Days before British Columbia launched a controversial three-year drug decriminalization pilot, the City of Campbell River took aim at those who use controlled substances on public property.
Last Thursday, Jan. 26, council members discussed and passed a new bylaw to fine people who use illicit drugs in public.
Less than a week later on Tuesday, B.C. became the first province in Canada to decriminalize drug possession for personal use.
“This bylaw is for the protection and enhancement of the well-being of the community by prohibiting the consumption of controlled substances at any City facility, highway, park or public place,” states a City of Campbell River document.
When enforced, those caught on public property consuming illegal drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, morphine, methamphetamine or ephedrine, all listed in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, will be fined $200.
The bylaw states:
- THAT Public Nuisance Amendment Bylaw No. 3884, 2023 (consumption of illegal drugs on public property) be adopted.
- THAT Ticketing for Bylaw Offences Amendment Bylaw No. 3885, 2023 (consumption of illegal drugs on public property) be adopted.
One councillor was opposed to the motion, while the remaining five, including Coun. Susan Sinnott, approved it citing public safety concerns.
“So at this point, I’m in favour of maintaining the status quo, which is to not have public consumption in the area that the city has some interest in, the parks and our facilities, particularly because a lot of these places are where children are frequent,” said Sinnott during the council meeting.
Coun. Tanille Johnston, the lone voter in opposition, said council was making a decision without adequate information or input from health officials.
“I’m against the motion,” said Johnston.
“We haven’t consulted our chief medical officer, we haven’t consulted Island Health on how to do this. 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.”
Island Health sent council a letter regarding the bylaw, however, it was received too late and didn’t make it onto Thursday’s agenda. Johnston still got the letter via email and found it provided “a pretty solid landscape for how our decision making should be guided in this area.”
She also pointed to the 2022 Vital Signs Report survey that found while just over 25 per cent of respondents said they felt unsafe downtown, a well-known problem area for the city, about 50 per cent answered they did, in fact, feel safe.
Vital Signs uses local knowledge to measure the vitality of a community and support action toward improving collective quality of life, according to a post on the Campbell River Community Foundation website.
“Over half of the city feels very safe downtown, the other quarter has no opinion either way. I think insinuating that the 25 per cent should drive all of our decision making is not a good place to pull decision making from,” added Johnston.
In the downtown core, safety and cleanliness concerns have also been raised, most recently by management at the RBC Bank on Shopper’s Row, who opted to close the on-site indoor ATM outside of business hours earlier this month.
“Clients have been escalating the safety issues of the branch for quite some time and we felt this step needed to be taken to protect our clients and employees,” Annette Sabourin, the bank’s regional vice president for Vancouver Island, told CHEK News.
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Coun. Doug Chapman, who was all for the new bylaw, mentioned past discussions with RCMP, who told council that the bylaw would not only be beneficial for them to help keep the peace but for the community as a whole.
“And I think we need to consider that as well,” said Chapman. “Speeding laws are there for the 10 per cent of the people who speed, so, unfortunately, we have to have these bylaws for the small group that (consumes) illegal drugs on public property, and this would give the RCMP the tools they need to help us with that.”
It’s not clear when the bylaw will be enforced.
It comes as the B.C. government’s three-year pilot program, which was approved by Health Canada, allows adults over the age of 18 to possess up to 2.5 grams of drugs, including heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, without fear of arrest or prosecution.
The policy shift aims to reduce drug-related deaths. The same day it went into effect, the BC Coroners Service released its periodic drug toxicity report, attributing 2,272 deaths to the ongoing crisis in 2022, the second-highest total in the province over a calendar year behind 2021. An average of six people died every day last year.