B.C. will invest in treatment and recovery spaces in Prince George 5 years after man’s death in ‘drunk tank’

The B.C. government has promised to fund a sobering centre in Prince George five years after a man died in a ‘drunk tank’ in police custody.

On Wednesday, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson announced the government will invest $132 million over the next three years on treatment and recovery services across the province, including a new sobering and assessment centre in the northern city.

The facility, a space for people to safely sober up, is being built in response to a recommendation made by a seven-person jury who mulled the case of Jamie Shanoss, who died in Prince George in November 2016 from acute alcohol poisoning aggravated by cocaine use.

Shanoss, 51, was intoxicated and sleeping on a sidewalk when a police officer arrested him and took him to a cell in which to sober up, also known as cell T-1 or a drunk tank.

Shanoss passed away less than two hours later.

Prince George RCMP Supt. Shaun Wright, who endorsed the sobering centre recommendation in his court testimony in September 2018, says the provincial commitment to build one is a “very pleasant surprise.”

“This is going to be very significant for this community,” Wright said to CBC News. “It’s, in my opinion, something long overdue that I think will really increase the quality of life for a lot of people who are really living on the periphery of society here.”

The province hasn’t specified a timeline for the facility’s opening. 

Prince George Supt. Shaun Wright says he endorses the jury’s recommendation to build a sobering centre for intoxicated people to safely sober up, instead of forcing them into a drunk tank like the one pictured here.(Robert Short)

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall says the province’s decision to fund a sobering centre is a result of his city council’s hard work.

“We’ve been working diligently as a city to work with [the] government — particularly B.C. Housing and our Northern Health Authority — around various health-care needs that we need, as the sobering centre was one of the key pieces of this,” Hall said.

As part of the $132 million initiative, the B.C. government has also committed to expand outpatient recovery treatment services and aftercare for adults living with addictions in the Northern Health region.

“It was really a complete package deal,” the mayor said.

According to the latest B.C. Coroners Service’s report, 27 people have died of illicit drug toxicity this year in Prince George as of July 31. 

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