Tag Archives: PROUD out Loud

Group advocates for safe injection site in Ottawa

By: Aedan Helmer

Ottawa Sun

September 30th 2015

She was a nurse who got hooked on prescription painkillers after a serious car crash, and when she lost the services of her doctor, turned to the streets to feed her addiction.

“That’s how I found out about Ottawa’s underground,” she said, sharing her story (though not her name) for the first time at Wednesday’s symposium on supervised injection sites (SIS), hosted at the University of Ottawa.

“If there would have been something like (Vancouver’s supervised injection site) Insite at that time, maybe I would have gotten out sooner.”

Instead, seven years of her life spiraled out of control, her nursing career crushed under the weight of the criminal record now shadowing her.

Her story was one of many shared by panelists at the community discussion, launched by the Campaign for Safe Consumption Sites in Ottawa on the fourth anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court ruling that advocates cite as proof of Insite’s “positive impact on the surrounding community and (as) a cost-saving measure.”

Along with speakers from Nurses for SIS and the Drug Users Advocacy League (DUAL), organizers shared findings of a study conducted by Participatory Research in Ottawa Understanding Drugs (PROUD), which surveyed 858 Ottawa drug users.

“People say we aren’t Vancouver, and they’re right, but we do share the need for safe injection sites,” said Rick S. of DUAL, citing the recent increase in use of fentanyl — often with a tragic outcome — as evidence of the need for supervised injection sites.

“People are dropping dead from this stuff,” he said. “And the first thing we need to do is to keep these people alive and safe. And you can’t rope them in, you have to let them come to you.”

There wasn’t much dissent at Wednesday’s event, though organizer and advocate Catherine Hacksel said she invited opponents to have their say as well.

“Don’t be shy to talk to us,” she said. “Once you talk to people about the issue and destygmatize it, folks are much more willing to open their minds.”

And while Hacksel said she’s worked hard to engage all community partners, she still finds herself “at arm’s length” from an important potential partner in the Ottawa police.

“Given that we’re so often working with the same people, it would be great to work together,” she said.

Police Chief Charles Bordeleau and Mayor Jim Watson have both previously voiced their opposition to a supervised injection site in Ottawa.


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PROUD out Loud Volume 10: September 2015

Prescription and Illicit Drug Use


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Supervised Injection Services Discussion


September 30th, 2015 is the 4th year since the Supreme Court of Canada made the decision to keep Vancouver’s Insite open.

The PROUD study will be releasing our latest newsletter in partnership with the Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites Ottawa (CSCS)

CSCS will be hosting a community discussion with students, nurses, activists, researchers, and people who use drugs on the need for supervised consumption services in Ottawa.

Time: Wednesday, September 30at 11:30am – 1:30pm
Location: 147B Fauteux Hall, Louis Pasteur, University of Ottawa Campus, Osgoode at King Edward
R.S.V.P. on Facebook

Refreshments provided as well as whisper translation in French

Partner agencies:
•Association des étudiants(es) en service social (ADESS)
•Coaltion of Nurses and Nursing Students for Supervised Injection Services
•Drug User Advocacy League (DUAL)
•Participatory Research in Ottawa: Understanding Drugs (PROUD)
•AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO)

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New report suggests Ottawa drug users would benefit from safe injection site

0508 drugs6.jpg

By Andrew Duffy

Ottawa Citizen

May 8th 2015

A new study suggests a significant number of Ottawa’s most serious drug addicts would use a safe injection site if one ever opened in this city.

The study, prepared for a group that wants to bring at least two safe injection sites to Ottawa, found that 75.4 per cent of surveyed addicts said they would be prepared to use a facility where they could inject drugs with clean needles under medical supervision.

That level of participation would reduce overdose deaths and offer huge health benefits to drug users, who suffer high rates of HIV and Hepatitis-C, while also improving the safety of downtown streets made hazardous by discarded needles, advocates said Thursday at a community meeting held to discuss the study.

“I think it shows that, contrary to popular belief, drug users are actually interested in their health,” said Rob Boyd, director of a program at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre that offers harm reduction and health services to drug users and sex workers.

