Western Canada: B.C. pares back pilot project with bill to ban illicit drug use in many public spaces

Western Canada: B.C. pares back pilot project with bill to ban illicit drug use in many public spaces

Hi everyone, Mark Iype in Edmonton today.

When British Columbia became the first province in Canada to decriminalize possession of small amounts of certain illicit drugs earlier this year, much of the country turned its eyes west to see how the experiment would play out.

But since the province’s exemption to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act took effect last January, there has been some pushback, particularly from municipalities concerned about public drug use. Many – including Campbell River, Port Coquitlam, Kamloops, Prince George, Sicamous, Penticton and Kelowna – enacted their own bylaws to restrict drug use in public spaces

And this week, in response to those concerns, the province announced major changes to its drug-decriminalization policy.

While the law allows adults to possess small amounts of some drugs – opioids, crack, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA – for personal use, the province is rolling back the provisions that removed criminal penalties and police involvement for illicit drug use in a number of outdoor spaces.

Under the initial regulations for the three-year pilot project, set to run until January, 2026, people were allowed to possess under 2.5 grams of some drugs, except outside schools and daycares. That was rolled back last month when the province received federal approval to amend the rules, outlawing them around public spaces used by children, including neighbourhood playgrounds, splash pads, wading pools and skateboard parks.

The legislation tabled Thursday, if passed, would prohibit drug use at outdoor recreation areas such as parks, beaches and sports fields, as well as within a six-metre radius of building entrances and bus stops.

Premier David Eby, on Thursday, said punishing people for their addictions doesn’t work, but these changes are needed.

“Our compassion, our understanding that that system doesn’t work to address addiction issues does not mean that we need to tolerate public drug use in our communities, especially in areas used by kids – playgrounds, parks,” he said.

Also on Thursday, results of the 2023 homeless count were released, showing a 32-per-cent spike in homelessness in the Metro Vancouver region since 2020. And with 71 per cent of respondents saying they lived with addictions, it reveals how deeply intertwined the issues have become.

DJ Larkin, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said the government’s move to narrow the places where drug use is permitted most affects people who are unhoused and living in poverty.

“This represents a deliberate targeting of people who live at intersections of housing precarity, poverty and risk from the unregulated drug supply,” he said.

Larkin said the new legislation goes against one of the core tenets of decriminalization, which is to reduce stigma.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.


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