Mayoral candidate Anthony Furey lashes out over ‘taxpayer-funded crack pipes’
Mayoral candidate Anthony Furey makes an announcement Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Published Tuesday, May 30, 2023 4:48PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 30, 2023 4:59PM EDT
Toronto mayoral candidate Anthony Furey lashed out at the city Tuesday over its distribution of safe drug consumption kits, alleging that “taxpayer-funded crack pipes” are being distributed at shelters.
“I think most residents and taxpayers would be alarmed to hear just what's really going on, with the drug culture being pushed by city hall,” Furey told reporters at a morning news conference.
He said a whistleblower told him that kits for smoking meth and crack are now being distributed at shelters across the city.
“This is not going to continue under my watch,” Furey said. “This is ridiculous.”
He acknowledged that it is not new for the city to distribute safe materials for drug consumption, but said the kits at shelters are new.
While the city did not specifically respond to Furey’s claim about shelters, Toronto Public Health (TPH) did tell CP24.com in a statement that the kits are distributed “thoughtfully” in a way that aims to mitigate the spread of disease and other harms associated with consuming drugs with unsafe equipment.
“Research evidence indicates that the use of sterile syringes and pipes significantly reduces the spread of communicable diseases, such as Hepatitis C and HIV; and therefore, providing sterile equipment is a core component of harm reduction services,” TPH said.
Furey made his announcement near “The Works,” a city-run harm-reduction site near Yonge-Dundas Square that offers a “comprehensive program” of services, including referrals to counselling, to “mitigate drug-related harm,” according to the city.
“The equipment, including glass pipes, are thoughtfully distributed to individuals who use drugs, serving as a means to establish connections with essential health and social services,” TPH said in its statement. “By adopting this approach, we strive to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases, minimize the risk of burns and cuts, and foster a safe environment for all.”
The agency clarified that while the kits have a city logo on the sticker on the outside, the pipes themselves are not branded in any way. TPH also said that funding for the sterile pipes comes from the provincial government through a partnership with the city.
“Toronto Public Health remains steadfast in its commitment to reducing harm, preventing the spread of communicable diseases, and providing a lifeline to those in need,” the agency said. “Through a combination of innovative programs and collaborative partnerships, we are working towards a healthier and more inclusive Toronto.”
Furey said that while Toronto should be a compassionate city, the emphasis should be on treatment rather than facilitating safe use.
The opioid crisis has come up in the election campaign before.
Former police chief Mark Saunders has taken aim at safe injection sites, saying they save lives, but leave needles in neighbourhoods and don’t account for the impact on local residents. He has also criticized efforts at legalization and the distribution of naloxone kits, which can be used to help reverse drug overdoses.
Other candidates in the mayoral race have taken a different line toward the opioid crisis.
Front-runner Olivia Chow has dismissed some of the criticism of harm-reduction strategies, calling on people in a Tweet to “reject the fear he wants us to feel” in response to a tweet from Saunders criticizing the distribution of Naloxone kits. Brad Bradford has also said that naloxone kits save lives.
The city has been moving towards an approach to drug use which aims to treat it as a health condition, rather than as criminal behavior. Earlier this year TPH applied for an exemption to decriminalize drugs for personal use in Toronto as part of an “evidence-based public health approach to drug use.”
Elsewhere on the campaign trail Tuesday, Mitzie Hunter promised to make sure that subways open at 5:30 a.m. Monday to Saturday to make it easier for those working early shifts to get to work.
Brad Bradford, meanwhile, vowed to install 200 new speed cameras to improve neighborhood safety for pedestrians, with the revenue going toward road repairs.