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Victoria delays vote on expanding B.C.’s public drug use bans

Councillor pushing more restrictive policies than what province announced
A Victoria councillor wants restrictions on where people can use drugs to go further than what B.C. is proposing. This file photo shows pictures of loved ones, who died from toxic drugs, outside the Ministry of Health office during an International Overdose Awareness day event in Victoria. (Jake Romphf/ News Staff)

Victoria will not consider going over and above provincial rules around public drug use until B.C. enacts its own updated restrictions.

The province last month announced amendments to its three-year decriminalization pilot amid frustrations from municipalities.

The updates would bar a person from consuming an illegal substance within 15 metres of any play structure, spray or wading pool or skate park, and add a six-metre ban around the entrances of workplaces, residences and bus stops. The changes will also ban illegal substance use at parks, sports fields and beaches.

Victoria Coun. Stephen Hammond on Thursday (Oct. 12) proposed expanding those restrictions to 30 metres from the various sites within the capital city, while also adding “public facilities such as libraries and community centres” to the list of prohibitions.

Hammond proposed those actions would only go to vote after the city consulted with its medical health officer. That alluded to a clause in Bill 34, the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act.

Bill 34 requires a local government to consult with its regional health board and the medical health officer before considering bylaws regarding the public use of illegal substances.

Council went into a closed session to receive legal advice on Hammond’s proposal. Immediately upon returning to its public meeting, council voted to postpone considering the proposal until Bill 34 is enacted.

The motion Hammond put forth claimed drug use and possession were already banned in parks within eight metres of where children congregate. When Black Press Media asked the city when that policy came into force, Hammond responded over email saying the policy actually relates to sheltering.

“If I mistakenly gave any indication that the eight metres was related to drugs, then that’s my unintentional fault,” he said.

As someone involved with libraries and community centres, Coun. Susan Kim said barring use around those sites fundamentally goes against what those facilities are all about.

“Folks who might be dealing with addictions and might need to medicate, what if they need to medicate as soon as they’re done using a public computer at the library, applying for a job,” Kim said. “This just creates barriers to the people we’re trying to serve.”

The province’s new rules would allow police officers to direct a person to stop using an illegal substance in the places specified in Bill 34, or ask them to leave the area. The city can’t change provincial direction on the use of police, so Coun. Matt Dell said the proposal would expand prohibitions to 30 metres with no enforcement beyond 15 metres.

Greater Victoria is among the three communities experiencing the highest number of unregulated drug deaths in 2023, according to BC Coroners Service. Only Vancouver and Surrey have seen more drug deaths in each of the last ten years.

The province said possession of substances subject to the pilot will still be allowed in certain areas to reduce the stigma and isolation that prevents people from reaching out for help and leads to people using alone. B.C. said an aim of Bill 34 will be to have users consume drugs in areas like overdose prevention or supervised consumption sites.

Our Place Society communications director Grant McKenzie echoed how that should be the goal as he said “open drug use, especially where children can see it, isn’t a healthy thing for anyone.”

“Before supervised consumption sites came out there was a real call for people to come out of the shadows because they were dying in stairwells and doorways (while) using alone,” McKenzie said in an interview. “There are lots of places for people to use drugs where their lives could be saved if they overdosed because you’ve got staff there.”

Vancouver drug users held a gathering last week where they said the new restrictions are stigmatizing and would endanger their lives. They decried how the new moves came without any consultation with people who use drugs or, apparently, any evidence. In July, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said they had seen nothing to suggest decriminalization has led to an increase in the consumption of illicit drugs in public spaces.

The province was still crafting a response by publication time Thursday after being asked if it had any evidence showing there was an increase in public drug use since decriminalization.

With files from Jane Skrypnek

READ: B.C. drug users group says new consumption rules stigmatizing them further

READ: No evidence decriminalization has led to increase in public drug use: B.C. addictions minister

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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