British Columbia city councillors and mayors have voted to ask the province to expand a ban on illicit drug possession and use near areas where children are likely to gather, as concerns mount about public disorder that the politicians say is the result of decriminalization.
Delegates voted Wednesday at the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, albeit with a substantial number opposed, to ask the province to introduce legislation in the fall that would go beyond what the federal government recently announced as a new provision for B.C.: the power to ban public drug use within 15 metres of playgrounds.
The province announced this week that it would move ahead on instituting that ban, after it started a three-year pilot in January that decriminalized the possession of less than 2.5 grams of some illegal drugs.
But the UBCM delegates want more spaces than just playgrounds to be included in the prohibition: Wednesday’s special resolution asked that B.C. “further regulate the possession and use of illicit drugs in parks, beaches, sports fields and bus stops where children also gather.”
This week’s UBCM convention debate reflects a growing division among local politicians over what to do about public drug use, which has become more visible in almost every town and city since the pandemic started. Concerns have further grown since this year’s decriminalization.
Smithers councillor Frank Wray was among those who expressed support for the call for provincial legislation to broaden prohibition on public drug use.
“I do believe decriminalization is an important tool in our box. We just need to remember that we have an entire community to consider as we move forward,” Mr. Wray said in an e-mail.
Some municipal leaders at the convention wanted even stronger action than Wednesday’s vote.
“This resolution does not go far enough. Our communities are not experiments. Open substance abuse … is tearing our communities apart,” said Kurt Rabel, a councillor from the northern town of Pouce Coupe.
New Westminster City Council has put forward a separate resolution to the convention asking for the federal government to add in “all public spaces designed for and used by children and youth.”
Meanwhile, a couple of council members said the special resolution that passed Wednesday was a bad idea. Port Moody councillor Haven Lurbiecki said the move would just push vulnerable people further to the margins.
Langley City Mayor Nathan Pachal agreed, saying the province needs to do more instead to ensure “access to treatment and safe supply, so people aren’t dying.” He also argued that anything the province introduces won’t be enforced by local police anyway, as has been the case in his city where public drug use is already prohibited.
The UBCM delegates also passed, almost unanimously, another motion related to the illicit-drug issue: a call for more services.
The motion asked for “financial investments to ensure the provision of geographically accessible, on-demand mental-health and addiction treatment, detox and recovery services, overdose prevention sites with inhalation, and access to safe supply and drug testing for all regions.”
Like Vancouver and Victoria, cities such as Kamloops, Kelowna and Maple Ridge have additional resolutions asking for more mental-health or drug-treatment programs that will be debated later in the week.