Timmins protest group looks to snuff out opioid dealers, slow overdose deaths
TIMMINS -- A group protesting the distribution of opioids in Timmins is hoping to raise awareness and make an impact on the city's drug crisis.
Protesters gathered Sunday with signs and posters decrying the presence of purple heroin and fentanyl in the area — in what they've dubbed the "No More" movement.
"We're fed up, I can't have my friends keep dying," said Lou Lemieux, the group's organizer who goes by an alias to protect her identity. "I'm an addict myself. I've just been in recovery for nine months. These are my personal friends that are dying."
'It's got to come to an end'
The No More movement formed in late September, in response to group member Terry Bellemare's initial protesting near a suspected opioid dealer's residence.
For Bellemare, it started with a heartbreaking moment that he wants to keep anyone else from experiencing.
"I lost a very good friend, who I considered a little brother. I got sick of it," Bellemare said. "I wanted to make a stand to show the community that we can have a voice. All the fatalities that are happening [...] it's got to come to an end."
It's a sentiment his fellow protesters share, many with similar stories of friends or family affected by the opioid crisis.
Protesting while staying out of trouble
The Timmins Police Service's communications coordinator, Marc Depatie, said police are aware of the group and the activity they're protesting.
While the police service respects No More's right to protest, Depatie said it worries that how the group is going about it could put the protesters in danger.
"Their actions may cause a reaction with those who are actually involved in criminal activity," Depatie said. "We would much appreciate if those persons who become aware of that type of situation make us aware [...] but to take measures into your own hands is a dangerous activity and certainly not recommended."
Lemieux acknowledges that protesting in front of each suspected drug house isn't safe and that she's steering her group away from that, in favour of awareness-based protests in more neutral areas.
She said she would like to work with police, but at the same time, Lemieux feels police haven't been acting fast enough to stop the local opioid market before more deaths occur.
"I'm trying to save their lives," said Lemieux, "and if it takes a few of us to go around and walk around troubled neighbourhoods, we're at a point where we're going to have to do it because everybody's dying."
Working with police and the city
The Porcupine Health Unit has noted that the Cochrane District continues to see spikes in suspected overdoses and the presence of drugs laced with powerful substances like fentanyl and carfentanil. The health unit's general advice to prevent an overdose-related death has been to always have a naloxone kit on hand to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and to call 9-1-1 if one is happening.
When it comes to tackling the drug trade, however, Depatie said the community needs to leave that to the police.
"We are the subject matter experts in this regard and our drug enforcement officers know how to perform surveillance in a clandestine setting so that proper evidence can be collected to secure charges," Depatie said. "In order for a drug enterprise to be halted completely, a thorough investigation must take place and any evidence must be seized legally and appropriately."
But when the city can see several overdose deaths within days, Lemieux said the tedious nature of a police investigation can't solve the problem effectively.
'Do something, and fast'
The city is inviting Lemieux to a virtual meeting on Tuesday, which she said she will attend despite some trepidation over whether the meeting is being called in good faith or for political attention.
Ultimately, Lemieux said she wants to create a positive impact and hopes the group can expand from its current South Porcupine neighbourhood protests to the rest of the city and even beyond northern Ontario.
The point of the movement, Lemieux said, is not to take the matter into their own hands, but to call attention to the opioid crisis and put pressure on government and law enforcement to buckle down and stamp it out.
"We want someone to do something and do it fast," Lemieux said. "Everybody is sad, everybody is disgusted, no one wants it around. It's killing us."