IN THE LEDGE – How does premier justify inaction on drugs in parks?
Excerpt from debate during Question Period in the B.C. Legislature on Wednesday, April 19, 2023 between Kamloops-South Thomson MLA Todd Stone and Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
T. Stone: The decriminalization measures that the minister speaks of that supposedly are doing such a great job of protecting the public…. I can tell you this much. Andrea Miller, whose daughter found a packet of fentanyl at an elementary school in Nanaimo — she sure doesn’t think that government is doing everything it can to put the guardrails in place that were promised.
Communities right across this province are trying to step up and fill the leadership void left by this Premier. Campbell River tried to regulate consumption in their community, only to be forced to abandon after the province, through Island Health, frustrated their efforts, and they faced a legal challenge from the Premier’s Pivot Legal Society.
Local governments in Penticton, Sicamous Kelowna and Kamloops are all facing the exact same obstacle — opposition from this government —only this time, it’s through Interior Health.
After Kamloops voted to bring in bylaw amendments that banned the use of illicit drugs in all public parks and facilities — guess what? They very promptly received a letter from Interior Health telling them to hold off on enacting bylaws for six months so “we can allow staff to monitor the situation to determine if there is in fact an increase in public drug use.” Seriously.
We don’t need six more months to see what’s happening in our communities due to this government’s policies. It’s chaos and social disorder everywhere. Council sees that. The public sees that. It seems the only people that don’t see that is the Premier and this government.
The question is this: why is the Premier siding with his old radical activist friends at Pivot Legal instead, and at the same time, obstructing local communities from banning the consumption of crystal meth, crack cocaine or fentanyl in public spaces like parks and playgrounds?
Hon. J. Whiteside: I might just say that I am grateful for the somewhat more measured tone from some of our municipal colleagues with respect to a crisis that we all have a stake in working together to address. We are working with police officers, with municipalities, with health authorities, with public health and with front line service providers in order to address a public health emergency that, as we know, results in the death of in excess of six people a day in this province.
This is a very serious issue, and decriminalization was a very important step that was called for by police, by municipalities, by doctors, by public health and by front line providers as one tool in a very big toolbox. It was a measure that was agreed to by all parties in this House, with the exception of the B.C. Conservative Party, in order to try and make progress here.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Order.
Hon. J. Whiteside: We will continue to work with municipalities. In fact, I understand that the Sicamous municipality bylaw has been passed. There has been engagement with the medical health officer, and that’s what municipalities are doing.
They are engaging appropriately with their medical health officers to determine what the local conditions are, what the local issues are and what needs to be done. In Sicamous, they now have a bylaw that I understand all parties are satisfied with.
We will continue to do the work with municipalities to address concerns as they arise on the ground on this very important public health issue that cuts across, frankly, all lines here.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Kamloops–South Thompson.
T. Stone: We will set the record straight once again. We seem to have to do this every single day. To be very, very clear, we supported decriminalization as long as it was done in the context of the letter of requirements as provided by the federal government. Let’s be clear. Absent there being education, absent there being appropriate treatment and supports for people, absent there being public safety measures and absent there being those requirements in that letter, this is a reckless policy that this Premier and this government is hurling British Columbians into.
Now what local governments are saying is that there should, at the very least, be similar regulations to ban the open consumption of crystal meth, crack cocaine or fentanyl in parks, playgrounds and other public spaces, as there is for, let’s say, alcohol.
It’s appalling that the Premier not only failed to implement such obvious and necessary safeguards but is also actively preventing local governments from implementing those steps.
Kamloops Councillor Sarai says: “Every solution they come up with is to keep letting them use, and we keep supplying them with material to use. But the aftermath is played out on our city streets, in our city parks and in our playgrounds. That has to change.”
We couldn’t agree more with Councillor Sarai. And what Kamloops wants is the decrim guardrails that were promised by this Premier, and they want leadership from this government.
Kamloops Councillor Katie Neustaeter said: “What is the government’s plan? Tell us. In the absence of that plan, you better believe that local decision-makers are going to make decisions to hear the concerns of our community.”
So the question is this: how can the Premier justify his inaction, his obstruction, leaving our communities to face the dangerous consequences of his reckless policy of decriminalization without the guardrails and the public safety protections that he promised British Columbians?
Hon. J. Whiteside: It is surprising what a difference a number of months make. When the health standing committee reviewed….
Deputy Speaker: Members, the minister listened to the question. I would respect the minister, and let her answer the question as she will.
Hon. J. Whiteside: When the Select Standing Committee on Health reviewed this issue as part of a number of recommendations, with respect to the toxic drug crisis in our province, there was unanimity at that table to support moving forward…
Deputy Speaker: Member.
Hon. J. Whiteside: …with decriminalization and with our application for the exemption.
Deputy Speaker: Members, Members.
Please sit, Member.
Members, we will listen to the answer to the question. You do not have to agree with it, just as they will listen to the question and they don’t always have to agree with the premise of the question.
Please have respect for this chamber and for the public whose work we are all supposed to be undertaking. Thank you.
Hon. J. Whiteside: When the Health Select Standing Committee reviewed this issue, all parties, all members at that table, were unanimous in their support, with the exception of the of the B.C. Conservative Party.
And when we talk about the work that we have done in order to prepare, we have invested in treatment and recovery programs. We have expanded the number of beds — hundreds of new treatment beds open. We have invested in community counselling. We have conducted outreach campaigns. We have worked with our front-line police officers to ensure that they are informed and educated. And we have had very excellent feedback, frankly, all of those engagements, including our engagements with municipalities.
Now decriminalization does not change the ability of local governments to pass or amend their bylaws. Clearly, as we’ve seen, there is a bylaw that’s been adopted in Sicamous. They….
Deputy Speaker: Members.
Hon. J. Whiteside: Can I finish, perhaps, with the answer to the question?
Deputy Speaker: No, it’s disrespectful. Listen to the minister. Members, we have a way that we conduct question period. You ask a question; they answer the question. It’s pretty basic. It’s how it works. And so if you want to respect the process and have more opportunity to ask questions, I would ask you to listen to the response, even if you don’t agree with it.
Hon. J. Whiteside: With respect to our engagement with municipalities, representatives of all municipal governments, including from Kamloops, have been participating in our decriminalization core planning tables since inception.
Municipalities have been there since the beginning.
We are committed to continuing to work closely with municipal governments to address issues as they arise. And we can see that this process is working, as evidenced by the existence of the bylaw in Sicamous. So that is the process that we are undertaking, and we commit to continuing to do that work with our partners in the municipalities.
Source: BC Hansard.
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