Island Health is planning a new Wellness and Recovery Centre for 5878 York Rd. in North Cowichan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Island Health is planning a new Wellness and Recovery Centre for 5878 York Rd. in North Cowichan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

March Saturday in Duncan to protest Wellness Centre

Controversial site is close to 4 schools

Concerned parents will be marching from Cowichan Secondary School to Quamichan School this Saturday to protest the location of Island Health’s new Wellness and Recovery Centre on York Road.

Parents and other community members are worried about the placement of the centre, which will provide services, including overdose prevention, to people with substance-abuse and mental health issues. It will be situated right in the middle of four schools — Cowichan Secondary, Quamichan School, Alexander Elementary and Duncan Christian — and close to the Cowichan Community Centre, Cowichan Aquatic Centre and Cowichan Sportsplex.

The march is being organized by the citizens action group A Voice for Our Children, who believe that local leadership is “putting our kids safety last,” by placing the Wellness Centre in its proposed site.

“We as a group of parents in the community strongly feel that the kind of environment that comes with the safe injection site does not fit with the sites for every form of recreation and the four schools in the area,” said Florie Varga, one of the founders of A Voice for Our Children.

Varga noted that students are already exposed to inappropriate sexual behaviour and drug use while travelling between the schools and local businesses, which is often necessary because there are no cafeterias in the schools. The Wellness Centre, she said, will only draw more of that to the area.

“When Warmland House was put in, people throughout the community thought it was a bad idea, but no one said anything,” Varga said. “At least this time, we are saying we want to have a voice for our children. The province isn’t going to move four schools. We have to look at a different model.”

Exposure to some of the things students see near their schools can cause lasting damage, Varga said. Schools are supposed to be safe havens for children, and those safe havens are being compromised, she added.

“Kids are resilient, but at what point do they become desensitized,” she asked. “When they are desensitized, they lose their connection to people.

“When you’re in a hypersensitive state, that’s where PTSD comes from. That’s what we’re making our kids endure day in and day out.”

Varga and other members of A Voice for Our Children feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears.

“We live in this community, we support this community, we work in this community, and we don’t have a voice,” she said. “And our kids don’t have a voice.”

The march will take place on Saturday, Sept. 19, starting at Cowichan Secondary School at 10 a.m. A rally and speeches will take place upon arrival at Quamichan School. Masks and social distancing are mandatory.

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