LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Police in southern Alberta are investigating after they say someone drove past a supervised drug consumption facility and fired paintballs at staff and clients.
Investigators have released surveillance video of a white pickup truck that was recorded shortly after midnight on Saturday morning outside the site in Lethbridge.
Jill Manning, the director of operations with the group that runs the site, says a staff member was hit multiple times in the throat, chest, torso and leg, causing bruising and cuts.
Two clients were also hit, although Manning says no one was seriously injured.
On Monday, there were protest rallies outside a Lethbridge city council meeting where councillors voted down a motion calling for the Alberta government to pull its funding for the consumption site.
Manning says there have been several incidents since the meeting where the facility’s staff have been threatened, both in person and online.
“This is the first physical assault, but certainly we’ve had verbal assaults. We’ve had staff filmed and provoked in arguments and then posted in social media. So we certainly have had growing concerns throughout the week,” Manning said.
“Right now I’m a little shook.”
Const. Ryan Darroch confirmed there were several victims of the paintball attack, although he couldn’t say for sure if the drug consumption site was the target.
Darroch said the truck drove around the facility and wasn’t going fast. He said whoever fired the paintballs appeared to be shooting randomly at people.
“There were several people we could tell from the video camera that had been struck, and several others that ducked behind cars and hid as the shots rang past them,” Darroch said.
“It looked like the majority of the shots that were fired had missed.”
Police say the suspect vehicle is white, newer model Dodge quad cab with a hard-top box cover, black rims and a “RAM” emblem across the back tailgate.
They say they were unable to get a licence plate number.
The site in Lethbridge has been open for about a year-and-a-half.
People who crammed the council chamber’s public gallery for Monday’s meeting were scanned for weapons on their way in after the city manager said there were threats on social media.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen, who brought forward the motion calling for the province to defund the facility, claimed there was drug use and drug dealing outside the site, saying he was opposed to enabling addicts to consume illegal drugs.
Hyggen also claimed he’s heard users at the site get goodie bags and chocolates.
Mayor Chris Spearman challenged Hyggen, saying his accusations couldn’t be backed up with fact, and the motion was defeated 6-3.
The meeting came the same day the province’s United Conservative government announced a panel to examine the social and economic effects of safe consumption sites for drug users.
Manning said the Lethbridge facility will likely beef up security. She said she believes it’s just a fringe group that’s responsible for the threats, and stressed they’re not representative of most people in the community, including those who oppose supervised drug consumption services.
“I don’t know that people understand that what they may feel are benign comments on social media, that it helps whip up the fervour that is occurring in our community right now,” Manning said.
“I would just really ask that people in Lethbridge be conscious of how they’re contributing to public discussions around this because things are escalating and we fear that things will get worse.”
—By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
The Canadian Press