Banning drugs in parks, playgrounds not unreasonable

Drug decriminalization

The government of British Columbia, alongside the federal government, have decriminalized hard drugs in our province under a three-year pilot program.

That means that people can use and possess small amounts of drugs without fear of criminal repercussions.

In implementing decriminalization, the province came up with a list of certain areas where this wouldn’t apply— including schools and daycares. That seems like common sense.

However, much to the displeasure of many mayors—from Kelowna to Penticton to Sicamous—the list of exempted locations does not include municipal playgrounds and parks.

Municipal opposition even caught the attention of BC United MLAs (formerly B.C. Liberals) who took the issue on in Victoria. From party leader Kevin Falcon, to BC United MLAs Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country), Renee Merrifield (Kelowna-Mission), Ben Stewart (Kelowna West) and Peter Milobar (Kamloops-North Thompson), opposition has been fierce. Yet, from the government there has been no movement.

Locally ,in the Okanagan, the pushback against local governments and BC United has come from the Interior Health Authority.

“Punitive approaches would be perpetuating the harms we are trying to reduce with this exemption,” stated the IHA. “These harms also include stigma and shame that force people to conceal their substance use and use alone, increasing their risk of dying from substance poisoning”.

Does drug-use stigma kill? Yes, absolutely. It’s why we often hear of people dying alone in their homes from drug overdoses. These people are our children, neighbours, work colleagues and friends. People’s closest friends may not even know they recreationally use drugs because of the stigma associated with drug use. For that reason, they use drugs alone. That is a fact that cannot be ignored.

However, the same simply cannot be said for those people willing to use drugs openly in parks and playgrounds. I’m sorry, but if people are willing to use drugs on a playground, I don’t believe they have any concern around the stigma or shame associated with drug use. If they did, they wouldn’t be using drugs in a children’s playground.

If suddenly they are told they cannot use drugs in the park, they won’t suddenly resort to using drugs alone in their basement. That’s simply nonsensical.

The government stating that it is decriminalizing drug use, while adding “sorry you still won’t be able to use drugs in playgrounds, schools or daycares” doesn’t create more stigma, it simply puts in reasonable protections for people who don’t use drugs.

We need ensure that in protecting drug users, we don’t endanger non-drug users.

Another argument we’ve heard against exempting playgrounds from drug use is that people already use drugs there and it’s already a problem, so what does banning their use do in the first place?

This is true in many parks, but by suddenly allowing drug use in parks, enforcement officers, like bylaw or RCMP officers, will no longer have the ability to move drug use out of parks. That means the problem in parks where it is already an issue could get worse. So while yes, people are unlikely to listen to the new rules, without the rules there’s nothing the RCMP can do stop people, which can simply make the problem worse.

The poisoned drug supply and the addictions crisis facing British Columbia is severe and requires immediate action. The Portugal model of care which involves decriminalization is often held up as a solution, however what is occurring in B.C. is not that.

The government is implementing the decriminalization portion of the Portugal model without the wraparound services and care portion of the Portugal model.

The government has simply picked the cheapest and easiest parts of the Portugal model to implement, while ignoring the difficult, expensive and effective portions of the model, while simply hoping for the best.

Asking to keep drug use out of parks and playgrounds is reasonable to ensure children’s safety. The reason for the opposition from government is astonishing.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The problem with our method of redefining political boundaries

Redistributing concern

Provincial and federal (political riding) boundary redistribution in Canada is often boring and receives little attention—until the non-partisan commissions responsible do something surprising, which is what happened in the Okanagan recently.

Provincial and federal electoral boundaries are reviewed periodically. The boundaries are essentially the imaginary lines that divide our communities and determine who your Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and Member of Parliaments (MPs) are. Given that the Kelowna metropolitan area is the fastest growing community in Canada, this year’s redistribution led to one additional provincial and one additional federal riding being created in the Okanagan.

The respective provincial and federal boundary commissions, while working independently of each other, essentially function in the same way. They adjust the boundaries of each riding based on the need to add or remove ridings to account for population changes, while doing their best to keep communities whole or communities with strong links together.

The commissions produce initial reports, with their suggested changes and go out into communities for feedback. After that consultation period, they produce final reports that are presented to the Legislative Assembly or House of Commons, which are then finalized. There is no further consultation, and while theoretically the existing elected MLAs and MPs can contest parts of the reports, they historically do not result in any real changes.

While both commissions have made significant changes, and there have been concerns raised by community members, it’s the most recent provincial changes that are causing the largest stir.

