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B.C. government pauses bill that would allow hospitals to keep young people after drug overdoses

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy speaks during a news conference at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday December 1, 2017. A recent spike of overdose deaths in Vancouver is an important reminder there are two ongoing public health emergencies, the city says as the province grapples with the rollout of a safe supply of drugs for users. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck.
B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy speaks during a news conference at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday December 1, 2017. A recent spike of overdose deaths in Vancouver is an important reminder there are two ongoing public health emergencies, the city says as the province grapples with the rollout of a safe supply of drugs for users. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The B.C. government is pausing its bid to pass controversial legislation that give health officials the ability to keep youth in hospital as they recover from a drug overdose.

On Monday, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy told an unrelated news conference that the government is managing a number of bills this session and wasn’t able to get this one through. The current legislation session ends this week.

Read more: B.C. aims to allow young people to be kept in hospital after an overdose

“This is a challenging topic and this does give us a chance to pause,” Darcy said.

“We have engaged with many partners on the legislation, and we’ll take this time to talk to more people about the work that we were already thinking about doing with our partners on safeguards in regulation to protect young people’s rights.”

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But many groups have expressed concerns that the plan lacked proper consultation and could disproportionately impact Indigenous youth.

If passed, Bill 22 would allow hospital staff to admit patients who are under the age of 19 and who suffer from severe substance use for up to 48 hours of stabilization care after a life-threatening overdose. They would be able to hold someone for a maximum of seven days until their decision-making capacity returns.

Read more: Youth sentenced for selling MDMA that killed 13-year-old B.C. girl

Child and youth advocates have been pushing for such a bill, so that youth are better set up to recover in the community once released.

But the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and other Indigenous leaders called the timing of the legislation, when it was announced in late June, was “extremely troubling.”

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“Our families and communities require culturally-safe, wraparound services – not additional legal mechanisms to detain our youth and ignore our rights,” said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“We will not accept unilateral processes imposed by provincial government that places additional risks on our children’s lives, including increased fatalities and the further intrusion of child welfare agencies.”

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The BC Green Party, whom the NDP rely on to pass legislation, have raised concerns about the possible changes, while the BC Civil Liberties Association has said “involuntary interventions” should only be used as a last resort.

The province’s plan was based on a pilot project at B.C. Children’s Hospital, as well as the advice of pediatricians who specialize in treating young people struggling with severe problematic substance use.

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The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions also worked with the First Nations Health Council, First Nations Health Authority, Métis Nation BC, First Nations Health Directors Association and the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society on the policy work to develop the amendments.