The Union of British Columbia Municipalities president welcomes Premier David Eby’s promises to help municipalities around drug use in public spaces as more communities are looking at their options.
But Jen Ford also urged speed.
“There is a lot of urgency behind this and there has been urgency behind this since we first heard that this decriminalization is coming and what that would look like in our communities,” explained Ford, a Whistler councillor.
Ford’s comments came after Eby signalled additional help from the province during an unrelated climate change announcement in Richmond on May 15 after a growing number of communities have expressed concerns about the effects of a three-year trial decriminalizing certain types of illicit drugs, effective since Jan. 31.
The pilot project directs police not to confiscate drugs, and to instead hand out resource cards on where people can access services in their community. Under the plan, drugs remain banned on school grounds, at licensed child-care facilities and at airports.
“What we are hearing from local governments is that there is not one solution that works for everyone,” she said, adding that parks and playgrounds are within municipal jurisdiction. Health authorities have also expressed concerns that passing bylaws could drive people to use drugs alone at home, raising the risk of overdoses.
“There has to be a balance here and there has to be some work done in some partnership here,” she said.
While Ford didn’t specify when she would like to see help from the province, before the end of summer would be ideal.
“Kids are getting out of school and parks and playgrounds are becoming much busier through the summer months. If there are concerns, how this programming is affecting those parks and playgrounds, you don’t want to leave it until the end of the summer.”
Eby said municipalities have many tools to address the issue – and some have already gone ahead and enacted local bylaws – but he’s been hearing from some mayors that these tools are not as effective for them or police as they would like them to be.
“There is an opportunity for the province to provide additional support.”
Eby added he is committed to working with municipalities through the Addictions and Public Safety ministries to identify gaps in the application of existing tools and put additional rules in place.
“We all have the same goal, which is safe communities for people, and for those struggling with addiction, that we are not putting them at greater risk of overdose and death, that we are giving them a chance to get into treatment.”
The toxic-drug-crisis and community drug use are long-standing issues, which require effective and lasting solutions, he said.
“Rushing to a solution that does not address the core issue or the concern faced by local government, or has unintended impacts in terms of people’s health or community health or safety, is not where we want to go.”
His promise comes after the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, representing 30 municipalities, passed a motion asking the province to ban drug use in public spaces, including parks and libraries.
BC United has called for a provincewide ban on drug use in parks and playgrounds and Official Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon has said his party would come back at a moment’s notice to the legislature to pass legislation to that effect.