Safe-injection site slated for former Catholic house

  • October 25, 2023

Benedict Labre House, a Montreal non-profit that was once a Catholic “house of hospitality,” is at the centre of controversy over plans to operate a novel form of supervised injection site (SIS) at its new centre meters from a day-care and elementary school.

A coalition of concerned parents, residents and merchants was hastily formed in late August after news broke that the 36-unit homeless residence being built opposite the school would also house a 24-hour injection and inhalation site. Addicts would also feed their cravings only a long stone’s throw from St. Irénée de Lyon Catholic Church.

The provision of a supervised space for smoking crack, fentanyl and crystal meth is said to be the first of its kind in Quebec.

Despite plans for the housing project being in place since 2019 and construction nearing completion, the group, identified as OPP Victor-Rousselot after the name of the local school, say there was little to no consultation with the local community.

At an Oct. 23 press conference, representatives of OPP Victor-Rousselot made public their frustration at being overlooked as key stakeholders in a decision that has such potentially negative consequences for the community.The main concern, even among merchants and residents, is the proximity of the safe injection site to the school.

Parent representative Chantal Gagnon noted that “elsewhere in Canada, none of these supervised injection sites are within 500 metres of a school.”

“Why do elected officials and promoters consider it normal to open such a centre directly opposite a school park where children play during recess?”

Lawyer Estelle Savoie-Dufresne told The Catholic Register that the press conference was an opportunity “for the voice of the coalition to be heard, because they have been denied that over the past weeks.”

“The coalition is requesting the minister of social services, Lionel Carmant, relocate the site to a more suitable, safe environment,” Savoie-Dufresne said. “There is a Plan B of legal action.”

Benedict Labre House was established 71 years ago as a lay apostolate serving the poor and itinerant population in nearby Griffintown, then a largely Irish working-class immigrant neighbourhood.

Though Labre House was not officially tied to the Catholic Worker, it had a close relationship with the larger movement.

Labre House still maintains ties with the English-speaking Catholic community of Montreal, receiving donations from parishes, the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus.

The Labre House 2022-2023 Annual Report shows a donation of over $50,000 received from Montreal St. Patrick’s Foundation, an organization that funds the English Catholic community of Montreal.

Erika Jacinto, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Montreal, confirmed that though the House “receives donations from parishes, and Catholic volunteers are involved since it’s foundation 71 years ago, there is no direct intervention of ‘the Church’ on Maison Benedict Labre decisions.”

In a 2017 statement on the opioid crisis, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that while certain “harm reduction” measures including SIS’s have a place in addressing the death toll from drug overdoses “they alone do not address the deeper problem of addiction, nor do they bode well for public safety.”

The bishops concluded that “such measures should not be made the centrepiece of a drug strategy that aims to be truly effective and comprehensive.”

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