A Night of Compassion and the Call for Better Support Services in Thunder Bay

Deputy Grand Chief Amos Wesley also highlighted the need for healing services and support for service providers, emphasizing rehabilitation over incarceration.

The Encounter

THUNDER BAY – VIEWPOINT – Last night, I found myself spending an intense 90 minutes with a highly intoxicated Indigenous woman. She was lying on the sidewalk, apparently passed out from a fentanyl-based drug known locally as “Down.” This powerful substance has been linked to numerous overdoses and sudden deaths in our community. As I approached, two good Samaritan women had already called 911, and the woman, exposed and vulnerable, lay by a bus stop.

The Scene

A bus drove by without stopping, despite the driver’s clear view of the distressed woman. This incident underscores a deep-seated mistrust many Indigenous people in Thunder Bay have towards transit drivers.

Soon after, Superior EMS arrived, and although the woman began to regain some mobility and speech, she refused medical treatment.

The Legal Rights

According to Legalline.ca, in Ontario, a mentally competent adult has the right to refuse or consent to any health care treatment. This law, part of Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act, applies even if refusal may increase the seriousness of an illness or the possibility of death. Generally, a minor who is mentally competent and at least 16 years of age can also legally give consent for health care treatments.

The Response

While the paramedics acted professionally, the Thunder Bay Police were unable to respond due to a lack of available units. The woman’s right to refuse treatment meant she did not have to go to the hospital, leaving her to fend for herself once she regained some strength.

The Need for New Services

This incident highlights a crucial gap in our community’s support system. With June being National Indigenous People’s Month, it’s a poignant reminder of the need for a dedicated service for Indigenous individuals facing such crises.

One potential solution could be the establishment of a 711 line connecting to Indigenous Services, staffed by trained individuals from organizations like Grand Council Treaty #3, Matawa, and Nishnawbe Aski Nations.

Last night trying to get help for this young person led to answering machines and now, this afternoon over 18 hours later there has not been a single call back to any of the calls for help.

Such a service could provide immediate assistance and culturally sensitive support, offering a vital lifeline for those in need. Thunder Bay already operates the Care Bus in winter and had a similar more mobile vehicle a few years ago.

Expanding these services year-round, particularly with a focus on addiction treatment, could significantly benefit the community.

A Call to Action

Thunder Bay has the potential to become a leading center in Canada for addiction treatment, especially with the resources available at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). As the opioid crisis grows, with federal reports indicating 22 overdose deaths daily in Canada and 42,000 deaths since 2015, the urgency for action is clear.

Our city could take the lead on this critical crisis impacting individuals, and families across our city, region, and province. Becoming the “Mayo Clinic” for addiction treatment in Canada would probably save lives and money too.

How could it save money? Long run less cost for healthcare, less demand on frontline responders, and it would reduce the number of pointless cases before the courts.

Investing in comprehensive support services, including a 24/7 help unit, could not only save lives but also build trust within the Indigenous community. We must leverage our existing resources and push for government funding to address this critical issue. The time for Thunder Bay to step up as a model for addiction treatment and support is now.

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