Loud warning bells can no longer be ignored in regard to the abuse of funds provided by provincial governments to drug consumption sites. These funds have been provided to care for vulnerable drug addicts, but are being used for the benefit of and support of lavish lifestyles for management, board and staff operating these sites.
These funds were squandered. They should have been used for treatment beds so that clients could at least have the chance to recover.
Instead, two consumption sites in particular – one in Vancouver and one in Lethbridge, Alberta – have already been audited, which disclosed that those individuals operating these sites use some of the funds to pay for parties, entertainment, gift cards and expensive holidays.
This raises concerns about the use of funds provided to the many other consumption sites established across Canada in recent years. Does the information disclosed by these two audits mirror what is occurring in other such sites across the country?
The drug site in Lethbridge is operated by a not-for-profit group called ARCHES, to which has been allotted $14.5 million a year in provincial funds between October 2017 and March 2020. The consumption site was opened in February 2018.
A recent audit disclosed:
- In 2017, the drug site executive received a salary of $96,744. In 2018, this was increased to $207,830 and was increased in 2019 to $342,943.
- $1.6 million was missing and could not be traced.
- Within three years, the Lethbridge operation grew from less than ten employees to 177, one being a relative of the management with no record of the employee’s qualifications. Others were hired with no interviews or resume.
- $13,000 of interest paid to ARCHES’s bank accounts was used to pay for parties, staff retreats, entertainment and gift cards in breach of the provincial grant agreement.
- $4301 was spent on European travel to attend a conference in Portugal with a stay at an expensive hotel. The reservation confirmation indicates that one of the rooms was reserved for two adults and two children while the other was for an ARCHES senior executive.
- The organization’s credit card was used to pay for a $2200 television that could not be located.
- A $2100 gift card for a Lethbridge oil change business was obtained. The owner of the oil change business was the spouse of a senior executive of ARCHES.
- $1129 was spent on gift cards for restaurants and beauty products, which were given as Christmas gifts to workers and board members.
Vancouver Drug Injection Site
The Vancouver Drug Injection Site was established in 2003 by the Portland Hotel Society (PHS). An audit was conducted in November 2013, which indicated that the government funding was used by management and directors, using the site’s credit card, for dining, wine, travelling, luxury hotels, flower arrangements, hair salons and limousines. For example:
- $15,749 was spent on a trip to Paris for the co-executive and his wife for undisclosed reasons.
- In November 2009, the co-executive and his wife took a trip to New York City to stay at a luxury hotel at a cost of $9266, paid on the site’s credit card. $250 was also charged to the credit card during this visit for salons.
- $69,000 over a period of three years averaging $1927 per month was spent on 764 restaurant meals.
- $5832 was spent on a Danube River cruise for a Portland Hotel Society (PHS) manager.
- Another PHS manager, his wife and two children took a vacation to Disneyland which cost $2700 in May, 2012.
- Trips by PHS to Vienna, Paris, Istanbul, Los Angeles, Banff and Ottawa at a cost of $69,000 over three years had no supporting documentation or financial oversight.
- In 2013, $8600 was spent on limousine rides.
- In 2013, a hotel stay in the U.K. by a director cost $900 a night with no supporting documentation.
Many more expenses were revealed by both these audits. The audits expose a troubling breach of trust of the taxpayer’s money. The degree of misappropriation, misspending public money, violation of contractual obligations and poor governance of the operations is intolerable.
Individuals who are given the responsibility for the care of poor and vulnerable drug addicts should not be permitted to exploit their position for their own personal benefit.
With what has been exposed by auditing two of the drug injection sites in Canada, it is imperative that a Canada-wide review or audit of other such sites be undertaken.