The City of Campbell River has dropped its controversial plan to ban public drug consumption and has directed city staff to come up with other options to tackle disruptive behaviour in the city’s downtown associated with addiction, mental health and homelessness.
It took a bit of terse procedural protocol Thursday, Feb. 23 but council dropped two controversial bylaws that were passed on Jan. 26 banning public consumption of illegal drugs and imposed a fine of up to $200. Those bylaws resulted in a court challenge from Pivot Legal Society out of Vancouver which filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court on Feb. 10 asking for a declaration that the bylaws were ultra vires or out of the city’s jurisdiction and were “unreasonable, contrary to the provisions of the Local Government Act and Community Charter and are invalid.”
The petition also sought 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 passed in anticipation of Health Canada issuing on Jan. 31 an exemption to the Province of British Columbia – at the province’s request – that removed criminal sanctions for adults in B.C. who possess certain illicit substances up to a total of 2.5 grams for their own use.
At the Feb. 23 regular city council meeting, council passed a motion to “reconsider” the adoption of the Public Nuisance Amendment Bylaw No. 3884, 2023 (consumption of illegal drugs on public property) and Ticketing for Bylaw Offences Amendment Bylaw No. 3885, 2023. It also abandoned adoption of an associated amendment bylaw that corrected some wording in the Public Nuisance Bylaw.
In making the motion to abandon the correction to the wording in the Public Nusiance Bylaw, Coun. Susan Sinnott said, “I’ve made this motion due to recent events and I believe we should take a closer look at the bylaw.”
Mayor Kermit Dahl then told council that based on Section 131 of the Community Charter, Section 26 (1) of council’s procedures bylaw, “I’ll now call on city council to reconsider its decision to adopt Public Nuisance Amendment Bylaw No. 3884 and Ticket for Bylaw Offences Amendment Bylaw No. 3885.”
The motions to adopt the amendment bylaws were read out to the meeting and then defeated in a vote by councillors.
Coun. Sinnott then made a motion “that staff report back on further options to address the consumption of controlled substances in our public spaces.”
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. The bylaw amendments were the new council’s attempt to deal with problems experienced in the city’s downtown that has members of the public nervous about going into the city core over safety concerns.
At the Feb. 23 regular council meeting, council also reversed a previous action that defeated the receipt of a letter from Island Health Medical Health Officer, Dr. Charmaine Enns, that urged council not to adopt the bylaws and reminded them that they are obligated to consult with her about bylaws impacting public health issues. Dr. Enns’ letters were reintroduced to council for a motion to receive them which passed this time.