The City of Campbell River has passed a bylaw banning the use of drugs on public property.
Council approved the bylaw just days before B.C.’s three-year decriminalization trial came into effect.
The bylaw states that the purpose is for the “protection and enhancement” of the community’s wellbeing.
Anyone caught consuming a controlled substance in public places like parks or city property could face a $200 fine.
”I support this because it was asked of us by law enforcement,” council member Ben Lanyon said.
“I think if it turns out that evidence contradicts this, we can remove it. As it stands, this seems like the most prudent move to protect all of our community. Campbell River’s being used as a test subject for a new program and we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
British Columbia’s pilot project to decriminalize possession of small quantities of some drugs started a three-year experiment Tuesday, built on a three-year federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
That exemption will allow drug users to carry up to 2.5 grams of opioids like heroin or fentanyl, crack and powdered cocaine, or methamphetamines and MDMA. Under the program, police will not confiscate small quantities of drugs from people, and will instead hand out information on recovery options.
One councillor said she would have liked to see more consultation with those working on the front lines.
“We didn’t seek out consultation on this at all and we are in a health-care crisis,” said Tanille Johnston, a Campbell River councillor.
“This is a toxic drug supply crisis, so leaning solely on information provided by RCMP — although is valuable information absolutely, they’re our front-line service providers — is not good consultation when making this kind of decision.”
Island Health said in a statement that the City of Campbell River and the council did not inform its medical health officer (MHO) of the bylaw before it was considered, nor did they consult with the medical health officer.
“Island Health’s north island MHO sent emailed correspondence to mayor and council on Jan. 25, the day before the bylaw was voted on. At their Jan. 26 public meeting, mayor and council voted against receiving the letter as formal correspondence,” Island Health said.
“Island Health and the north island MHO are committed to working with the City of Campbell River to strike the appropriate balance in advancing the complementary interests of public health and public safety.
In a statement, Ministry of Mental health and Addictions said local governments have a range of tools at their disposal to address issues related to substance use and public disorder.
“Decriminalization will not change the ability of local governments to pass bylaws, however it is important that they consult their local Medical Health Officer and seek to balance the goals of public health and public safety when it comes to the issue of public consumption of legal and illegal substances.
“The Government of B.C. is mindful that aggressive enforcement activities, such as ticketing, may drive people to use drugs alone where risk of death is elevated. The provincial government’s preference is to emphasize referral to health and social supports, including overdose prevention sites, rather than bylaws that result in further marginalization of people who use drugs.
“Island Health staff have reached out to the City of Campbell River to discuss the recent bylaw amendment and how to ensure safety for people who use drugs in the context of the ongoing public health emergency.”
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