As part of Main Street Project’s withdrawal management services, Main Street Project is home to Canada’s only Protective Care facility.

The common terminology often used to describe Protective Care is drunk tank. Main Street Project views this term as stigmatizing, disrespectful and harmful and is asking everyone to stop using this term. We ask that you refer to the facility by its correct name: Protective Care.

What is Protective Care, exactly?

Established in 1988, and legislated by the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA), the Protective Care facility and the IPDA are the only of its kind in Canada.

Protective Care is a 20 unit facility that provides acute withdrawal management services for people whose primary substance of intoxication is alcohol. An individual staying in Protective Care would be intoxicated to the point that it is not safe for them to be where they are, either for themselves or other people. The individual would need some time to withdrawal in a safe and secure environment where they are assessed upon intake, assessed throughout their stay and assessed upon release, with the possibility of also being connected to other resources as required, such as a caseworker.

How does Protective Care work?

When there is a person who is out either on the street, or at a sporting event, a party, or even at home and they are so intoxicated that they are either a danger to themselves and/or other people, the police may be called. Police, Cadets or RCMP will attend to the call with the result of taking the person into custody and bringing them to Protective Care.

For health and safety reasons, the individual needs to be able to walk themselves into the facility and into the cell where they will spend the duration of their stay. If they cannot walk themselves in, it will be determined that Protective Care is not the safest space for them to be and they will be transferred to hospital for emergency services.

Once the individual is brought into Protective Care by the police, they will be asked a number of questions, including what they have taken in terms of drugs or alcohol. The individual will hand over their personal items which are safely stored for them until they are released.

The individual will be assessed by onsite paramedics who will clear them for their stay at Protective Care. Once they have been cleared, the police will escort them to their cell, which is essentially a small room, with a mat, a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of water. Once this transfer of care takes place, MSP assumes responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the individual while they are in the agency’s care.

Main Street Project staff conducts assessments on the individual every 15 minutes. These assessments are done to ensure the individual is breathing, is in the recovery position, and continues to be safe while in care. The individual is then kept in Protective Care until it is safe for them to be released. The average stay in Protective Care is about 5.5 hours, with the maximum stay being 24 hours.

What’s the problem with saying “drunk tank”?

From Main Street Project’s perspective, using terminology such as “drunk tank” is stigmatizing to people who may be living with an addiction and who may need the services that Protective Care offers.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association:

Addiction is a complex process where problematic patterns of substance use or behaviours can interfere with a person’s life. Addiction can be broadly defined as a condition that leads to a compulsive engagement with a stimuli, despite negative consequences.i This can lead to physical and/or psychological dependence. Addictions can be either substance related (such as the problematic use of alcohol or cocaine) or process-related, also known as behavioural addictions (such as gambling or internet addiction).ii Both can disrupt an individual’s ability to maintain a healthy life, but there are numerous support and treatment options available.

A simple way of understanding and describing addiction is to use the 4C’s approach:

  • Craving
  • Loss of control of amount or frequency of use
  • Compulsion to use
  • Continued substance use despite consequences

Referring to a person as a “drunk” or talking about human beings as “drunks” has immediate negative connotations to it. It is dehumanizing. If you view another person simply as a “drunk,” this implies that this person is not important, that they are throwaway members of our society and they don’t deserve to receive care for what is ultimately a health issue. 

Because Main Street Project views addiction as a health issue, deserving of the same attention and medical care as other health issues, the agency considers it to be urgent that stigmatizing language no longer be used when referring to Protective Care. Often, a stay in Protective Care is the first step in an individual’s recovery process.

It is important to note that typically in places other than Winnipeg, when someone is arrested for public intoxication, they are put into jail, the incident goes on their record and becomes a justice matter. This method of dealing with public intoxication ties up valuable resources in an already stretched justice system for something that is not a crime but rather a health issue. Winnipeg’s Protective Care facility sees over 11,000 intakes per year, so the number of individuals reached through Protective Care and the reduction in the strain on justice is significant.

Main Street Project is proud to be an agency that works through a harm reduction, healing-centered lens. It is the belief of the agency that the words used to name institutions are important in and for the recovery process. The name Protective Care more closely aligns with the vision and mission of the agency.

What are the benefits of having a Protective Care Facility?

  • Providing safety for intoxicated individuals (both physically and socially)
  • Reducing the strain on the justice system (if Protective Care didn’t exist these community members would be taken to remand)
  • Avoids criminal charges for community members
  • Focuses on the health aspects of intoxication in a judgement free environment
  • Provides resources to community members upon discharge
  • Connects community members with withdrawal management services if they are interested/ready
  • WFPS does rapid POC HIV testing on site and can immediately connect an individual to health resources in the case of a positive test

For more information on Protective Care, or any of Main Street Project’s programs and services, please feel free to contact us.

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