Provincially, the commission determined the Kelowna-area required an additional riding, bringing our total number of MLAs to four from three. The preliminary report the commission produced created a new riding, to be called Kelowna Centre, encompassing downtown Kelowna and Glenmore area. To do that, they moved the existing Kelowna West riding, which once included parts of downtown Kelowna, over to include only West Kelowna to Peachland and extended the existing Kelowna—Lake Country riding north to include parts of the Vernon area, including Predator Ridge, Bella Vista, Adventure Bay and a few more neighbourhoods.

The commission then went out and consulted on this report.

Following this consultation, the commission released its final report. The report kept the changes roughly the same in downtown Kelowna, Glenmore, West Kelowna and other areas, but it made significant changes in the Vernon-area.

The Kelowna—Lake Country riding in the final report, lost those new areas of Vernon—Predator Ridge, Bella Vista, Adventure Bay and more. Those neighbourhoods went into a riding to be called Vernon—Lumby (formerly Vernon—Monashee), which will include all of Vernon and Lumby.

However, Kelowna—Lake Country will become Kelowna—Lake Country—Coldstream, with Coldstream, just south of Vernon, added to the riding. The proposed new riding will include Rutland, Black Mountain, Ellison, McKinley Beach, Lake Country, Oyama and Coldstream.

That proposal has caused quite the stir.

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, the City of Vernon and the District of Coldstream have all strongly objected to the changes. There are a variety of reasons for the objections including that Coldstream is in the Regional District of North Okanagan, Coldstream’s role in Vernon and Lumby’s economies, the close association between eastern Coldstream and Lumby and more.

The objection goes to the key part of why these redistributions are both difficult and flawed due to the consultation process.

When the commission produces a preliminary report and it doesn’t impact a community, the community won’t provide feedback. So, for example, if you live in Coldstream and saw the preliminary maps, which had you as usual with the City of Vernon, you would never have seen a need to go to the commission and thank them for keeping you in the same riding you have been in for years. You would have thought it was a given you would stay there.

But then, the final report comes out and the commission moves your riding by putting Coldstream in with Lake Country and parts of Kelowna. Well, if that bothers you, unfortunately the consultation process is closed and you can’t provide feedback.

Of course, consultation is difficult and eventually has halted. However, the process by which a community, which would have never thought it would be impacted can be impacted for the first time at the closing of the public consultation, is inherently a flaw in the process.

When the changes between the preliminary and the final reports are small, the need for further public consultation is not there. However, large changes, like taking Coldstream out of Vernon and putting it with Lake Country ad parts of Kelowna, should require further consultation and input before MLAs vote on the final report to ensure the impacted community can have their voice heard.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Finding the 'sweet spot' for Kelowna's shared e-scooters

E-scooter pilot project

Kelowna is officially in the last season of its pilot program allowing shared e-scooters on city streets. So the question now is if they should remain.

E-scooters are popular around the world and if you’ve ever used one, it’s not hard to see why. They’re fun, convenient, relatively quick and you can get to your destination without breaking a sweat — which can be the concern with a regular bicycle.

In fact, Kelowna reported 1,700 shared e-scooter trips per day of the program between April and June of 2021.

But they also present challenges. There’s been widespread reports from Kelowna General Hospital that fractures, hand and neck injuries, have been pervasive with users of Kelowna’s shared e-scooters.

The RCMP has also raised concerns over e-scooter usage by drunk riders, however the same is likely occurring on bicycles downtown after-hours — there’s just no interest to look into it.

There’s also concerns about accessibility. With the existing program, you can leave your e-scooter anywhere. While the apps try to force people to leave them off the sidewalk to keep areas clear for people with mobility challenges, a walk around our streets will show you that doesn’t always occur.

So the question remains—should we endeavour to keep shared e-scooters on our streets once the provincial pilot expires? And if so, what if any changes should be made?

To get to the initial point of whether we should allow them, I think we should address why we should allow government to stop us from using them in the first place. Bicycles can be used anywhere and any time, whether battery powered or physically powered, and there seems to be little concern over the shared bicycle program.

So what makes an e-scooter any different? One could argue more people are getting injured on e-scooters, but how many people grew up riding e-scooters? Like with any new activity, it will take people time and practice to learn how to use them safely and learn what the rules for usage are.

But just because people are bad at using them doesn’t mean we should ban them. The desire to regulate e-scooters appears to be simply based on the fact that they are a new technology and government sees it as an opportunity to step in and regulate it to a degree.

I believe the largest issue is with the shared e-scooters’ “drop anywhere” portion of the program rather than the e-scooters presence in general.

