Leslieville residents share concerns over criminal activity near supervised consumption site

Residents in Leslieville say they’ve been concerned about increased violence and drug use for months now, but their calls for action have gone ignored. Faiza Amin reports on the warnings residents gave days ahead of a tragedy.

By Faiza Amin and Meredith Bond

Leslieville residents are sharing growing concerns over what they say is an uptick in criminal activity near a supervised consumption site near Queen Street East and Carlaw Avenue.

“We walk our kids to school on paths in that area. There’s always a large group in there. Our kids have all seen people doing drugs. We’ve seen drug deals happen,” said Ashley Kea, a nearby resident.

She said recently that she was walking with her kids through the path and they found a bag with a pink rock inside of it.

“Later on, we found out it was pink fentanyl.”

Pink fentanyl found by a Leslieville resident near Queen St. and Carlaw Ave.

Pink fentanyl found by a Leslieville resident near Queen St. and Carlaw Ave. Photo credit: Ashley Kea

“It was pretty. Any child would have found it really fascinating. I mean, I don’t really know a child that doesn’t collect rocks and things like that. They could have grabbed it, touched it. They could open the bag … thinking it was something harmless,” explained Kea.

The safe consumption site was first opened in the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in 2017, but she said it’s only been in the last six months that things have gotten bad.

“I feel like we’ve all coexisted with the centre quite well. It’s definitely been the last year two years that is slowly starting to come up. But I’d say in the last six months to a year, it’s really substantially gotten worse around the center.”

Residents say its proximity to an elementary school, Morse Street Public School, which is just around the corner, is putting the students in danger.

At an emergency public meeting on July 4 about the increased criminal activity, community members shared fears that one of their children could end up dead. Just three days later, 44-year-old Karolina Huebner-Makurat was killed while walking in the area just after 12 p.m.

She was hit by a stray bullet after a group of three men were in an altercation nearby, and two of them fired guns at each other, police said.

Toronto police have not connected the shooting to the concerns held by nearby residents.

Another public meeting was held Wednesday night and attended by five community representatives, police representatives and staff from the Community Health Centre.

Derek Finkle, one of the residents who attended the meeting, said it was the first time the police have been present.

“That murder, that was totally preventable. But the fact is that the police can’t police that area properly. We need full blown policing; we don’t need self-restricted policing or hands-off policing.”

The site does have a security team, but residents say they don’t seem to be equipped to handle the activity.

“It’s a joke … the people that I’ve seen have been scared to enter that green space themselves. I mean, they’re not equipped to handle the drug dealers,” said Kea. “It would be nice to see as long as it’s someone that can actually engage in helping so I don’t know if there’s any private security company that would be interested in doing that.”

Kea said since Huebner-Makurat’s death things seem to be changing and more people seem to be interested in listening. “I still don’t find them offering solutions. They seem to really be waiting for the community to come up with the solutions which is still very disheartening,” said Kea.

However, area councillor Paula Fletcher said she has heard the complaints from residents and directed them to talk to the centre.

The supervised consumption site is funded and operates under the province, not Toronto Public Health, so Fletcher said she is not able to intervene as she normally would if it was city-run.

“The community needs to feel heard. They have not felt heard, and it is up to the health centre and the board to make sure they’re heard and for the police to assist in any way they can, and I know they are willing to do that.

CityNews reached out to the Ministry of Health for comment on the site but did not receive a response.

Kea has offered up some solutions for what she’d like to see.

“I think that me personally I would like to see that park be reclaimed for the community, something needs to be done to stop the loitering. I think that there needs to be more engagement of the police within the neighborhood patrolling the laneways,” explained Kea. “And just taking away the safeness people feel of using drugs in the laneway they can’t feel like they’re safe to use drugs wherever they want.”

Finkle agrees.

“I think the management of the health centre needs to be examined. I think the way it’s being policed needs to be examined, and I think that the safe injection site needs to temporarily shut down or relocate to another area that’s not 600 metres from schools, daycares.”

He adds it appears that administrators of the supervised consumption site are starting to speak with Toronto police.

“I think that the centre is starting to engage with the Toronto Police Service in a way that they haven’t been before and we’re hoping something can facilitate from that.”

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