By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ontario’s Ministry of Health has launched a review of safe injection sites across the province after an innocent bystander was killed outside the South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) last month.
On July 7, 44-year-old mother of two Karolina Huebner-Makurat was hit by a stray bullet while walking through the Leslieville neighbourhood as three men – across the street from SRCHC – got into a physical altercation near the intersection of Queen Street East and Carlaw Avenue which turned deadly.
The incident has sparked community outrage as residents in the surrounding area had long complained of increased criminal activity in front of the community centre which houses a safe injection site.
Although the safe injection site has been active since 2017, reports of an increase in crime only began in recent months.
So far, there have been three arrests made in connection with Huebner-Makurat’s death.
On July 13, police said Damian Hudson, 32, of Toronto, had been arrested and charged with second degree murder.
On Aug. 15, police said Ahmed Mustafa Ibrahim, 20, of Toronto, was arrested and charged with manslaughter, robbery, and failing to comply with probation. Also, Khalila Zara Mohammed, 23, of Pickering, was arrested and charged with accessory after the fact to an indictable offence and obstruction of justice.
Mohammed was an employee of SRCHC.
“We were distressed to learn that one of the individuals arrested and charged as an accessory after the fact and for obstruction of justice in relation to the July 7th shooting has been employed as a Community Health Worker at South Riverdale Community Health Centre since 2021 in Consumption and Treatment Services,” said a statement on the SRCHC website.
SRCHC said the employee was placed on leave “for unrelated concerns” on Aug. 9. SRHC said it had no more details about this individual’s alleged involvement, and assured the public of its cooperation with police.
“These allegations are deeply concerning to us and our community,” said the statement. “They are also devastating and disappointing to the many SRCHC staff who work professionally and compassionately every day to deliver a range of essential health and wellbeing services to patients and clients in the area.”
A few days before the shooting, community members had raised concerns at an emergency meeting. They complained of public drug consumption, frequent drug deals, and increased acts of violence in the area.
Beach Metro Community News asked SRCHC for information on the increase in criminal activity outside the facility but received no comment.
Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher, who serves the Leslieville area, said that although SRCHC’s work aims to help addicts, there has been a missing component to their operation “since day one.”
“The safe injection sites are meant to save lives and keep people who are taking drugs safe,” said Fletcher. “But it can’t be unsafe for the people living in the nearby community.”
She said that although the focus has been on keeping visitors inside the injection site safe, there needs to be a shift that also prioritizes the lives of residents outside the facility as well. This community neglect has been highlighted by local residents who point to the fact that an injection site was placed just around the corner from an elementary school (Morse Street Public School).
“It was all approved by the federal government and by the provincial government,” said Fletcher. “Everybody knew [the school] was there. But the focus has been on keeping the clients safe rather than ensuring the community is safe.”
Considering that SRCHC is a provincially funded and mandated health centre, City of Toronto councillors such Fletcher “have no authority” in the matter and are unable to do much apart from lobbying Ontario’s government to take the Ministry of Health’s “critical incident review” as seriously as possible.
“If this was a city site, I’d have much more capacity to give direction. But, I don’t,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher is urging the Province of Ontario to figure out how to provide safety for Leslieville residents by working with Toronto police, the health centre’s staff, as well as community members.
— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.