City council has voted 36-3 in favour of establishing supervised injection sites at three Toronto health centres.

The supervised injection sites have been approved for the Queen West-Central Toronto Community Health Centre, the South Riverdale Community Health Centre and the Toronto Public Health facility located at 277 Victoria St.

All three centres have existing needle exchange programs.

“Injection drug use is already happening in these three communities,” Coun. Joe Mihevc told reporters following the vote. “It is happening in the laneways, it is happening in the parks, it is happening in the donut shops and restaurants. We are looking forward to helping the injection drug users but also helping those communities becoming safer places. That is precisely why we had the support of business associations in those areas as well as community organizations.”

Today’s debate came on the heels of an extensive public consultation process.

Consultations were held between March 22 and mid-May and included an online survey that was completed by 1,285 residents as well as several town hall style events in the affected neighbourhoods.

In a report that was presented to council on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeown pointed out that 84 to 96 per cent of respondents to the survey identified benefits associated with supervised injection sites (depending on the location) while only 14 per cent to 36 per cent identified concerns (depending on the location).

In order to address some of those concerns, McKeown’s report recommended setting up community advisory committees to identify and work to rectify ongoing concerns. The report also stressed the need to ensure there is “sufficient waiting space” inside the centres so staff can encourage users to remain on site after their injection.

The cost of setting up the sites is estimated at $100,000 to $150,000 per centre but proponents argue that by doing so the city can save lives.

In 2014, the most recent year in which statistics are available, a total of 258 people died as a result of a drug overdose in Toronto. That’s compared to 146 in 2004.

“People are dying in escalating numbers in our streets and these deaths are preventable, Coun. Joe Cressy told reporters on Thursday. “Every week in our city people are dying. This will help to save many of those lives.”

Now that council has voted in favour of the supervised injection sites, the city will have to apply for an exemption to the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA) in order to actually open the facilities.

Cressy said the hope is to have the necessary approvals in place to open the facilities sometime in 2016.

Currently, there are two supervised-injection sites operating in Vancouver but none elsewhere in Canada.