An MLA is calling for a provincewide ban on drug use in municipal parks and playgrounds, as several B.C. communities have started looking into their own bylaws.
Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar said a ban would cut through the current confusion around the ability of municipalities to pass bylaws around drug consumption.
He called for a ban during Tuesday’s (May 2) Question Period and pushed again for the ban Wednesday during a news conference.
“Right now, we are getting mixed messages from the government,” said Milobar, a BC United MLA.
Milobar claimed the confusion is around the municipal affairs ministry telling local governments they can pass their bylaws because they know best, but the addictions ministry is saying if it’s a health bylaw it needs their approval and oversight.
“They are both somewhat right and that’s why what makes this very confusing. If you pass it as a nuisance bylaw, you can pass it. If you pass it with more of a health focus, then the Health Act starts to kick in.”
Milobar said BC United supports decriminalization, but added the federal exemption letter calls for guardrails, which the ban would be the “most basic” guardrail.
He also dismissed suggestions that such a provincewide ban would be heavy-handed in pointing out that school districts across the province already have such rules in place. While it is unrealistic to expect that public drug use would not take place, a ban would give enforcement officers the ability to move people along and point them toward the necessary resources, he said.
“If you are in a playground setting … I don’t think it is unreasonable that a mother taking her eight-year-old to go play on swings and slides should be able to have a little bit of a reprieve from the daily chaos that we are seeing on our streets and let the child just play in an area as safe as possible.”
Milobar’s comments come after Kamloops council passed a bylaw banning illicit drug use within 100 metres of municipal parks or playgrounds and on any sidewalk. Milobar is a former Kamloops mayor.
Kamloops’ decision runs counter to an appeal from Interior Health asking local governments in the southern Interior to hold off on any bylaws banning drug use in parks. The letter calls on local governments to monitor the effects of decriminalization for six month before passing such bylaws.
Multiple B.C. municipalities have respond to the federal governments’ pilot program decriminalizing possession of up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs effective since Jan. 31.
Sicamous passed a bylaw banning illicit drugs in select public parks.
Penticton is currently receiving public feedback on its proposed bylaw.
In North Cowichan councillors Tek Manhas and Bruce Findlay cracked open beers while sitting next to an overdose-prevention site to protest the public consumption of illicit substances.
Campbell River, meanwhile, has revived previously dropped plans for a bylaw. Its second attempt frames the bylaw as a nuisance bylaw.
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said in a statement to Black Press Media that municipalities must consider the advice and information from medical health officers.
“This applies to any bylaw under the nuisance provision that may have health implications,” it reads. Bylaws that fall under public health bylaws regulation are also “subject to approval by or deposit with, the Ministry of Health.”
The statement says local governments can use a range of regulation to address substance use and public disorder. “Decriminalization will not change the ability of local governments to pass bylaws,” it reads. “However, implementing blanket bylaws broadly that prohibit public consumption of illicit drugs and fining individuals who do so does not address the underlying causes related to addiction and may undermine the goals of decriminalization,” it reads.
Such enforcement may encourage individuals to use drugs alone, increasing the risk of death due to the toxic drug supply.
“It is important that municipalities consult their local Medical Health Officer and seek to balance the goals of public health and public safety before drafting new bylaws.”
– with files from Alistair Taylor