Advocates urge Halifax to build a 'sobering centre' instead of using drunk tanks
HALIFAX -- Could the jail-cell death of Corey Rogers have been prevented?
Advocates of "sobering centres" say it's possible, and it's a care model they say Halifax desperately needs.
In a presentation to the Board of Police Commissioners in Halifax, Harry Critchley spoke about what could have happened if Corey Rogers had been taken to a sobering centre, instead of a drunk tank.
"If we had one of these facilities in Halifax, Corey would likely be alive today," said Critchley, the chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society. "And, I believe the same goes for John Burke in 2013, the same goes for Peter LaFitte in 2016, the same goes for Victoria Paul in 2009 in Truro."
It's something that Rogers' mother, Jeannette, believes as well.
She has been a supporter of sobering centres since Corey died in police custody in 2016.
"I think if it had been someone from a sobering centre who had gone to pick him up as opposed to the police, the outcome would have been definitely different," Jeannette Rogers said.
A sobering centre allows people to sleep off the effects of alcohol or drugs, and lets them be monitored by health-care providers.
Research suggests it could reduce the number of emergency room visits and jail time and be an economical choice.
The idea is intriguing to Halifax Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn, who also sits on the board of police commissioners.
"That's certainly the most appealing part to this, seeing the successes that have been made in other jurisdictions," Blackburn said. "We're not here to reinvent the wheel, and if this is a problem that we have in Halifax, maybe we can look toward other places like Portland or Calgary that have done this and see what they've been able to accomplish with it."
Dr. Leah Genge of Mobile Outreach Street Health in Halifax worked at Alpha House -- a sobering centre in Calgary -- and says along with health benefits, it's the right thing to do.
"We talk a lot about the numbers and the cost savings and the outcomes and benefits, but this is an issue of human dignity and humanity," Genge said. "These are not moral failings, and we really must stop treating this as a criminal element or as a moral failing. I mean, people are unwell and our whole community does better when our whole community does better."
Blackburn would like to see further discussion on the board, and then potentially regional council, to see if a centre would be feasible in the HRM.
A spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Police said that although this idea is quite new for many agencies in the city, they would be very interested in hearing more about it, and discussing how it might work with police services.
They said that police would be interested in any harm reduction strategies brought to the table.