Unsanctioned Overdose Prevention Site Coming to Cobourg – Like It or Not

In Editor Choice, Local

An overdose prevention site is coming to Cobourg whether the residents like it or not.

Missy McLean is spearheading the site and there might be more questions than answers concerning it.

Today’s Northumberland reached out to McLean to explain what residents will see, but McLean has not returned messages.

The only information comes from Consider This, hosted by Rob Washburn where McLean admits it is a “unsanctioned volunteer-powered, donation funded initiative.”

McLean herself calls it, “an act of resistance of all levels of government who are failing to respond to a nationwide health emergency with an emergency response.”

“We’re resisting that structured targeted abandonment by government and we’re saying we’ll take care of ourselves and each other in the absence of you.”

In the interview with Washburn, McLean says she welcomes the controversy as it would bring attention to what is happening.

The site will be mobile and switch undisclosed locations in the downtown area every Friday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

McLean explained to Washburn there will two tents – one for inhaling and one for injecting illegal drugs.

Mclean said that the OPS is “essentially a medical tent.”

But never says in the interview what kind of medical training those who are operating it will have.

Mclean said it’s a place where “we” provide a place for people to use illegal drugs in a, “safe, non-judgmental space to consume their drugs.”

With that, Mclean says they are providing care for them and will respond “immediately” if they have an overdose or other health concern. But again, gives no indication of what type of training anyone has that is operating the unsanctioned site.

McLean says the difference between a unsanctioned overdose prevention site and a consumption and treatment sites that OPS are typically unsanctioned.

“They’re typically grassroots responses to the toxic drug poisoning crisis in communities.”

And do not receive funding.

A consumption and treatment site has gone through what McLean calls an “extensive” process through all levels of government as well as obtaining a exemption from the Federal Government regarding the Controlled and Substances Act and going through Provincial Health Legislation to get funding and also municipally to get approval for the site.

The tents for started in parks in various locations in Ontario, where communities were “ravaged” by the overdose crisis.

“Frontline workers, community workers, friends and family members were not going to stand by and let our friends die. We’re going to take action.”

Washburn asked McLean repeatedly about the exact location, but McLean wouldn’t say the sites where they will be set-up.

“This is an operation that is not without – I guess I don’t find it controversial, saving peoples lives, providing medical care to folks who need it, but some people do.”

“For the safety and protection of folks that we hope are going to be using this site, we’re not disclosing the exact location publicly.”

McLean added the people that will want to use the site will be told.

McLean was also hesitant about who was organizing the site.

“Community members, me, a bunch of my friends, yeah – it’s just neighbours.”

Guidance for the program is coming from a group in Peterborough and in Vancouver, but the majority of funding comes from donations.

“Completely grassroots” and it is not a charity.

McLean said the volunteers that will be operating it have had first-aid training.

“Aside from the credentials of training and regulation, we have folks who have lived experience of saving their friends lives already. And have been doing so for years. So they come with their own expertise – their lived expertise.”

The OPS will supply, “all the equipment people need to consume different substances.”

Needles, pipes, alcohol swabs, foil and lighters, but not the drugs.

“People bring their own substances,” said McLean.

McLean said the legal issues regarding it mainly come down to trespassing.

“We are setting up on private property, where we’ve been given permission to be there as opposed to public property.”

A article called “This Tent Saves Lives – How to Open an Overdose Prevention Site” by the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs there is a section on the legal implications that states,

”While governments and law enforcement have generally not been shutting OPS down, it is in their power to do so, as OPS will usually violate some local bylaws and federal drug laws. A federal exemption under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) is required to protect both the volunteers and the users of supervised consumption sites against drug-related charges and arrests. This is the only way to be sure that police do not enforce drug possession and trafficking laws at OPS.

However, OPS have been operating to date without section 56 exemptions. While the federal government has made no official statements about the legality of OPS, in some cases, OPS have received assurances from police that they will not charge people who are using or staffing the sites. Since police enforcement will vary from location to location, it may be helpful to talk to police to find out what their position is regarding OPS.

There following legal risks apply to operators, staff, and users of OPS:

• Drug-related charges under the Criminal Code: without an exemption, staff who are supervising injections at OPS are at risk of possession charges under s 4(1) of the CDSA. People who are using drugs at the site are at risk of any drug-related offense that would normally apply, such as posses- sion or possession for the purposes of trafficking (s 5(2) of the CDSA).

• Trespassing charges under provincial trespass legislation: if your OPS is on private property and you are not lawfully a tenant or occupant of that space, you could easily face charges of tres- passing—even if government and police support you. The landlord could also personally sue you for trespass in a civil (non-criminal) action.

• Eviction: Even if you are paying rent or are otherwise permitted to occupy private property, your landlord may evict you for running an OPS.

• Tickets or fines for bylaw violations: municipal bylaws may prevent activities such as congre- gating in a public space without a permit, erecting a tent or other structure, overnight camping, or possessing harm reduction supplies.

• Employment consequences: if you are a healthcare professional volunteering at an OPS, you are subject to your profession’s standards of conduct and care, and the standard of care expected of you will be higher than that of someone without a healthcare background. As a healthcare professional, you may wish to consult with the appropriate College to determine the scope of your responsibilities and whether your professional insurance covers you.

• Workers compensation insurance coverage: If you are volunteering at an OPS, workers compen- sation insurance will not likely apply: if you are injured while working at an OPS, you will probably not be compensated for that injury. OPS operators should inform all volunteers of this fact before they start working.

• Injunction orders: an injunction is something that a City or landowner could apply for in court to have your OPS cease operations quickly. If you are served with court documents seeking an injunction against your OPS, you must act fast to defend it. Get legal advice immediately.”

McLean said she has “engaged” Cobourg Police Service, has spoken to the Fire Chief and every member of council should be aware of what will be happening. McLean said she has had meetings with MP Philip Lawrence in the past, but hasn’t let him know specifically about the OPS.

“I’ve been told that police are already following the directive of the Crown Attorney in Ontario which is to not charge folks who are simple possession of illegal substances – we’ll see what happens.”

The initial set-up is expected to cost approximately $1,500 and although McLean said they have a large following, they have raised $25 of the $2,500 goal through a GoFundMe with one donor as of Monday.

Towards the end of the interview McLean said she welcomes the controversy as it brings discussion.

“My hope is there will be a level of curiosity and people will ask questions. The controversy brings us into conversation with each other. Bring the controversy, because that leads to conversation.”

As of Monday, March 20, 2023, McLean has not returned a request for an interview.

McLean added a film will be showing at Victoria Hall on March 27 called Love in the Time of Fentanyl that is being sponsored by Moms Stop the Harm, the Ontario Network of People Who Use Drugs and Green Wood Coalition.

Today’s Northumberland has reached out to MP Philip Lawrence, MPP David Piccini, Medical Officer of Health for the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit Dr. Natalie Bocking, Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland, Cobourg Fire Chief Ellard Beaven and Cobourg Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf for their thoughts.


For audio interview click below:


Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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