“I think it shows they’re interested in ways of using drugs that are less harmful and that they don’t want to be using drugs publicly,” he said. “We all want a solution to drug use on the curb.”

The study is based on interviews with 858 crack cocaine and injection drug users, about two-thirds of whom live in the downtown core. Developed in consultation with people who use drugs, the study aims to better understand the city’s population of addicts and the impact of HIV on them.

Participants completed a one-time questionnaire that touched on a broad range of topics, including drug history, harm reduction, health status, access to treatment, sexual activities, police interactions and housing.

Such studies are notoriously difficult to conduct because drug users often don’t like to enrol. The Ottawa study represents one of the largest studies of its kind in Canada.

Most (74.4 per cent) of the participants were men and a significant proportion (18.2 per cent) identified as Aboriginal. The median age was 43.

Among the 272 participants who said they had injected drugs in the past year, 14.2 per cent were HIV positive and 18.5 per cent said they had engaged in sex work. A sizable majority (74.6 per cent) also reported having a mental health diagnosis.

About half of the men and 59 per cent of women said they would use a safe injection site daily.

Boyd said the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre intends to apply to the federal government for an exemption from drug laws that would allow it to open a safe injection site. But he conceded that application will likely be made more difficult if the Conservative government’s Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act, becomes law.

“I think we just have to make an application for an exemption no matter what happens,” he said. “There’s a clear willingness to use this type of service and I think there’s an obligation on us to make an attempt.”

Bill C-2, the government’s response to a 2011 Supreme Court decision that preserved Vancouver’s Insite drug clinic, is now before the Senate. Advocates say the new law undermines the court ruling by setting out”excessive and unreasonable” requirements for applicants that want to open a new safe injection site. Such applications must solicit written opinions about the proposed site from the mayor, the police chief, the chief medical officer and the relevant provincial minister.

In Ottawa, both the mayor and police chief have expressed opposition to a safe-injection site.

Ottawa resident Dave Pineau, 54, contracted HIV 30 years ago while sharing needles with a group of friends in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. At the time, he said, users could buy a new needle for $10 or a used one for $5. “I know that sounds horrible, but that’s just the way it was,” he said.

Pineau said a safe injection site would allow users to employ safe equipment and protect themselves against fatal overdoses. “If they OD by themselves, there’s no one there to help them through it: to perform CPR or whatever,” said Pineau, who suffered a near fatal overdose in 2003. “I did a really strong hit and I overdosed. I fought through it. But I was just lucky.”

He said a safe injection site is desperately needed: “Drug users are people, too, and this is what health care looks like for them.”


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Q&A: Are Supervised Injection Sites effective?


By Dani-elle Dube

Ottawa SUN

May 7th 2015

Supervised Injection Sites, or SIS, has been a contentious issue in Ottawa for almost a decade decade.

Some see them located in Ottawa neighbourhoods as a cause for concern, others see it as a solution to the city’s drug problem.

On Thursday, members of the Participatory Research in Ottawa: Understanding Drugs (or PROUD) released results of their city-wide survey relating to SIS. The study surveyed 858 drug users between March 2013 and January 2014.

The Sun spoke with Chris Dalton, knowledge translation co-ordinator of the study, to discuss the results and what they mean to the study group, drug users and communities.

Q: What do the results of the study show and tell you?

A: The data shows that people in Ottawa who are affected by addiction are the people who want and need these sites in order to feel safe and be healthy by not sharing dirty needles and spreading diseases like HIV or Hepatitis C.

Q: Why does Ottawa need a SIS?

A: Addiction is like any other disease out there. These people have a health problem and they need treatment that is humane, compassionate and proven to work.

Q: The study revealed that 58% of Ottawa drug users felt unsafe in the location they were currently injecting and that 84% would feel safe using an SIS. But what will be done to ensure that the community feels safe?

A: Studies done in Vancouver reported that there was no evidence of increased crime in the area where an SIS was located. Right now what’s going on in our neighbourhoods where there is homelessness and drug use, you’re going to have (an increase in crime) in the public. People are using in public bathrooms, backyards and alleys right now so it’s actually less safe. Education is key and we hope to provide communities with that so misconceptions are avoided and they feel safe.

