Kamloops MLAs Milobar, Stone call for an end to drug decriminalization in B.C.

Decrim 'absolutely a failure'

Kamloops' opposition MLAs have added their voices to those calling for an end to B.C.’s illicit drug decriminalization pilot program.

“They have not enacted the other things they should have around safeguards," Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar said Monday in the B.C. Legislature.

"It is absolutely a failure in every single way.”

He and fellow BC United Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone were among those with criticism of the pilot program during question period this week.

In January 2023, Health Canada granted B.C. an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize possession of opioids such as heroin, morphine and fentanyl, as well as crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy, until Jan. 31, 2026.

Drug possession in any amount remained a criminal offence on elementary and secondary school grounds and at licensed child-care facilities. Decriminalization of possession does not apply to those ages 17 and under.

“What's glaring is that, in their rush to bring forward decriminalization, they didn't treat hospitals and public playgrounds and beaches, the same way that they made sure that schools were exempted,” Milobar told Castanet Kamloops.

He said the pilot has created a situation where people are using drugs freely at will, and other people in areas like parks, playgrounds and hospitals are “powerless to stop it.”

He said police no longer have the ability to bring “order back into the situation.”

Milobar said his hope is that the NDP will repeal decriminalization, citing other recently tabled legislation. The NDP's proposed online harms legislation is on hold after reaching an agreement with some of the largest social media platforms to make people safer online. A plan for shared decision-making with First Nations about the use of public land was recently scrapped.

Exemption wasn’t needed

The reasoning for decriminalization from government and health officials is the hope that the exemption will get more people into treatment and diminish the stigma around drug use.

Milobar said few if any people were being charged by police for possessing two and a half grams or less of illicit drugs for personal use before decriminalization — a notion confirmed by Kamloops RCMP Supt. Jeff Pelley.

“What it [the previous law] did enable was police and other law enforcement agencies to move people along, to gather intelligence to where they're getting their product from so they can target dealers and things of that nature,” Milobar said.

On Monday, Fiona Wilson, president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, testified in front of an all-party committee of federal MPs that police have no authority to address problematic drug use in public spaces such as beaches, bus shelters and playgrounds as they were prior to decriminalization.

Milobar said a recently leaked health authority memo shows “the government has pretty much lost the plot line here when it comes to decriminalization.”

A Northern Health memo, leaked by the BC United this month, advised nurses they cannot confiscate a patient’s drugs as a result of the pilot — a policy the BC Nurses Union says has put healthcare workers at risk.

“If people feel unsafe, they’re unsafe — it doesn't matter what the statistics say,” Milobar said, adding that the idea people feel comfortable in hospitals amidst decriminalization isn’t accurate.

Review coming

Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s Mental Health and Addictions Minister, said an interim report of the pilot program will be released later this year, but has not specified when.

Whiteside and her federal counterpart are expected to meet in Vancouver on Friday.

Milobar said if the BC United Party — formerly the BC Liberals — are restored to power in the Oct. 19 provincial election, they will repeal decriminalization and put focus on building treatment centres and enhancing access to recovery programs to address the issue.

City officials in the Lower Mainland have also recently called on the province to end decriminalization.

Late last year, the NDP government attempted to ban open drug use in most public spaces in response to criticism of the pilot program, but that became mired in a court challenge.

— With files from CTV News

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