Two B.C. municipal councillors took to the streets of Duncan on April 25 to make a statement about the open consumption of hard drugs in public.
North Cowichan’s Bruce Findlay and Tek Manhas set up on garden chairs on the sidewalk outside of Island Health’s Overdose Prevention Site on York Road, one of the main areas in North Cowichan plagued by homelessness, mental health issues and drug use, and began drinking beer.
Findlay said they are two concerned citizens who are taking issue with the fact that drinking beer on the sidewalk is frowned upon and illegal, while people right across the street are consuming hard drugs in public with no possibility of legal repercussions.
“We’re waiting for the police to come by to talk with us, and we’re considering calling them ourselves,” Findlay said. “It’s a terrible situation and ever since hard drugs were decriminalized, it’s getting a lot worse.”
At the request of the province, Health Canada announced last year that as of Jan. 31, 2023, British Columbians aged 18 and older are allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of street drugs – including cocaine and fentanyl – without fear of penalty or seizure, provided the drugs are for personal use.
The intent of the initiative is to try and encourage users to seek help during a worsening toxic drug crisis that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2016.
But increasing violence and street disorder in many communities in B.C. has led to a public safety crisis that many are attributing largely to the more liberal attitudes toward the use of hard drugs.
Manhas said he would like to see North Cowichan introduce bylaws that would once again prohibit the open use of hard drugs in public, as the City of Campbell River and other jurisdictions in B.C. have been trying to enact recently.
A set of bylaws which would ban the consumption of illegal drugs in Campbell River and impose a fine of up to $200 were recently defeated, and the proposed bylaws also resulted in a court challenge from Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society.
The society filed a petition in B.C.. Supreme Court on Feb. 10 asking for a declaration that the bylaws were out of the city’s jurisdiction and were “unreasonable, contrary to the provisions of the Local Government Act and Community Charter and were invalid.”
In essence, the society is arguing that the bylaw amendment was out of the city’s jurisdiction because it attempted to implement public health measures without consulting public health officials.
Manhas said he and Findlay wanted to let people in North Cowichan and across the Cowichan Valley know what’s happening on their streets.
“I think a lot of people just don’t know,” he said.
“Every morning businesses and residents around here have to kick people out of their front doorways. I want to see bylaws put in place to help deal with it.”
Findlay added that it’s also particularly distressing that so many school kids walk through the York Road and Lewis Street area every day to get to their schools nearby and are exposed to the open drug use.
“These kids see drug use all the time and that’s not right,” he said. “Tek and I intend to stay here until our point had been made. Nobody has said anything to us yet (after about an hour), but we have seen many smiles and thumbs up to what we’re doing here.”
—with files From Black Press