The Yukon Party won’t build a downtown sobering centre, Premier Darrell Pasloski has confirmed.
Instead, the governing party will snub the advice of medical professionals and send extremely intoxicated residents to the new drunk tank, attached to the jail.
That’s often the wrong approach, said Dr. Bruce Beaton. He, along with Champagne and Ashihik Chief James Allen, were asked by the government to draw up plans to help Yukon’s hardcore alcoholics.
They did. And the centrepiece of their plans was a sobering centre where alcoholics could dry out under medical supervision. It would be located downtown, attached to a new detoxification centre and homeless shelter.
The Yukon Party has committed to bits and pieces of this plan. It will build a new detox and offer more support to residents who have completed a 28-day program.
It would build a new homeless shelter of some sort, possibly attached to the existing Salvation Army building.
And it would provide a community clinic, open several days a week, that would focus on helping homeless Yukoners struggling with addictions.
That, along with the new, medically supervised drunk tank, is all “a good first step,” said Beaton.
“But it’s only the first step. And I’m not sure how they’re going to make all the rest of the steps, as long as it’s in jail.”
Many hardcore alcoholics never learn to kick the bottle. But those who do need a supportive environment, said Beaton. Jail’s rarely such a place.
In Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa, officials concluded that “most the people – 85 per cent, roughly – don’t need to be in jail,” said Beaton. So they built facilities like the one Beaton’s proposed.
“Why not put them in some place where you could maybe begin some interventions? You could have a more therapeutic, more accepting, less repressive place,” said Beaton.
A downtown sobering centre is also the top demand of Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the Yukon Medical Association.
He’s called on Yukon’s political leaders to “rise above politics” and build the facility, so that Whitehorse General Hospital’s emergency room doesn’t continue to be overwhelmed by a small number of alcoholics.
No such luck. Pasloski insists his party’s approach is “very progressive” and acts on plenty of Beaton’s recommendations.
He asserts that implementing the Beaton-Allen plan may cost too much.
“The government doesn’t have an unlimited supply of money,” said Pasloski. “Are you going to raise taxes? We need money for education, roads and health care. You do what you can.
“If you start raising taxes, businesses have less money to invest, people have less money to spend, you slow the economy.”
Pasloski does, however, think the territory should invest in creating a new university. He wouldn’t elaborate on why that’s a bigger priority than helping the territory’s homeless, hardcore alcoholics.
But Beaton reckons that, if anything, his plan would of cost less than the Yukon Party plan, because it would have pooled medical staff under one roof.
Beaton’s report was largely spurred by the death of Raymond Silverfox, who slowly succumbed to pneumonia and blood poisoning in December of 2008 as guards mocked him at the RCMP lock-up.
Public outrage over Silverfox’s death prompted politicians of all stripes to swear they’d work to improve the lives of homeless, hardcore alcoholics. That push resulted in Beaton and Allen’s report.
Both the Liberals and the NDP have promised to build a downtown sobering centre. And, contrary to Pasloski’s assertion, they don’t intend to raise taxes (other than an NDP plan to hike mining royalties).
Beaton and Pasloski are golfing buddies. But Pasloski hasn’t taken up Beaton’s offer to meet and discuss the report.
“I had a busy summer. I was in all the departments; I was in all the communities,” said Pasloski.
“We tried to touch base a couple times and it didn’t work.”
Beaton doesn’t remember any calls from Pasloski to hook up. But he takes his word on it.
“It could of been he tried and I wasn’t home,” said Beaton. “I’ve been out of town significantly.
“If he says he tried, I believe him. I’ve never known him to misrepresent the truth.”
Contact John Thompson at