April 19, 2021

Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society (LOPS) Welcomes the Dismissal of Tickets.

The City of Lethbridge had been pursuing multiple charges against LOPS member Tim Slaney in relation to the alleged infraction of the City Parks Bylaw 5651 for hosting an event without a permit in a public park from September-December 2020. All open cases have been dismissed as of April 9, 2021.

“I’m very relieved to see the charges against myself dismissed. While I remained very confident that the city’s allegations were baseless, the fines represented a distraction for our organization and a waste of city resources,” Tim Slaney, member of LOPS, said. “I look forward to being able to focus all my attention on supporting LOPS in its mission going forward.”

In support of their efforts, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition has produced a video to share the history LOPS. The film was directed by Lorna Thomas with videography by Thomas Stone. This video, along with information on how to get involved and donate to LOPS, can be found at https://lops.ca/ 

LOPS continues to operate their street outreach program and is asking for donations from the community to support the ongoing efforts to prevent drug overdoses and minimize the spread of infections in the community.

For further information and media requests, please contact LOPS via email at lethbridgeops@gmail.com or slaney.lethodprevsociety@gmail.com 

About LOPS

The Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society (LOPS) provides harm reduction care for people who use drugs in the Lethbridge, AB community. The group was founded as a community-led emergency response to the closure and defunding of other life-saving harm reduction services by the Alberta provincial government.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) is a coalition of over 50 organizations and 5,000 individuals working to support the development of progressive drug policy grounded in science, guided by public health principles, and respectful of human rights. CDPC operates as a project within Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. CDPC seeks to include people who use drugs and those harmed by the war on drugs in moving toward a healthier Canadian society free of stigma and social exclusion.

October 30, 2020

It’s been a busy month, to say the least.

On Friday, September 25th, LOPS had a successful day of operation. On September 26th, media began reporting and with it came a police blockade and protests. What follows is a remarkable case of police indifference towards right-wing violence when it furthers their agenda.

Despite having the overdose and crime statistics of a major urban center, Lethbridge is at its core a small farming community growing too large, too fast for its citizens’ comfort. Racism is a fact of life, especially directed at the indigenous members of the community. Police are all too reluctant to investigate reports of hate crimes perpetrated against homeless people in the downtown area. Perhaps that isn’t unusual in itself. However, the comfort with which the perpetrators of this violence brag is, perhaps, none are more vocal than those in the Lethbridge Police Service Facebook pages’ comment threads. This page’s moderation is unheard of – despite several embarrassing compilations of racial hatred being brought to their attention.

It wasn’t shocking to find social media’s reaction to the pop-up tent was filled with similar violent rhetoric and race-baiting. “Drop kick through the glass!”, “#burnittotheground”, “I wish someone would burn down the place”, “They [indigenous residents] are not citizens of Lethbridge!”, “I would like to be there and poke [organizer] Timothy Slaney with a needle”, “I believe those tents are made from flammable material, just sayin”. Freehand drawings and photoshop of the LOPS tent ablaze. Perhaps it’s just the recent cold snap, but there’s a definite theme.

These sorts of comments are all too common and all too accepted in Lethbridge. While organizers were upset by their content, we were surprised. However, what did concern us were the plans to meet us in the park and make good on these violent fantasies. It seems not everyone was content to stay behind a keyboard.

Saturday evening, LOPS arrived an hour before set up to assess the situation. Mixed in with the news crews were an entourage of familiar faces from the Yellow Vests movement, which brought right-wing violence to cities across Canada. Some we recognized from the social media reaction. Fearing violence, we elected to move for the evening, hoping to have time to organize a human shield around the tent. We picked another park a few blocks away and set up as quickly as we could move. Moments later, our friends from the park caught up with us. Video is the only way to describe their introduction:

LOPS supporters formed a barrier and stood their ground in the face of the abuse. A few brave people who use drugs attempted to walk the gauntlet to try and make use of the tent. Police were quick to intervene and threatened to charge them, in what would be the first instance of CDSA charges brought in conjunction with a pop-up. Sadly, this was effective in deterring would-be participants. LOPS continued to hand out snacks and naloxone, which only earned our volunteers further abuse. At 11 pm, on schedule, we packed up for the night and prepared for the slog ahead.

On Sunday, September 27th, LOPS arrived early and set up in the original location in Galt Gardens. Not long after, the protesters from the night before arrived, live-streaming the faces of volunteers and people living in the park. On reviewing the footage, LOPS later found she opened her broadcast by bragging about violating a quarantine order to attend. It didn’t take long for the abuse to start again – “It’s a tent for junkies” was the refrain of the evening. “This is my park!” was another common theme – ignoring the fact that for the hundreds of unhoused people in Lethbridge, Galt has been a sanctuary for decades.

