Nanaimo council has decided to wait for the provincial government’s lead to determine the best way to regulate the consumption of controlled substances, but they say if a solution isn’t presented, they are prepared to act.
A report was issued by the director of bylaw services David LaBerge outlining the current situation across the province and how several municipalities are trying to make their communities safer since decriminalization came into effect in January.
According to the report, medical health officers are advising municipalities to continue monitoring the effects of decriminalization on public consumption before they enact any bylaws to see if there is an actual increase in public drug use or other unintended consequences, and to continue to seek sound public health advice.
Council agreed with the report, but only to an extent.
Councilor Ian Thrope says he would support a bylaw that would regulate the exposure of controlled substances in public spaces.
“Members of our taxpaying public are being adversely affected by having to deal with public drug use in public spaces,” he says. “I am also hearing they are not prepared to tolerate it.
“I’m willing to wait to see what the provincial government comes up with during the fall, but if I see no concerted action then I will be prepared to introduce a bylaw.”
According to councilor Sheryl Armstrong many businesses in Nanaimo are experiencing fear and anxiety with many afraid to leave their homes and businesses. She wanted to know from staff if everyone was considered when these policies were enacted.
“I was at a meeting with the business community, and they were talking about how some of them were suffering from PTSD,” Armstrong says. “Kids are now afraid to leave their house, businesses are suffering immensely.
“Is this being taken into consideration by the medical health officer who should be representing all the citizens, not just those who are users?”
Although the director of bylaw services, David LaBerge, couldn’t speak for the public health officer, he did respond by saying opinions from non-users weren’t taken into consideration.
“I think it is safe to say the medical health officer was really focused on the impacts to substance users,” LaBerge says. “Staff discussed the very points you are raising but they weren’t factored heavily in our conversation.”
Councillor Geselbracht pointed out some of the actions being taken by other municipalities, even pointing out a bylaw that was passed in the Kootenay’s limiting where users can be safe, but mayor Leonard Krog pointed out some of the issues with imposing bylaws without provincial consultation.
“These bylaws have been passed but there is no enforcement mechanism, there is no penalty,” Krog says. “This is basically a community saying ‘you shouldn’t do this’, but that’s it.
“We can’t fine them, we can’t put them in jail, and we can’t enforce this.”
Krog provided a sympathetic ear by mentioning this is a two-sided battle by acknowledging the fight coming from users and taxpayers.
“It is not just about the people in the streets,” Krog says. “It is also about the people who don’t live on the streets and those who don’t want their children and families exposed to drug use, which is having an incredibly damaging impact.”
Krog says decriminalization is not working and needs to be changed.
“This has not improved public health,” Krog says. “The numbers of deaths are increasing, and those who are dying are by and large dying at home, they are not necessarily homeless or unhoused.
“It has not been effective in meeting the needs of what the public health officer says it is supposed to be doing which is protecting and promoting public health.”
According to the BC Coroner’s report, between January and July of 2023 just over 1,400 deaths have been attributed to toxic drugs with Vancouver Island reporting 52.4 per 100,000 residents. The second highest in BC.