While Kelowna doesn’t have a significant number of e-scooters, it’s less obvious. But in city’s across the world—from Washington D.C. to Paris—the streets are littered with e-scooters. In fact, Paris recently announced a ban on e-scooters. When e-scooters are left all over city streets, they pose serious accessibility concerns.

Imagine you’re in a wheelchair or on crutches and there’s a bunch of e-scooters blocking the sidewalk, how do you navigate that?

On the other hand, shared docked bicycle programs exist across Canada and the world. In Toronto, Bike Share Toronto exists, where you can rent bicycles from docking stations (parked off and away from the sidewalk) from all across the city.

When you’re done, you have to return it to another conveniently placed docking station. Having used the program myself, I’ve never had an issue finding a docking station because people’s destinations are largely consistent and easy for operators to predict, so they can put the docking stations there.

Bike Share Toronto now offers both e-bikes and regular bikes, and the e-bikes charge in the docking station, which if applied to e-scooters, would also fix the concern of finding an e-scooter with sufficient battery.

I believe a similar model for shared e-scooters is necessary. Will it be slightly less convenient for people? Yes, probably. Will fewer people use it? Perhaps. But it will address the accessibility and unsightly characteristics of the existing program.

Further, while I’m just theorizing, we may see fewer drunk riders downtown amongst the people renting them to go a couple of blocks just for fun, and fewer getting in the way of everyone because it requires the coordination to find a docking station to rent it from and then another to put it away.

These are simply some ideas. They’re not all encompassing but I believe there’s a sweet spot where we can ensure government does regulate out the use of a convenient travel mode, while ensuring we protect our streets for everyone.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Be careful what you read when it comes to development

Developing projects

Often, when you read about a new proposed development, you’re not reading something anyone other than the developer has reviewed. What you’re actually reading are the marketing materials produced by the developer, which the local news outlet has chosen to run (usually for free out of public interest in the story).

Take for example the recent stories about the future of the New Life Church site on Harvey Avenue (also home to the Woodfire Bakery). I’m not picking on this project, I could have selected just about any site in the city, but this one is the most recent at the time of writing, and I do love the Woodfire Bakery.

The developer released a sketch of the future of the site, which looks wonderful. It includes two residential towers, a new multi-purpose space for the New Life Church, lots of greenery and people happily walking around the towers.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this proposal, except for one thing — the marketing materials.

The proof is an article written about the project. The final line in the story reads “The proposed redevelopment has yet to be presented to city planning staff.” Well that’s that then.

Once a developer goes to city planning staff, staff will give them plenty of feedback, from heights, massing, design, and more. Developers will then go back and make the changes and come up with something different, all in the hope city staff will then support the application.

But the reason developers release these plans in advance is to win over public support before any of this happens. The hope is they present something that no one could oppose, it looks wonderful and meets what people are looking for, all before they get a reality check from city staff in terms of what’s actually permissible, what the city vision is, and in this example, what the Ministry of Transportation will allow.

Again there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, people are interested in what a developer’s vision is for a site when it’s first sold. It’s natural to wonder.

Presenting these best-case, yet-to-be-reviewed plans, including quotes from the developers, should be viewed simply as marketing materials but they often masquerade as news because they appear as news stories, creating an appearance this is something that’s happening.

In reality, they are years away, and multiple rounds of feedback and revisions away, from even being viewed by city council, which ultimately would approve the project.

Often, comments online about a project are filled with people blaming city council for allowing a project or for approving a beautiful building but, in reality, city council has not even seen it. Unless you read that last sentence of the article, it would appear as if the project is approved and it’s going to go ahead exactly as proposed.

Next time you read about a proposed project in your neighbourhood, it’s important to check to see if city staff have reviewed it, if the proposal been formally submitted and if council voted on it before concluding it’s happening.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Wilson on Water Street articles

About the Author

Adam Wilson is from Kelowna and has an educational background in urban planning, where he published his research on the politicization of cycling infrastructure in the Journal of Transportation Geography. 

Adam was named as one of Kelowna’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2017 for both his research into cycling infrastructure and a number of political interviews he had done with Macleans, the National Post and CBC News. 

He previously worked as an urban planner in Toronto, where he focused on provincial legislation and municipal approval processes.

Most recently, Adam worked for Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, where he held various positions, including as the minister’s executive director of policy and strategic planning, and the minister’s director of communications. 

Adam now lives in Kelowna with his partner and works in the health care sector, while running his own consultancy that provides strategic advice on local municipal issues.

Email Adam at: [email protected]

His website is adamwilson.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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