The City of Campbell River prepared itself for changes to federal drug laws that decriminalize small amounts of drug consumption in B.C. by passing a bylaw making it illegal to consume drugs on public property.
“I’m in favor of maintaining the status quo,” Coun. Susan Sinnott said at city council’s Jan. 26 regular meeting where the bylaw was passed, “which is to not have public consumption in the areas which the city has some interest in – the parks and our facilities – particularly because a lot of these places are where children are frequent.”
Health Canada last May announced that as of Jan. 31, 2023, British Columbians aged 18 and older will be allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of street drugs – including cocaine and fentanyl – without fear of penalty or seizure, provided the drugs are for personal use.
The bylaw city council passed Jan. 26 says:
“1. THAT Public Nuisance Amendment Bylaw No. 3884, 2023 (consumption of illegal drugs on public property) be adopted.
“2. THAT Ticketing for Bylaw Offences Amendment Bylaw No. 3885, 2023 (consumption of illegal drugs on public property) be adopted.”
The purpose of the 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 space.”
Prior to this item coming up on the agenda, city council voted against receiving a letter from Island Health about the bylaw. The letter came in late, was not in the agenda and was not available for public view because it was not officially received.
Coun. Tanille Johnston is opposed to the bylaw, saying its too hasty and that adequate consultation on how to proceed in this area has not been done.
“We have a pretty thorough letter from Island Health that we voted against receiving but we did receive it in our email yesterday that provides a pretty solid landscape for how our decision making should be guided in this area,” Johnston said. “It feels tonight like there’s been some insinuation that kind of everyone in the City of Campbell River is terrified of downtown, just judging by some of the questioning asked for people that want to actually develop our downtown and invest in it. (But) when we look back at our vital signs survey, over half of the city feels very safe downtown. The other quarter has no opinion either way.”
The 2022 Vital Signs report was produced by the Campbell River Community Foundation and provides information about 13 different issue areas that influence community well being.
“So I think insinuating that the 25 per cent should drive all of our decision making is just not a good place to pull decision making from,” Johnston said. “We haven’t consulted our chief medical officer. We haven’t consulted Island health on how to do this. There is no information coming from the CDC (B.C. Centre for Disease Control), 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. So I feel like we’re making a decision without the adequate information. And I just don’t think it’s a good one.”
She was the lone dissenting voice.
Coun. Doug Chapman said, “With discussions with the RCMP, they have indicated these two bylaws would be beneficial for them to keep the peace and law and order not just for downtown, but for the for the community as a whole. And I think we need to consider that as well. I mean, speeding laws are there for the 10 per cent of the people who speed. So you know, unfortunately, we have to have these bylaws for the small group that would persist in consuming illegal drugs on public property. And this would give the RCMP the tools they need to help us with that.”
B.C. has become the testing ground for the decriminalization of narcotics and opioids with the exemption – requested by the province to help grapple with the toxic drug crisis – taking effect Jan. 31. The federal exemption will last three years and covers illicit versions of opioids such as heroin, morphine and fentanyl, as well as crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine; and MDMA (ecstasy).
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.
Civic leaders have been frustrated by the inability to implement measures that have a meaningful impact on a situation that is technically a provincial responsibility.