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A conversation, ignored

Important ideas for the territory's acutely intoxicated persons have fallen off the radar, says Whitehorse MLA Liz Hanson. "When I read the report the first time I thought, 'Oh, this is a very different report,' and it really does need to have a broader discussion."

Important ideas for the territory’s acutely intoxicated persons have fallen off the radar, says Whitehorse MLA Liz Hanson.

“When I read the report the first time I thought, ‘Oh, this is a very different report,’ and it really does need to have a broader discussion,” said the leader of the territory’s New Democratic Party. “I was disappointed to see that it really didn’t get the full opportunity for citizens to hear what they were thinking and why they think it’s so important to take a different approach.”

The 12 recommendations forwarded by Dr. Bruce Beaton and Chief James Allen on “acutely intoxicated persons at risk” include new facilities combining a shelter, sobering centre and detox. They propose new legislation that recognizes noncriminal detention, want the hospital’s emergency room renovated and, above all, they recommend social agencies be properly trained to “assure all acutely intoxicated persons at risk receive treatment with compassion, respect and dignity.”

But the suggestions have been sideswiped by the government’s plans for a secure assessment centre at the Whitehorse correctional facility, said Hanson.

“That’s one model, but it’s certainly not the one that was recommended by Dr. Beaton and Chief Allen,” said Hanson. “It’s important to understand why they proposed something different in the report. And the ‘why’ is because they looked at best practices elsewhere, they actually talked to people who have experience in doing this.”

The 30-page report was also hurt because it was released in January, the same time the RCMP review’s findings were announced, she said.

After multiple failed attempts to bring this discussion to the legislative assembly, the New Democrats are now taking matters into their own hands.

On Wednesday, they will hold a public forum with Beaton, Allen and other representatives from affected groups. That forum will include Whitehorse, RCMP, Kwanlin Dun and Ta’an Kwach’an First Nations and many social groups, like the Salvation Army and Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, already working with this small group of troubled people.

“The idea was to make sure that people who have different perspectives were invited to the meeting,” said Hanson, who will be moderating the forum as the Whitehorse-centre MLA. “My job is to try to make sure that as many different points of view and voices are heard on the issue so that we’ve at least got one record of a public conversation on this.”

This issue stretches outside of Whitehorse, but many recommendations are centralized to the capital, said Hanson.

As well, proposed facilities, legislation and training won’t completely solve the complex problems these people face, which often includes severe mental problems and histories of abuse. But it gets the ball rolling, she said.

“When you take it away from just taking somebody off the street and putting them away, and look at that whole person - which is what they’re really saying - then it fundamentally comes down to issues of housing and appropriate emergency shelter,” said Hanson. “All the issues that the government has avoided addressing over the last number of years.

“Government is going to have to deal with this issue. And this is a real positive opportunity to hear from two guys who’ve got a really strong commitment to working with the most vulnerable people in our community.

“What they’re proposing is an effective community-based response that makes more sense in a lot of ways and has the potential to be cost-effective.

“It’s not the answer to it all, but we haven’t had the conversation, so let’s have it.”

The forum starts at 7 p.m. at 302 Strickland Street on Wednesday, May 25. All are invited.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn