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View From City Hall: Listening to voices from the middle

By any measure, by any standard, the free-for-all approach to the toxic drug crisis fails to address the problem, while causing damage to the wider community

One of the great cultural lies we’ve recently been sold is that we must pick a side when it comes to, well, nearly everything. 

If you’re pro-this, you have to be anti-that. If you like this, you have to loathe that. If you support this — you get the picture. 

The loudest voices speaking from the narrowest corners want us to believe there is no option other than polarization when it comes to difficult social issues; it’s either bitter black or sanctimonious white.

But the truth is most folks fall somewhere in the reasonable grey.

While the value of common sense voices is tragically underrated, it’s time we considered some amplification of sensible perspectives.

This week, Kamloops council approved the first three readings of a bylaw banning the use and display of illicit drugs in or on designated parks and public lands.

If you listened to the extreme voices on either side of the issue, the bylaw somehow simultaneously doesn’t go far enough and goes too far — which is how we know we’ve found our way to something rational. 

The reality of the toxic drug crisis is horrifying. We can’t waste any time in taking the big, necessary steps required to save lives, but it doesn’t have to be at the unnecessary expense of the whole.

The mental gymnastics required to argue that people must be permitted to shoot or smoke up on city property to prevent overdose deaths is beyond my cognitive flexibility, particularly as it isn’t supported by data. 

For example, according to a statement from the B.C. Coroners Service this summer, illicit drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in B.C. for people between the ages of 10 to 59, surpassing homicides, suicides, accidents and natural diseases combined.

Only halfway into this year, more than 1,200 lives in our province had been stolen by this insidious beast and more than 80 per cent of those deaths occurred indoors.

Objectively, defending public drug use and implementing decriminalization without guardrails is not helping.  

By any measure, by any standard, the free-for-all approach to the toxic drug crisis fails to address the problem, while causing damage to the wider community. 

Because I’m a realistic optimist, I believe that with enough political will, visionary funding and a collaborative approach, we can turn the tide of this terrible storm, but it will only happen if the majority middle’s demand for a logical approach to this complex problem is heard.

The human and monetary cost for continually ineffective experimentation is much too high.

The only side we should pick when it comes to this issue is the one where more people live and social order isn’t completely derailed in the process. 

We must choose to do what’s best for both those who use drugs and those who don’t. That begins with something as basic as, “You can’t smoke meth in public in Kamloops.”

My hope is that the senior regulatory bodies that hold the money and power will support next steps instead of blocking this one, and that they will seek the advice of city councils that are not beholden to polarized thinking or black and white solutions.

Municipalities are fed up with arbitrary approaches from provincial edges and we’re demanding colour be added from the middle.

Katie Neustaeter is a Kamloops councillor. She can be reached by email at Kamloops council columns appear monthly in KTW and online at