Q: Almost 40% surveyed said they had used a needle that had been used by someone else before. How will SIS sites make sure that users don’t continue to share needles on the street when they’re not using the services?

A: If we had a 24-hour site open, then the service will always be available with new gear and would help solve a large part of that problem. We see this as an alarming statistic that shows how much we need this service because we don’t believe people will reuse syringes if they’re in a safe and healthy facility with plenty of needles available. People want to be healthy. People don’t want to contract HIV or Hep C, overdose or die. So if we can help them to prevent those things from happening then we’re saving lives.

Q: About 48% of men and 59% of women surveyed said they would use an SIS daily. Is this the solution Ottawa and drug users need as opposed to making more resources available that will help them get clean?

A: Treatment is great for people who want to do it. But if you force people into treatment, often people aren’t successful in the long term. We need to provide a space for people so that, until they’re ready for treatment and decide that’s what they want to do, they can still be safe where they’re using while making healthy choices by using clean gear. But the only choices users have is to stop using and get treatment or to use in the street with dirty needles and get kicked out of the shelters. We need a middle ground that can help and provide services to people who need it.


72% of male participants and 83% of female participants think there should be an SIS in Ottawa

Among the participants who would use an SIS

– 91% of participants had been homeless at one point in their life

– 10% self-reported testing HIV positive

– 70% think there should be an SIS in the Byward Market/Lowertown areas

A follow up study was done in the summer of 2014. It surveyed 136 participants who had injected drugs within the last 30 days.

– 66% injected in public

– 58% felt unsafe due to the location where they were currently injecting


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Former sex worker calling for overnight drop-in centre in Vanier


By Joe Lofaro

Metro News

December 17th 2014

A former sex worker turned advocate is calling for a Vanier drop-in centre for people working the sex trade, who she says are noticing a heightened police presence since new legislation took effect Dec. 6.

A new centre would operate from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and would serve as a safe space for sex workers who need to escape violence, seek counselling for mental health issues, or help with addictions.

Jennifer Bigelow says she left the sex trade after a violent attack by a client last year. At a luncheon in Ottawa on Wednesday, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, she recounted the traumatic incident.

She said in the New Year she is going to enroll in a social worker program and hopes to become a counsellor and work in a drop-in on Montreal Road — a place she says is a “high traffic” area for sex workers.

“At 4 o’clock in the morning when it’s raining and you have perverts driving around harassing you as well as two police cruisers, you need a place to go to. Or you’ve had a sh–ty date. You need a place to be,” she said. “You need people who understand you. And not from 9 to 5.”

Even though she is no longer working on the street, she still says “we” when talking about sex workers. “My heart is still on the streets with those girls. I lived it for so many years.

The new federal legislation, Bill C-36, targets johns and pimps by making the purchase of sex illegal. The government also lauds the bill for making it easier for vulnerable women to exit prostitution.

But, Bigelow disagrees with the suggestion from the Conservative government that sex workers should be viewed as victims and argues the new laws will force them more underground in unsafe conditions.

“Us women are not victims. We chose to do this. We chose to put on our high heels, paint our faces, fill our purse with condoms and go out,” said Bigelow. “The profession isn’t going to go away. The girls are always going to be out there.”


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Advocacy groups say Ottawa sex workers need more social services, not legislation

Advocacy groups say Ottawa sex workers need more social services, not legislation.

By Paula McCooey,

Ottawa Citizen

December 17th 2014.

A new survey by a pair of advocacy groups looking at how the drug and sex trades are intertwined in Ottawa highlights just how many sex workers are homeless and says many live in fear of being mistreated by clients or police.

The survey was conducted by PROUD — or Participatory Research in Ottawa, Understanding Drugs, along with DUAL, Drug Users Advocacy League.

The groups surveyed 858 people at community health centres across the city from March 2013 to January 2014. Among those questioned, 108 said they had engaged in sex work over the past year.

Of those 108, there were 68.5 per cent who said they were not living in their own house or apartment. That same percentage said they had spent at least one night in a shelter over the past year.

The survey also found that 77 per cent of the sex workers reported being stopped or searched by police without arrest; and that 50.6 per cent said they had experienced verbal abuse by the police.

