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North Cowichan residents hold protest against open drug use

The protesters say they’re unhappy with growing use of illicit drugs in public and social disorder

A group of North Cowichan residents held a silent protest outside a meeting of council members this week to register their unhappiness with public drug use and what they see as growing social disorder.

“It is exponentially getting worse,” said protest organizer Travis Rankin, who started a Facebook page called Canadian Citizens Against Crime and Public Drug Abuse less than a week ago. It has now attracted 1,600-plus members.

He said he’s been against the province’s three-year pilot program decriminalizing carrying small amounts of illicit drug since it came into effect.

The program, which runs from Jan. 31, 2023 to Jan. 31, 2026, allows people to carry up to 2.5 grams of drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine.

A number of communities spoke out against it, worried about drug use near places used by children and families.

The province subsequently announced that public drug use would not be permitted within 15 metres of playgrounds as well as spray parks and wading pools, transit stops, public parks and skate parks.

But the Harm Reduction Nurses Association went to B.C. Supreme Court and won a ban in December on the province’s planned restrictions until the end of March.

The judge said “irreparable harm will be caused” if the province’s rules came into effect.

The dispute comes as government and social agencies try to stem continuing high numbers of deaths from the toxic drug crisis.

Rankin maintains that public use of illicit drugs should not be allowed. “It has taken away the power of the justice system to enforce public drug use and crime entirely.”

It’s impossible to go through the Cowichan Valley without seeing people using illicit drugs, he said Wednesday.

“It’s all over the place. Right in front of doors of businesses, all over the sidewalk. It’s absolutely everywhere.

“There’s people smoking crack at the entrance of businesses that are trying to operate.”

His group’s rally was not a protest against North Cowichan, Rankin said. “The initiative of the rally was more to show that we are fed up and want change.”

Members are collecting information, talking about options and want to support efforts to improve the situation, Rankin said.

Key issues for the Cowichan residents include crime in ­downtown Duncan, how the court system deals with offenders, and whether the police have the ability to do their job, he said.

Criminals are “barely getting their hand slapped and it’s just getting out of control.”

Shoplifting is commonplace, Rankin said.

Similar concerns are being raised in communities throughout the province, including Nanaimo and Vancouver.

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