B.C. police chiefs say decriminalization has left them unable to respond to open drug use

B.C. police chiefs say decriminalization has left them unable to respond to open drug use

B.C.’s police chiefs say the province’s move to decriminalize small amounts of drugs has left them powerless to stop open drug use in public areas, like beaches and inside hospitals.

At a recent health committee in Ottawa, the RCMP and B.C. association of Chiefs of Police testified that unless the province can create new exemption areas away from decriminalization, then police can’t do anything if the public phones 911 due to drug use outside a business, home, transit shelter or beach.

“When that happens, if it’s not in a place that’s an exception to the exemption, there is nothing police can do,” said Fiona Wilson, president of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police. “It’s not a police matter in the absence of any other criminal behaviour.”

“So if you have somebody who is with their family at the beach, and there’s a person next to them smoking crack cocaine, it’s not a police matter, because a beach is not currently an exception to the exemption,” she said.

“These are all things that we raised prior to decriminalization taking effect, that we don’t feel were adequately addressed, however we strongly support the notion of not trying to arrest ourselves out of this crisis. That is not going to save lives.”

The B.C. government is trying to expand exemption rules in the province, though it’s facing a court challenge to do so.

READ MORE: B.C. government appealing court’s decision that blocks new law banning public drug use in some areas

Police chiefs are also saying they can’t do anything about open drug smoking in hospitals, which is a big recent controversy after nurses complained that they are getting sick from fentanyl smoke and other drug use in health facilities.

B.C. Premier David Eby reiterated Tuesday that it’s not allowed, but health staff still feel they’re on the hook to manage the issue, saying hospital security aren’t trained to do it, while police say they’re not able to do anything due to decriminalization.

Meanwhile, police chiefs are saying that 50 per cent of the hydromorphone they seize on the street is coming from B.C.’s safe supply program, which is supposed to be prescribed to help people fight addictions.

B.C.’s commanding officer of the RCMP cited drug busts in Campbell River and Prince George as signs that organized crime is trafficking safe supply.

Eby expressed concern about that number on Tuesday, as well as the comments made by police about decriminalization and public drug use.

“Simply because we understand it’s an illness and that’s why someone is using drugs in public, does not mean anything goes,” he said.

“So we’re trying to find that balance between the extremes of the criminal justice system and what people are seeing in some communities, which is unrestrained public drug use and making sure police have the tools to address that.”


Rob ShawRob Shaw

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