Campbell River again looks to restrict public consumption of drugs

Campbell River again looks to restrict public consumption of drugs
City of Campbell River/Facebook

A bylaw will be coming back to Campbell River council on April 27 looking to restrict the consumption of drugs in public.

The motion says these changes are being brought forward following Health Canada granting an exception in B.C. to the personal possession of drugs.

“It is anticipated that the exemption will result in controlled substances being consumed in public spaces that are within the City’s jurisdiction, and that thus will negatively affect the use and enjoyment of such spaces by a significant part of the community,” the motion says.

Previously, the bylaw was worded in a way to address public health, which meant the city would have to consult Island Health and the health authority was opposed to the bylaw brought forward.

“Making a decision in haste without due consideration of the evidence, impacts, and other tools to address the issues of public substance use will not serve the community or its citizens well. It is important to recognize that enforcement activities can drive people to use drugs alone and can elevate risk of death,” Dr. Charmaine Enns, a medical health officer from Island Health said in a letter to Campbell River council on Jan. 25.

“The preference is to emphasize referral to health and social supports, including overdose prevention sites. ”

Mayor Kermit Dahl says the bylaw has now been reworded to not trigger the city’s requirement to consult Island Health.

“We changed the wording to make it more clear it was simply a nuisance bylaw, it has nothing to do with health care,” Dahl told CHEK News.

“Really, there is nothing related to health here. This has to do completely with, for me personally, I have a six-year-old granddaughter and I don’t think she should have to go to a local farmer’s market and watch someone potentially with a needle doing heroin sitting on a bench in our downtown. I think we should be protecting our kids from thinking in some way it is normal or acceptable.”

The Campbell River bylaw proposes prohibiting the consumption of drugs within 15 metres of a playground, sports field, tennis court, picnic shelter, water park, skate park or covered bus shelter. Additionally, it prohibits on the following “locations of importance to the City”:

  • City Hall
  • Community Centre
  • Sportsplex
  • Spirit Square
  • Centennial Building
  • Robert Ostler Park
  • Library
  • Tidemark Theatre
  • Centennial Swimming Pool
  • Museum
  • Maritime Heritage Centre
  • Discovery Fishing Pier

Kaitlyn Nohr, a registered social worker with Island Health, wrote two letters opposing the bylaw, saying the bylaw will be deeply harmful to community members.

Nohr says that there is no evidence to support Campbell River’s claim within the bylaw that the decriminalization of drugs will lead to increased public drug use.

“This reflection is painfully apparent that it comes from anticipate fear and lack of understanding/education around substance consumption,” the letter from Nohr says.

“Implementing punitive measures and municipal bylaws from a place of ideology and not from evidence or best-practices perpetuates unsafe situations and circumstance as well as further marginalizes and stigmatizes particular community members.”

She also notes that the decriminalization pilot is viewed as a critical step to fight the toxic drug crisis.

“If Campbell River were to move forward with the bylaw amendments and additions, we would be going directly against evidence-based and provincially supported (inclusive of endorsement from Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police) understandings of enforcement related to health and safety,” the letter says.

This motion will come to council just over one week since the B.C. Coroner announced almost 600 people have died of an overdose in the first three months of 2023.

“There should not be a dichotomy between access to life-saving safer supply and access to life-saving treatment options. Tens of thousands of British Columbians remain at risk of dying from toxic drugs and we continue to experience the tragedy of six people dying every single day, as we have for the past two years,” Lisa Lapointe, the chief coroner, said on April 18.

“This is also not a crisis confined to certain neighbourhoods or certain towns. All areas of our province are immensely affected by this crisis, and collaboration, innovation and the rejection of old stereotypes and failed solutions are necessary to prevent future deaths.”

In 2023, of the people who died of an overdose, 15.1 per cent were outside, with the remaining occurring inside buildings, including 47.1 per cent inside private residences.

It will also come before council two weeks after Kamloops introduced a motion to prohibit public consumption of drugs.

-With files from CHEK’s Rob Shaw

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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