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B.C. MLAs push for Indigenous-led detox centre in Terrace

Province urged to back Northern First Nations Alliance (NFNA) proposal amid drug crises
B.C. United Skeena MLA Ellis Ross stands at the corner of Greig Ave. and Clinton St. in Terrace on Sept. 8. Ross is advocating for a culturally-focused detox centre near the city, emphasizing the urgency in addressing the region’s increasing substance abuse issues. (Viktor Elias/Terrace Standard)

A joint call has been made by B.C. United Skeena MLA Ellis Ross and Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee to the provincial government, urging them to fund a proposal by the Northern First Nations Alliance (NFNA). The proposal seeks to establish a holistic health, wellness and detox centre near Terrace.

The call for action has grown louder after a letter sent to B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside in late May remained unanswered. The letter outlined the urgent need for the centre in light of the rising illicit drug toxicity deaths in northwest B.C.

Lee, who serves as the Official Opposition’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Shadow Minister, expressed his deep concern over the “critical shortage of treatment facilities in northwest British Columbia.” He emphasized the significance of the proposed facility, noting it would “play a pivotal role in meeting the serious and growing need for easily accessible wraparound mental health services in the northwest.”

Lee labelled the government’s silence on the matter as “disheartening.” He brought attention to the ignored feasibility study and the pressing nature of the project, adding that the proposal provides immediate solutions.

Highlighting the unique approach of NFNA in meeting the needs for a culturally safe, holistic, and individualized continuum of care, Lee remarked, “It is time for your government to recognize the importance of this project and collaborate with the NFNA.”

READ MORE: Northwest B.C. First Nations seek to set up full service detox centre in Terrace

In an extensive interview with The Terrace Standard, Ross revealed that the proposal was crafted by regional First Nations leaders. “For five or six years now, the provincial government has been talking about cooperating with First Nations and helping them deal with the substance abuse issue,” Ross said.

Ross criticized the B.C. government for twice rejecting the proposal. He pointed out that the facility was intended to be located remotely outside of Terrace, close to the Skeena River. The choice of location was strategic, aiming to remove patients from environments conducive to drug abuse. Ross praised the proposal, stating that it addressed pertinent issues like addictions, reconciliation, and the drug crisis.

Discussing the Portuguese model of decriminalizing drugs, Ross applauded the move but expressed concerns about B.C.’s approach, which, in his view, lacked the comprehensive wrap-around services offered by Portugal.

Ross praised Alberta’s approach to treating addictions independently from the healthcare system. “Alberta… has figured out that we need specific services designed for addictions,” he stated.

Highlighting the support from various quarters, including Terrace Mayor Sean Bujtas, Ross expressed his hope for the government to take the proposal seriously in the upcoming 2024 budget discussions.

Ross concluded by noting the provincial government’s significant budget surplus in the past year. “When you think about the billion-dollar surpluses that they’ve had over the past year, the $20 million investment needed for the project is a drop in the bucket.”

Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.

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