The study’s release Wednesday coincided with the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

About 50 community members met at the PROUD and DUAL centre on Murray Street to speak about the results and emphasize the need to protect the rights of sex workers and fight against the criminalization and stigma of sex work.

“POWERS’s position is that sex work is not inherently dangerous but rather it’s the social and legal context in which it takes place that makes it dangerous,” says Emily Symons, chair of the group Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate and Resist.

Of particular interest to these groups is the new law Bill C-36 governing sex work that was brought into effect on Dec. 6. The so-called Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act largely criminalizes the buying of sex.

They say the new law will continue to stifle workers’ ability to communicate freely with clients and therefore put sex workers at risk of violence.

“It’s now illegal in Canada to advertise sexual services and what this means is sex workers are no longer able to communicate opening and honestly with their clients about services they are willing to perform and services they are not willing to perform,” said Symons. “And it also means that sex workers are not able to negotiate safer sex practices with their clients.”

Jennifer Bigelow, 46, a former sex worker turned advocate said she is concerned the new laws will damage inroads they’ve made with police over the past decade to help keep sex workers safe. Now she feels workers will have to “go more into seclusion.”

“So now do you not only have to fear the violence of the johns, you have to fear the harassment and probably the violence and brutality of the police,” says Bigelow, adding she’s noticed a larger police presence on streets that are high traffic areas for sex workers since the bill was put into place.

Rather than criminalize sex work, Bigelow would like to see it legalized and controlled with more social support so workers don’t have to fear for their lives

“My passion is to open up a centre in Vanier where 90 per cent of the prostitution happens,” she says. “Where they can drop in, always have condoms and always have drug harm reduction tools and be provided with a counsellor because you never know when you are going to have that bad day.”

By the Numbers

44.8 per cent of female participants had received money, drugs or gifts for sex

31.3 per cent of male participants had given money, drugs or gifts for sex

Of the 108 participants who had engaged in sex work in the past 12 months:

68.5 per cent were not living in their own house or apartment

52.7 per cent had spent at least one night on the street or outdoors in a park

31.5 per cent had experienced violence from a client in the previous 12 months


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Sex Workers pan bill

Jenn Dec17

By: Megan Gillis,

Ottawa SUN

December 17th 2014.

On the street, she said, there were beatings by one police officer — then the compassion of another who’d offer food or a ride home on a cold night.

Then, there was the time she felt terrified in a john’s car — relief coming only, she says, when she spotted a passerby to hear her scream.

“My angels were there with me that day,” said Jennifer Bigelow, once a street sex worker using crack cocaine who said she’s a daughter, sister, mother and now an advocate.

The 46-year-old told her story at an event Wednesday marking the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, arguing new prostitution laws that took effect Dec. 6 push the vulnerable deep into the shadows when what they need is help. Her dream is a drop-in centre offering safety, harm reduction supplies and counselling.

“Now we have to hide, we have to go more into seclusion,” she said. “In my case I was lucky — it was a public place.

“My heart is still on the streets with those girls.”

Preliminary research findings released at the event at the Murray St. home of PROUD — Participatory Research in Ottawa, Understanding Drugs — highlighted the links between addiction, selling sex and homelessness.

Of 858 drug users interviewed from March 2013 to January 2014 about the past 12 months, 108 had done sex work. More than two-thirds of that group had been in a shelter and while almost a third had experienced violence from a client four in 10 said they didn`t feel comfortable calling the police.

Of those who`d done sex work, 77 said they`d been stopped or searched by police without arrest. Half reported verbal abuse or harassment and just under a third physical abuse.

Emily Symons of Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate and Resist argued that the Conservative government’s new laws force sex workers to choose between the risk of arrest and the risk of violence.

Criminalizing buying sex makes johns fearful of taking time to negotiate a date, banning sex ads is a barrier to working indoors in relative safety and making it illegal to communicate for the purpose of prostitution “near” schools and daycares pushes street workers from urban areas where they could pair up in well-lit areas, taking down license plate numbers.

“Do I want to work in safety — and get arrested, or I do I want to work in dangerous conditions but at least I won`t go to jail tonight?” Symons said


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