcement couldn’t do anything more than give the fine, wondering why they couldn’t force the group to take down the tent.
“When it comes to dismantling the tent, when the city comes to taking those sorts of actions, the city really looks for voluntary compliance when it comes to taking any sort of structure down,” Henley said.
“At this point in time, we don’t have the options in place to take it down, we don’t have the staffing to take it down, but more importantly, what we need to do is go through a process where we identify to the individuals why they are in conflict with the bylaw and why we need it down, and provide them with a written direction.”
LOPS confirmed to Global News that it will be setting up for a fifth consecutive night in Galt Gardens on Tuesday, before taking a two-day break from providing services on Wednesday and Thursday.
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