Things escalated as the night progressed. Infuriated by our refusal to engage, the protest leader bodychecked a LOPS organizer with the intent of creating an incident. Disappointed when their provocation went unacknowledged, they opted to invade volunteers’ personal space and spit in their direction many times with full knowledge that they had COVID symptoms. One protestor, a Yellow Vest veteran with white supremacist ties, succeeded in spitting in the face of a LOPS supporter. When the victim recoiled in disgust, she doubled down and spit again, mere feet from watching police officers. Another yellow vest perrenial gloated over plans to bring white supremacist allies to the park to “do damage”, again, mere feet away from police officers. LOPS supporters attempted to file complaints only to be told the police have a mandate to remove the tent only.

Video from Sunday: https://youtu.be/6UbPlfVb41I

On Monday, Lethbridge City Council held a community issues committee meeting and discussed the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society. Local right-wing politician and mayoral hopeful Blaine Hyggen spent most of the session berating and humiliating the city’s senior bylaw officer for not “tearing down the tent.” The rest of the council sat silent. Bylaw enforcement laid out a very clear process the city must adhere to in enforcing parks bylaw on the OPS, which would be thrown aside entirely just hours later.

Watch the full meeting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFXBgBXTzuU

Monday evening saw the beginning of what could only be described as a “police blockade” wherein 4-6 officers a night gather and supervise. At the same time, anti-harm reduction protesters threaten people with violence, shouting slurs, and screaming in people’s faces without a mask. At no point do any attendant police attempt to mediate or pull back the aggressive protest group. Rather than being moderated by police, the group appeared to feel empowered by Lethbridge Police’s tacit acceptance of their tactics. The following video clearly demonstrates this acceptance and shows that the police have no interest in defusing tensions.

Video: https://youtu.be/5vd84SkQ8UU

Monday also marked the first attendance by bylaw officers. The senior officer approached organizers and quickly abandoned the procedures described earlier in the day to city counsellors in favour of an immediate ticket. While polite in front of media, this bylaw official was documented in several interactions acting in a manner described as “demeaning and aggressive” by LOPS volunteers. LOPS is currently in contact with the city about these actions and will release a video when cleared to do so.

Read stories about our fines here:
https://lethbridgeherald.com/news/lethbridge-news/2020/09/29/council-discusses-unsanctioned-overdose-prevention-site/
https://medicinehatnews.com/news/southern-alberta-news/2020/09/30/pop-up-ops-operators-fined-for-no-permit/

Audio and video of bylaw officer Dave Henley explaining he has the mandate to remove the tent despite no council resolution, and giving advice to protest leaders on avoiding fines:

Things continued according to this stalemate for the next several weeks, and hours of video footage exist to demonstrate the police’s continued inaction towards threats and harassment of both LOPS supporters and the people who use drugs downtown. LOPS came to learn that the average number of officers on shift in Lethbridge during the evening hours was 10, city-wide, meaning that at times up to 60% of the city’s working police force was assigned to blockading the tent and punishing LOPS for responding to the overdose crisis.

September 26, 2020

LOPS had their first evening of operation in Lethbridge’s downtown Galt Gardens on Friday, September 25. The evening was windy and chilly, but our volunteers and Moms Stop The Harm supporters endured the gusts and spent the evening introducing ourselves to the residents of Galt.

We estimate 30 people were in the park, and LOPS made contact with each to explain our goals and offered them snacks and water. Many were happy to see their old contacts from the supervised consumption site return, and many reunions took place as former employees had a chance to catch up with our old participants.

At approximately 9:30 we witnessed the first safe injection of the evening.

The evening proceeded quietly and organizers supervised a total of 5 visits over the next hour and a half. There were no overdoses.

We thank the many advocates and academics across Canada who have supported us this far. Your input and guidance assures that we continue to operate according to the best practices in responding to this syndemic.

In the coming weeks we will continue to advocate to Health Canada to recognize LOPS as a response to the urgent public health need in Lethbridge and exercise their power to grant an exemption.

We have been and continue to rely on donations and support from across Canada. In particular, we’d like to appeal for donations of face masks as they find these hard to access.

Although we expect there will be those that disagree with what we are doing we know that our community needs more services like this, not less.

For those who have already donated – we sincerely thank you. We would never have been able to do this without you.

Preventing overdose deaths, one injection at a time,
Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society

Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society bunny image