Pivot Legal Society out of Vancouver is taking the City of Campbell River’s bylaw banning public drug consumption to court saying it is out of the city’s jurisdiction to do so.
A petition to the Supreme Court of B.C was filed Friday, Feb. 10 asking for a declaration that Campbell River’s Bylaw No. 3884 (the Public Nuisance Amendment Bylaw) and Bylaw No. 3885 (the Ticketing for Bylaw Offences Amendment Bylaw) are ultra vires or invalid and are “unreasonable, contrary to the provisions of the Local Government Act and Community Charter and are invalid.”
The petition also seeks an order quashing the bylaws, an interim injunction restraining the city from enforcing the bylaws, an order for the costs of the proceeding and “such further and other relief as this Honourable Court deems just.”
The bylaws were adopted Jan. 26 in anticipation of Health Canada’s Jan. 31 exemption issued to the Province of British Columbia at the province’s request that removes criminal sanctions for adults in B.C. who possess certain illicit substances up to a total of 2.5 grams for their own use.
The city issued the two bylaws “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 space” and includes a penalty of up to $200 in fines.
The society is being represented by Campbell River lawyer Sarah Runyon who said the society is seeking a declaration that the bylaws are out of the city’s jurisdiction. Local governments can’t legislate public health bylaws without provincial government approval, Runyon said.
“It’s in direct violation,” Runyon said.
The city also has a legal obligation to consult with public health about health-related bylaws, Runyon said.
The petition cites the city’s adoption of the bylaws on at its Jan. 26, 2023, regular meeting and at which time a motion to receive a letter from Dr. Charmaine Enns, the North Island Medical Health Officer, requesting city council postpone adoption of the bylaws for six months failed to pass. Dr. Enns said in the letter that council should consult the local medical health officer when making public health decisions.
For the past few years, Campbell River, like many communities in the province, has been wrestling with the problem of unruly behaviour and homelessness downtown associated with mental health and addiction.
City councillors have been frustrated by the inability to implement measures that have a meaningful impact on a situation that is technically a provincial responsibility.
Pivot Legal Society works in partnership with communities affected by poverty and social exclusion to identify priorities and develop solutions to complex human rights issues, according the Supreme Court petition. Pivot’s work is focused in four policy areas, including drug policy and homelessness. Pivot is based in Vancouver, B.C.
Pivot’s Housing campaign is aimed at ending the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness by challenging “discriminatory laws and law enforcement practices that violate human rights, perpetuate stigma and prevent unsheltered and precariously housed people from taking steps to save their own lives,” the petition says.
Caitlin Shane, staff lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, said the society’s goal is to have the court quash Campbell River’s bylaw so that “cities considering similar bylaws will understand the risk they pose to public health and people who use drugs” and the province, which has responsibility over public health, will be “more proactive in future to prevent bylaws like these from passing.”
“As a member of the province’s Decriminalization Core Planning Table, I routinely raised concerns that local governments would pass bylaws like this one, which undermine the decriminalization policy,” Shane said. “This is because, historically, we have seen cities pass bylaws that threaten public health and harm reduction with no interference from the province. I was concerned that other cities would follow Campbell River’s suit, particularly as no one seemed to be challenging it at the provincial level.”
The City of Campbell River has declined to comment on the legal challenge.
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