Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas is thankful the province’s drug decriminalization policy now prohibits drug use at playgrounds and spray parks, but says he doesn’t believe new measures taking effect Monday go far enough.
Last week, the provincial ministry of mental health and addictions announced Health Canada approved a request to change B.C.’s decriminalization policy. The pilot program has been in effect since late January 2023.
The amendments prohibit the possession of illicit drugs within 15 metres of play structures in playgrounds, spray parks or skate parks. These new measures took effect on Monday, Sept. 18.
Dyas had urged the province earlier this year to exclude parks from the decriminalization rules.
“We're grateful that they took into consideration our request,” he said, speaking with Castanet at the Union of BC Municipalities conference on Monday.
He added these recent amendments allow police to move people along from those spaces if they are using drugs.
“It gives our RCMP some ability to be able to keep those areas safer than what they could have a week ago,” Dyas said.
He added he would have liked to see the prohibition extend past 15 metres.
“That's not a lot of area,” Dyas said.
“Our request was basically the area of the park and playgrounds — looking at maybe 100 meters or something along that line — but we're grateful that at least they have implemented that so that those areas are safe.”
The mayor said he’d like to see the province consider extending the prohibition to areas like beaches and transit stops.
He said Kelowna council wanted to advocate for the province to make changes rather than establishing bylaws as other municipalities have done, adding council will continue to discuss the matter.
Dyas added decriminalization was put upon municipalities without an adequate focus on care for people struggling with mental health and addictions. He said while attending the UBCM conference in Vancouver, he would be pressing provincial ministers to deliver promised complex care beds in Kelowna.
UBCM attendees listening to a panel discussion on drug decriminalization held on Monday heard the provincial government will be introducing more legislation to regulate illicit drug use.
Mary Shaw, assistant deputy minister for cannabis, consumer protection and corporate policy with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said there have been concerns raised around drug use in child-focused spaces.
Shaw said when consulting with a number groups, including local government officials, the ministry heard a consensus around prohibiting drug use in splash parks and playgrounds, but more diverse perspectives around broader recreational spaces like parks, beaches and sports fields.
“There was a recognition that some of these places are very large and multi-purpose. And in some larger parks, you can have children playing in a playground and another person using drugs a kilometre away, and there’s not likely to be interaction between those two groups,” Shaw said.
According to Shaw, the ministry also heard concerns there are limited places in communities where vulnerable or unhoused people can use drugs in a safer manner.
“It leaves us with trying to strike a very careful balance, where we want to take steps to address legitimate community concerns about drug use in places that aren't compatible with the other activities that happen there, whether they're around community recreation, or around accessing basic infrastructure around the community,” Shaw said.
“At the same time, we want to protect the safety of people who use drugs.”