IN THE LEDGE – ‘When will the premier take concerns about drugs seriously?’
Excerpt from Question Period in the B.C. Legislature on Monday, April 24, 2023 during debate between BC United MLA Todd Stone and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside.
T. Stone: Well, the letter that Interior Health sent to all municipalities was very, very clear. In fact, the Interior Health Authority basically told municipalities in that letter that a ban on open use in parks and playgrounds would actually be harmful. That’s what the letter said.
The letter went on to say that they don’t want bylaws to be passed. They shouldn’t be considered at the municipal level until and only after there’s been a period of at least six months that goes by to see if there’s any increase in drug use in these public places.
The public in Kamloops, and I would venture to guess in communities all over the province, don’t want to wait another six months. They don’t need another six months to see if there’s an increase in drug use. It’s happening. It’s real. It’s in everyone’s faces today.
Now, to the minister, surely the minister knows that after six years and two terms of this NDP government, the results are more crime, more social disorder, more overdose deaths, more homelessness and more violence than ever before in British Columbia’s history.
In question period last week, the minister referred to police over a dozen times. She said that she’s in regular contact with law enforcement. Well, last week, we heard from the Vancouver chief of police. Now it’s Ray Bernoties, the former chief of the Oak Bay police department and a former chief superintendent to the RCMP who said: “Drug usage must be prohibited from parks and beaches. That was among many caveats for my support, as a police chief, for decrim.” Listen to this: “When kids don’t matter, you’ve lost the plot.”
So the question to the Premier is this: will the Premier commit today to following the advice of these police chiefs to responding to the pleas of parents and British Columbians and prohibit the open use of deadly drugs like crystal meth, crack cocaine and fentanyl in parks and playgrounds and other public places across British Columbia.
Hon. J. Whiteside: Thank you to the member for the question.
I think everyone in this House agrees that we want our communities to be safe. And of course, we want to support the work of our health authorities and front-line police enforcement around balancing off all of those issues when it comes to public health.
There is no question that those individuals who use illicit drugs alone are at a terrible risk of dying. And when public health looks at this situation, of course, they are looking at balancing off all of those complex circumstances that can cause people to die in an unrelenting toxic drug crisis, which not only is the leading cause of unnatural death in our province but also is second only to cancer in robbing us of productive years.
The work that we’re doing together, that we scoped out together through our core planning table where police chiefs have been represented, that in fact responds to a call made by Canadian police chiefs…. That is the process that we are in now, and we continue to benefit from the advice of front-line law enforcement. I’m very grateful for the work that law enforcement has done. Their engagement of the education material and their ongoing collaboration is a very, very important part of the work we’re all doing to ensure that we monitor and evaluate how decriminalization is proceeding on the ground so we can ensure that we are indeed protecting everyone in our community.
Mr. Speaker: Opposition House Leader, supplemental.
T. Stone: Well, the reality is police, law enforcement, chiefs — they’re all saying the same thing. They’re saying that any support for decriminalization that there may have been amongst them was all predicated on the requirements that are actually well detailed in the federal letter of requirements but that are not in place.
There was supposed to be training and resources provided to front-line police officers. That has not happened across British Columbia. There was supposed to be education for the public. That has not happened. There was supposed to be access to health services, you know, treatment and supports for people to be able to access when they need and where they need it. That isn’t happening, as per the letter of requirements. Unique solutions for the regions in remote areas of the province were also supposed to be there. That’s not there.
So now you have law enforcement that are saying what most British Columbians are saying, and they’re saying: “No decriminalization without these guardrails and these public safety protections in place.” People don’t want decrim without the protections. The Premier’s empty rhetoric stands in stark contrast to the results that we see every day. The Premier knows it.
Crime, social disorder, violence, overdose deaths and homelessness are at levels higher than we’ve ever seen in British Columbia’s history, under this government.
Parents are terrified to take their children downtown or even attend school. Now, over the weekend, drug paraphernalia was found on the grounds of a Nanaimo elementary school. Guess which elementary school. This was the same elementary school that has over 400 children from kindergarten to grade 7, the same one where a little packet of fentanyl was found by a schoolgirl last week.
When will the Premier take the concerns of parents seriously? Listen to police chiefs who say it’s just common sense, and put the rights of kids and British Columbians to be safe above the open use of hard drugs like crystal meth, crack cocaine and fentanyl in parks, playgrounds and public places.
Hon. J. Whiteside: I just want to be very, very clear that K-to-12 schools are not covered by the exemption. They are on the list of those areas that are not covered by the exemption. So that issue will be dealt with.
I’m very grateful to the Nanaimo school district and to local law enforcement who responded very quickly to the initial issue that came up last weekend, who will be responding to this issue.
Again, we have a very coordinated approach on the ground in communities amongst
those members of our core planning table, municipalities, our health authorities, our community organizations and our local law enforcement.
I would have to just correct the record with respect to the engagement of front-line police officers in the training that has been provided on decriminalization. We have more than 9,000 front-line police officers, and several weeks ago, more than 84 percent across RCMP, across municipal forces had taken that initial module. The second module is underway.
This is work that is happening collaboratively every day on this file, and we are very grateful for their commitment to ensuring that we work together to make sure that decriminalization works and meets its objective of destigmatizing people who are using drugs.
Source: BC Hansard.
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