Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Premier offers support to municipalities trying to ban public drug use

While he argued previously that municipalities already have tools to address public drug use, the premier says he’s heard from some mayors that those tools are not as effective as they could be

Premier David Eby has offered support to municipalities passing bylaws banning drug use in public parks, playgrounds and beaches, saying he will work with them on their “shared goal” to create safer and healthier communities.

An increasing number of municipalities, including Campbell River, are creating bylaws to ban public drug use in places such as sports fields and bus shelters, after the province brought in a three-year trial decriminalizing possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use, starting Jan. 31.

Some are calling for a province-wide ban on drug use in public areas.

While he argued previously that municipalities already have tools to address public drug use — including noise and nuisance bylaws and laws against public intoxication — Eby said he’s heard from some mayors that those tools are not as effective “as we would like them to be and there’s an opportunity for the province to provide additional support.”

“I’m certainly glad to do that,” Eby said during a climate-change announcement in Richmond on Monday. “We have a shared commitment with local governments, with police to ensure safe communities for all British Columbians and to make sure we’re responding to the opioid crisis — the toxic drug crisis we’re seeing — responsibly while supporting people that need that support.”

Eby committed to working with local governments through Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to identify the issues “and put those rules in place so that we can ensure safe communities for everybody.”

The toxic drug crisis — declared a public health emergency in 2016 — is a longstanding issue, said Eby.

“So finding solutions that will be effective and lasting is critical,” he said. “Rushing to a solution that does not address the core issue or the concerns faced by local governments or has unintended impacts in terms of people’s health or community health or safety is not where we want to go.”

Eby said provincial and local governments need to ensure they are not putting people struggling with addiction at greater risk of overdose and death, “that we’re giving them a chance to get into treatment and to deal with the addiction that they’re struggling with.”

In Nanaimo, a divided council voted Monday in favour of Coun. Ian Thorpe’s motion to request a staff report on options for controlling public drug consumption.

Thorpe said the city can’t wait for the province to do something, noting residents have said they are afraid to leave their downtown condominiums with their children “‘because of what they have to face in the street below.”

Mayor Leonard Krog said he believes the province and courts would decide that local government has no ability to regulate the use of controlled substances in public spaces.

“But I am not about to sit back in this community and watch the public consumption of drugs, the horrors that exist in our streets, without at least picking up a stone to throw against senior governments’ window and get some attention.”

Coun. Ben Geselbracht, who voted against the motion, called the situation a “muddled mess.”

The province’s decriminalization trial is “putting the cart way before the horse when there isn’t proper detox facilities.”

Until there’s a plan to provide services, medical support for individuals and more affordable housing, “anything else is not going to make a lick of difference,” he said.

In Campbell River, a proposed bylaw restricting areas where public drug consumption would be allowed is coming to council next month for a vote on third reading.

Council met this month with Whiteside, who committed to setting up a working group on the issue that includes representatives from the province, Campbell River, Island Health and First Nations.

Mayor Kermit Dahl said the city is experiencing increasing levels of public disorder due to substance abuse, mental health challenges and homelessness, and the related impacts on community safety and downtown revitalization efforts are significant.

The city and province are in a better position to work together now that the meeting has taken place, he said.

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: