Campbell River bylaw banning consumption of illicit drugs repealed

Campbell River bylaw banning consumption of illicit drugs repealed
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Bylaw amendments in Campbell River prohibiting the consumption of illicit drugs have been repealed after they received pushback.

In a Feb. 23 council meeting, the previously passed bylaw amendments came back for reconsideration, where they were defeated.

Coun. Susan Sinnott put the motion forward, and also moved to ask staff to report back to “find other options to address the consumption of controlled substances in our public spaces.”

The reconsideration of the bylaw amendments came after council received a letter from Dr. Charmaine Enns, a medical health officer from Island Health, where she noted the initial amendments were passed without council receiving a letter she had sent regarding the amendments.

“The Bylaw Amendments have direct and deleterious public health impacts. I attempted to provide advice to Council by way of the January 25, 2023 Public Health Letter attached. This letter outlines a number of my concerns regarding the Bylaw Amendments,” the letter from Enns says.

“However, I am aware of Council’s concerning decision to not receive my letter, which is contrary to the obligations under the Public Health Act.”

In the letter sent Jan. 25, Enns notes there are several factual errors in the staff report that led to the amendments.

“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,” the Jan. 25 letter from Enns says.

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

Enns says the risk of second-hand smoke in indoor areas or near buffer zones like doorways and air intakes means it would be reasonable to consider bylaws to restrict smoking in these areas, but anywhere else the risk is low.

“The risk associated with second-hand smoke exposure in outdoor public spaces (other than buffer zones) is low, and outweighed by the risk of driving people to use drugs alone, resulting in high risk of drug toxicity deaths,” the Jan. 25 letter says. “For this same reason, restricting non-smoking forms of consumption, such as injecting, are not recommended.”

At the Jan. 26 meeting where the amendments were passed, Coun. Tanille Johnston, the lone voter in opposition, said council was making a decision without adequate information or input from health officials.

“We haven’t consulted our chief medical officer, we haven’t consulted Island Health on how to do this,” said Johnston on Jan. 26. “There is information coming from the CDC, it’s just not ready yet, that’s going to guide how municipal governments can make these decisions and put things in place that are actually going to help our community.”

READ MORE: Campbell River bylaw sets $200 fine for drug use on public property as decriminalization kicks in

The amendments were put in place shortly before B.C. decriminalized possession up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs for a three year trial.

CHEK News spoke with Kermit Dahl, Campbell River’s mayor, on Feb. 1 who said the bylaw was intended to help address concerns of businesses as the result of decriminalization.

“We have heard a lot from the businesses that they don’t feel supported. That they feel abandoned by the city that they are paying taxes to. But at the same time, the province we didn’t feel as a council had fulfilled their requirements socially,” said Dahl on Feb. 1.

The Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver launched a legal challenge of the bylaw.

“Municipalities and local governments that pass bylaws impacting provincial health must get approval from government and that is because public health is a matter of provincial interest and it’s my understanding they haven’t done that,” said Caitlin Shane, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society on Feb. 1.

READ MORE FROM FEB. 1: People battling addiction say new Campbell River bylaw targeting drug use won’t help deadly crisis

-With files from CHEK’s Ethan Morneau and Skye Ryan

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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