Councillor's motion looks to ban drug use in Kamloops parks, city facilities

Ban drug use in city parks?

A Kamloops councillor has introduced a motion to ban drug use in parks and other public spaces, in line with existing bylaws restricting smoking and public alcohol consumption.

The move comes two months after drug decriminalization took effect in B.C., with adults now allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of drugs — including cocaine and methamphetamines, as well as opioids like heroin and fentanyl.

Coun. Katie Neustaeter said the provincial government has taken “brave and innovative steps” to support harm reduction, but there is a need for other supports to ensure decriminalization is successful.

“When decriminalization of personal amounts of certain substances happened at the provincial level, it then becomes our responsibility at the local level to make sure that they can be implemented successfully,” she said.

“Part of that is identifying the gaps that might still exist, and that includes this bylaw.”

Neustaeter’s motion recommends the city’s parks and public lands bylaw be amended so the consumption of controlled substances is prohibited in city facilities, parks and other public spaces — similar to drinking alcohol and smoking.

The city councillor said she attended a webinar put on by Interior Health and the ministry before decriminalization took effect. She noticed good questions were being raised, but weren’t being met with enough answers.

"It seemed like there was some lacking structure to make sure the guardrails were in place so that communities could function in a healthy way,” Neustaeter said.

“As I've talked to many people since my notice of motion is out in the community, it's become increasingly clear that people are concerned about open drug use, how that will further stigmatize those who use drugs. And putting something that is simple and logical in place like this is for the good of all.”

She said a next step will be discussing how the bylaw can be enforced.

“That's also one of those four critical pillars that will make harm reduction successful,” Neustaeter said.

Other municipalities have moved to prohibit drug use in public spaces. Campbell River’s council recently dropped its bylaws in the face of a legal challenge. Kelowna's mayor has urged the province to exclude parks with playgrounds from decriminalization measures. Kamloops RCMP Supt. Jeff Pelley also mentioned the idea in an interview with Castanet earlier this month.

Neustaeter said Sicamous was met with a “challenging conversation” with the health authority after preparing its own bylaws.

She said it's something that will need to be discussed around the council table, as well.

“I believe that in Kamloops, we have better structures to address those concerns that were demonstrated, but I do expect that this will generate a lot more conversation,” she said.

“My hope is that also, it will challenge municipalities who are concerned about these gaps and the lack of a strategy for successful implementation of decriminalization to also make bylaws like this, so that collectively, we can raise enough of a voice of concern that logical steps can be taken.”

Dr. Jonathan Malo, medical health officer for Interior Health, said in an email to Castanet Kamloops the health authority understands the concern around public drug use. He noted from a public health perspective, decriminalization supports the view that substance use is a health issue, not a criminal one.

"Prohibiting public consumption of illicit drugs and fining individuals who choose to do so does not address the underlying causes related to addiction and may undermine the goals of decriminalization," Malo said.

"Such enforcement activities may encourage individuals to use drugs alone or out of view, thereby increasing the risk of death due to the toxic drug supply."

Malo said IHA's medical health officers welcome opportunities to work with local governments, including the City of Kamloops, to help address the stigma associated with substance use which can stop people from reaching out for help.

Neustaeter’s motion will be discussed and voted on at a council meeting later this month.

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