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Kamloops council gives nod to bylaw banning drug use in public

The bylaw will prohibit the consumption of controlled substances within 100 metres of city parks and along sidewalks

Kamloops council has approved a sweeping ban on illicit drug use in public spaces in response to the provincial government’s three-year pilot project permitting illicit drug use in those areas.

In May, council directed staff to draft a motion amending the public lands bylaw prohibiting the consumption of controlled substances within 100 metres of city parks and along sidewalks. The move would be in line with the bylaw’s current prohibitions for consuming alcohol and cigarettes.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, council voted 8-1 in favour of giving three readings to the bylaw amendment, which prohibits the use and even display of a controlled substance on any sidewalk or within 100 metres of a “designated area.” A designated area is defined as public parks, playgrounds, urban forests, breaches, pools, community and recreation centres, public libraries, art galleries, arenas and exhibition buildings.

Exempt from the bylaw is use of drugs at all supervised drug-use and overdose-prevention locations and facilities operated by or on behalf of Interior Health, BC Housing or any other governmental authority, regardless of how close they are to any of the identified designated areas.

Coun. Nancy Bepple was the lone councillor to vote against the motion, noting other municipalities have enacted narrower versions. She said she feels the bylaw will be challenged in the courts because it will prohibit homeless individuals from having any area to consume illicit drugs.

“We will be forcing people into dark alleys and washrooms, where they will still use, but be unsafe,” she said.

When Bepple asked if there were any public spaces in which people could consume drugs under the bylaw amendment, the city’s community services manager, Will Beatty, responded.

“No spot I could specifically designate as a spot that you could do drugs. It would be realistically on a case-by-case basis for a bylaw interpretation,” he said.

Beatty also clarified that the bylaw does not cover prescribed drugs. He also stressed to council that community services officers would direct anyone caught breaching the bylaw to supervised drug-use sites before taking any enforcement action.

In voting in favour of the motion, Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson said he did so because the city will still, by law, have to work with Interior Health in implementing the bylaw amendment. Coun. Dale Bass was opposed to the motion, but decided to vote in favour as Interior Health will have a role in its implementation, adding that she believes its supervised consumption site needs to be open beyond Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Coun. Bill Sarai said the law should be the same for everyone, be it illicit drug use or alcohol consumption, adding he was fine with the bylaw getting the attention of the courts.

“The more we push back, the more attention the government gets that what they’re doing is not working — safe drugs should lead to no drugs,” Sarai said.

The bylaw amendment was brought forward earlier this year by Coun. Katie Neustaeter to close any loophole created by the provincial and federal government’s pilot project decriminalizing the possession of up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs for personal use. Drug possession in any amount continues to be a criminal offence on elementary, middle and high school grounds and at licensed childcare facilities. Decriminalization does not apply to those ages 17 and younger.

The three-year pilot project began on Jan. 31 of this year.

Other municipalities have also been drafting similar bylaws in response to the pilot program. In June, Premier David Eby confirmed the government is now working on provincewide legislation to support municipalities wishing to ban illicit drug use in public parks.

Coun. Kelly Hall said he felt it was up to the city to push back against the province in enacting this bylaw as he feels how the province responds will be a “narrow landing strip.”