The provincial government has decided to expand public areas in which the possession of illicit drugs is prohibited.
Beginning Monday, Sept. 18, possession of certain drugs now included under the three-year decriminalization project will be banned on playgrounds and at spray pools, wading pools and skate parks — and within 15 metres of those places.
The move comes after Health Canada approved the provincial government’s request.
When the provincial and federal governments started the decriminalization project on Jan. 31, schools and daycares were excluded, as were those under the age of 18.
The decriminalization project exempts those possessing up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal use from criminal penalties. The goal is to reduce the stigma around drug use, encourage those with addiction issues to seek help and, ultimately, lower the number of overdose deaths amid the public health emergency that was declared in April 2016. Since then, more than 12,500 people in B.C. have died of an overdose.
The province’s move to expand areas where drug possession is prohibited outside of the decriminalization project — and, therefore, subject to prosecution — was announced on Thursday, Sept. 14, two days after Kamloops council approved the first three readings of a bylaw amendment that bans drug use in many public spaces, including on any sidewalk or within 100 metres of a designated area. Designated areas are defined as public parks, playgrounds, urban forests, breaches, pools, community and recreation centres, public libraries, art galleries, arenas and exhibition buildings. Drug use at supervised drug consumption sites is exempt from the bylaw regardless of how close the site is to a designated area.
Kamloops city councillor Katie Neustaeter spearheaded the municipality’s parks and public lands bylaw amendment, which was aimed at addressing the pilot project.
Reached for comment on the announcement, Neustaeter said she was pleased the province recognized the concern B.C. city councils expressed over the pilot, but would have preferred the government’s prohibition to cover all public spaces as Kamloops’ bylaw did.
“But I also understand the provincial government is balancing the needs of health authorities and various voices speaking into that space and this is what they’ve come to,” Neustaeter said.
Neustaeter said Kamloops council did not want to fall short in the coverage of its ban, expecting the province would come out with a narrow scope in its legislation.
She said she does not view the two pieces of legislation as being in conflict with each other, noting that the RCMP will enforce what the province has banned and the municipality’s community service officers (CSOs) will be casting “a wider net” in its bylaw enforcement.
Neustaeter said by allowing this “layering” of enforcement the areas where the most vulnerable demographic of children are likely to be located “will have the strongest hand applied” with parks, pools and skate parks now being covered by both police and CSOs.
“That’s the next step of the conversation — can these things both simultaneously happen,” Nesustaeter said.
There will be opportunities to speak with provincial officials about next steps during the upcoming Union of BC Municipalities convention this month, neustaeter said.
The Official Opposition BC United party has said it will cancel the three-year decriminalization project if it forms government in the next provincial election, which is scheduled to be held on Oct.19, 2024.
—This story was updated at 4:24 p.m. to add comment from Coun. Katie Neustaeter