Open Letter

inclusion & equityIt recently came to our attention that several local agencies who deliver social, health, housing and police services in our city, have signed onto an initiative named the Multi-Stakeholder Approach to Problem Addresses (MSAPA), an approach that rests on the sharing of sensitive information between agencies to respond to what the MSAPA signatories identify as problem addresses.

As grassroots organizations who work with poor people, sex workers, people of diverse abilities, drug consumers, racialized individuals, Indigenous folks and people who are trans and queer; as residents of the city of Ottawa, neighbours and community members, we have grave concern about this approach. Our organizations are deeply invested in community safety and health for all. Our lived experiences, work, and relationships inform our understanding of how to advocate for and build communities that are inclusive. Collectively, we work towards broadening understandings of health and safety to ensure that the safety of one doesn’t happen at the expense of the safety of another.

We do not believe the MSAPA will enhance our safety, or make a real, sustainable contribution towards building safer and healthier communities for all Ottawans. This approach does have the real potential of displacing community members and increasing the surveillance, criminalization and the marginalization of already vulnerable and over-policed segments of our communities. In the process of identifying problem homes, service organizations are encouraged to share sensitive information with other signatories, including the Ottawa police service, without a timely and visible recourse for those of us who may be socially profiled and/or whose homes are targeted. It is logical to assume that there will be an increase in the sharing of confidential information for the purposes of eviction when the vision of success for the MSAPA includes ‘eviction and laying criminal charges.’

The importance of housing as a long-term investment in more cohesive, safer and healthier communities is firmly established. With long wait lists for social housing and the severe shortage of affordable units, the potential for unilateral interventions from social service agencies, the threat of criminalization of people who live at profiled addresses, and the risk to what can be already precarious living arrangements, goes against all our safety. Moreover, MSAPA continues to invisibilize the context of both people’s lives and their homes, painting our neighbours as less deserving ‘others’.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (at Safety Beyond Police, 5/9/15) at Access Living
photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (at Safety Beyond Police, 5/9/15) at Access Living

We also fear that the troubling privacy limitations of this framework will create barriers to important health and social services. Indeed, the knowledge that stakeholders may share information without their clients’ consent poses a challenge to honest communication between people in need and service providers. We believe client confidentiality is essential to maintain honest communication and effective service delivery, particularly in health care settings.

The MSAPA also undermines pragmatic harm reduction strategies such as secondary distribution: In Ottawa and many other municipalities, formalized secondary distribution (peers providing equipment and information) out of residential units has been an innovative response to agency limitations (e.g. hours of operation). Ottawa Public Health has recognized that access to harm reduction equipment remains a challenge for people who use drugs in Ottawa, and has suggested formalizing secondary equipment distribution by people who use drugs here. Such secondary services provided in Ottawa could be negatively characterized by this framework as a “Problem Address” despite functioning as a community health service that serve greater public health and safety goals.

We understand and share the desire to work together towards building relationships in our neighborhoods and addressing the concerns of community members. That said, these concerns also include the fear of social profiling, increased surveillance, eviction, criminalization, displacement, and facing barriers when needing to access social and health services. Considered wholly, we believe the MSAPA is short sighted and part of a larger system of punishment, tough on crime agendas and increased surveillance.

In light of these serious concerns, we urge the current signatories to resign from the MSAPA and commit to interventions that incorporate the principles of harm reduction, social determinants of health, and equity and inclusion.  Finally, we invite all signatories to join us in advocating for evidenced-based strategies that lead to healthier and safer communities for all.

Signatories/Core Endorsers:

DUAL (Drug User Advocacy League)
POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate Resist)
FSIS (Families of Sisters In Spirit)
CSCS (Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa) (read their support letter here)
CPEP (Criminalization & Punishment Education Project)
Poverty Makes us Sick
Punch Up! Collective


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