A Kamloops city councillor is joining officials from municipalities across B.C. calling for more provincial supports to deal with the impacts of increased drug use in their communities.
Elected officials and city staff attending the Union of BC Municipalities convention being held in Vancouver this week packed into the first session Monday — a panel discussion on the drug decriminalization pilot program, which started up in late January.
Elle Brovold, CAO for the City of Campbell River, which faced a legal challenge earlier this year after introducing bylaws restricting public drug consumption in public spaces, said council understands the rationale behind harm reduction, drug decriminalization, and avoiding policies which may drive people to use substances alone in the middle of a toxic drug crisis.
However, Brovold said the city has received significant feedback from residents, businesses and tourists about the negative impacts of public consumption.
“We do have an overdose prevention site, we're happy to have one, we do direct people that area as the appropriate place to use. But it's not enough, and so we still see significant public consumption,” Brovold said.
She spoke to the psychological impact on city staff, including those working in recreation centres and in libraries, from having to respond to overdoses.
“I'd say our council believes there's been a bit of a failure in the implementation of decriminalization,” Brovold said.
“Without more holistically addressing some of the concerns with the opioid crisis, and providing the necessary funding and resources to local governments, we've been left a little bit on our own to deal with the response to our communities.”
Brovold said she’s pleased to see the province’s new amendments banning drug use within 15 metres of spray parks and playgrounds, but noted it was frustrating Campbell River had to strike out on its own first.
“We spent so much staff resource and time and money, legal bills, over the past few months going through that process. Just the frustration that we kind of had to take that on on our own and ended up in a very similar place,” she said.
Kamloops Coun. Katie Neustaeter, whose motion sparked the city’s own yet-to-be-adopted drug use bylaw amendments, said “in the saddest way possible,” it’s reassuring to hear the Tournament Capital isn’t alone.
“Locally, we aren’t doing anything wrong — we just aren’t set up to succeed in the right way. And so I hope that that was heard loud and clear in that room,” Neustaeter told Castanet after the session.
“It gives us confidence in our direction, the things that we're asking for, the challenges that we're bringing forward, and the need for the province to take on what is their work and remove it from the burden of local government.”
She said the provincial government needs to create more safe spaces for people to use drugs, and to establish and fund mental health and addictions facilities that Kamloops has been requesting for some time.
“We have to be one of the 12 dedicated complex care locations in the province,” Neustaeter said.
She said the city needs peace officer status for its Community Services Officers “so there is a trauma-informed approach to local enforcement."
New Westminster Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said during the decriminalization session that her community is asking the health authority for more support for its supervised consumption site — including additional hours for inhalation services — noting the city is still waiting for the establishment of a promised housing site with wraparound mental health services.
Nakagawa said she agrees communities are “all on the same page” in wanting more support services. However, she argued this isn’t due to the decriminalization pilot, but stems from the pre-existing impacts of drug use.
“I think decriminalization is becoming the boogeyman in our society for everything that’s gone wrong,” Nakagawa said.