Thursday, July 18, 2024
July 18, 2024

Park drug ban probed by CRD

Officials fear more unattended deaths if use moves away from public eye

As some municipalities in B.C. move to ban drug use in parks and playgrounds, regional officials were told Island Health would not support similar health bylaw changes for Salt Spring Island and the Capital Regional District (CRD). 

The message was delivered as part of a May 3 presentation by Island Health’s chief medical officer Dr. Réka Gustafson to the CRD’s Hospitals and Housing Committee, regarding the province’s decriminalization of people who use drugs, and how that intersects with the CRD’s Clean Air Bylaw. 

For example, that bylaw prohibits cigarette smoking in public parks — including Centennial, Mouat, and Portlock parks on Salt Spring — but excludes controlled substances such certain opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA that are at the centre of B.C.’s decriminalization policies.  

Citing the province’s assurance that local governments would continue to have authority to develop appropriate bylaws, a handful of municipalities have taken steps to regulate open use of those substances since those policies took effect. The District of Sicamous was the first to pass a bylaw April 12 banning open drug use in several of its parks. Penticton is considering the same, and Kelowna officials are looking at banning drug use in playgrounds.  

And while CRD directors had expressed interest in regulating drug use on properties they oversee, Planning and Protective Services general manager Kevin Lorette explained any amendment to a public health bylaw — including provisions the CRD currently uses to guide enforcement — requires approval from Island Health. 

“And Island Health has recommended the CRD not make any changes to the Clean Air Bylaw at this time,” said Lorette, adding that Island Health said they needed to see “specific evidence that was going to show the controlled substance they use was going to cause public harm” before they would consider approving changes. 

“That’s kind of hard to believe,” said committee chair Kevin Murdoch, “when it’s the highest cause of death in B.C. at the moment for the younger age groups.” 

Murdoch asked Gustafson what the public health rationale was behind the exclusion of decriminalized substances from the Clean Air Bylaw, given the ban on “absolutely everything” else being burned near air intakes, playgrounds, parks and beaches. Gustafson said Island Health’s position was that there was “no urgency” to amending the existing bylaw — and that any bylaw that drove people using drugs away from public spaces would increase unattended deaths. 

“It may be the only space where somebody else may observe if [people who use drugs] overdose,” said Gustafson. “Four out of five deaths occur indoors, when a person isn’t observed and there’s nobody there to reverse the overdose.” 

“Are we seeing less deaths from this now?” asked Colwood director Doug Kobayashi. “What does the data show?” 

“We aren’t seeing less deaths,” said Gustafson. “The purpose of decriminalization was not to reduce deaths, [but] the purpose of our overall response is to reduce deaths.”  

Salt Spring Island director Gary Holman asked district staff whether general nuisance provisions could guide enforcement apart from public health bylaws. Lorette said he would need to consult legal counsel before responding. 

Holman made a notice of motion requesting Island Health return with a presentation regarding measures to scale up the safe supply of opioids and related toxic drugs, and what role the CRD could play in supporting such measures. 

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