1,265 crosses planted at Queen’s Park to push province to end freeze on ‘life-saving’ overdose prevention sites

The Queen’s Park lawn was staked with 1,265 wooden crosses on Monday, representing the people in Ontario who died due to drug overdose last year.

The vigil, hosted by the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS), comes two days after the province asked the federal government for an extension as it assesses the future of safe injection sites.

“We have come to remind the government of what is at stake with their current ‘review’, and commemorate the much-loved members of our community that we have lost,” TOPS said in a release.

“Medical and public health experts, as well as everyday Ontarians across the province have been calling on the government to stop this waiting game and confirm that they will allow these life-saving services to remain open,” TOPS said in the release.

According to Health Canada, 1,265 Ontarians died of an apparent opioid-related death in 2017. In the first three months of 2018, there were 317 such deaths in the province, also according to Health Canada.

That number puts 2018 on track to match or exceed the number of deaths last year, TOPS said.

Two months after Ontario’s June election, Ontario health minister Christine Elliott announced that the opening of three new overdose-prevention sites intended to help fight the opioid crisis would be put on hold. Along with the freeze, the province launched a review of harm-reduction practices and assessment of the whether the sites “have merit.”

On Friday, Elliot asked Ottawa for an extension on the review.

“We continue to take the ongoing opioid crisis very seriously. I have reviewed the latest data, evidence and current site models, visited various sites and held consultations,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott in a written release Friday. “I am now in the process of finalizing my recommendations.”

On Monday, TOPS asked the government to wrap up the review, calling it “unnecessary.”

The organization is also urging the government to open the three sites — located in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, Thunder Bay and St. Catherines — that had been approved by the previous Liberal government and process the five overdose prevention site applications that were submitted before the review was announced.

Before Elliot announced the extension last week, Premier Doug Ford said he expected to provide the public with a final decision “next week.”

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