Premier David Eby confirmed that the province is working on province-wide legislation that would support municipalities looking into banning illicit drug use in public parks.
He made that comment Wednesday (June 28) after the City of Port Coquitlam joined the rank of municipalities making that step.
Some municipalities have the means to pass bylaws, as Port Coquitlam did, Eby said.“But some municipalities don’t have the resources, the capacity to be able to do that kind of work.”
Eby said the Ministry of Public Safety is currently working with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to see what tools the province can bring to the table to support municipalities.
“So one of the areas we are looking at as a potential new law…in the fall session (is) to support municipalities to make sure that we are sending the message that these community spaces need to be available for everybody,” he said.
But any legislation must also recognize the realities of the toxic drug crisis and the accompanying issues around mental health and addictions, he added.
“This is a challenging balance,” he said.
A growing number of communities have either passed or are considering bylaws prohibiting drug use in public parks amidst concerns about the effects of a three-year trial decriminalizing certain types of illicit drugs, effective since Jan. 31.
The pilot project directs police not to confiscate drugs and to instead hand out resource cards on where people can access services in their community. Under the plan, drugs remain banned on school grounds, at licensed child-care facilities and at airports.
But these efforts by individual municipalities often run up against resource issues and other considerations.
Broadly, municipalities have tried to justify limits on the public consumption of drugs in public parks and playgrounds on two grounds: health and nuisance. But municipalities who have used the first approach have run into jurisdictional issues inclusive the threat of legal action.
Consider Campbell River. It has framed its second attempt to prohibit drug consumption in parks as a nuisance bylaw after Pivot Legal Society had threatened to take the municipality to court because it was trying to legislate in an area — health — outside its powers.
The second route, however, also comes with conditions.
Municipalities are generally free to pass nuisance bylaws, but health officials have said that any such bylaws cannot undermine the goal of decriminalization (fewer drug deaths) by pushing people to consume drugs in places where potentially life-saving medical assistance is not readily available, such as private homes.
Nearly half of all 2023 unregulated drug deaths (46.9 per cent) happened within the four walls of the victim’s home, with another 30 per cent having happened at other residences. Some 17 per cent happened outside, with another 3.6 per cent in public buildings and public washrooms.
Health officials also point out blanket bans do not address the underlying issues behind addiction and have been urging municipalities to await the early evidence of decriminalization.
Eby first signalled province-wide legislation around the consumption of drugs in public parks during the final hours of the previous spring session when he said that his government would work with local governments.
“Nobody wants this activity (drugs in public parks) affecting our kids, and we will do something,” he said during a back-and-forth with BC United MLA Shirley Bond on May 11.
Formal pressure in the form of resolutions from local government organizations and the political opposition as well as privately organized protest had been building in the preceding weeks.
BC United has called for a provincewide ban on drug use in parks and playgrounds and Official Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon has said his party would come back at a moment’s notice to the legislature to pass legislation to that effect.