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Kamloops councillor seeks to ban drug use in city parks

Sicamous in process of amending parks bylaw in response to decriminalization concerns
City of Kamloops Councillor Katie Neustaeter’s notice of motion is in response to a provincial pilot project decriminalizing the possession of 2.5 grams of hard drugs in B.C. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week photo)

By Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week

Kamloops council will debate banning drug use in public parks and city facilities in response to a provincial pilot project decriminalizing the possession of 2.5 grams of hard drugs in B.C.

Coun. Katie Neustaeter has introduced a notice of motion calling for an amendment to the municipality’s parks and public lands bylaw in response to decriminalization so that consumption of controlled substances at city facilities, in parks, on highways or in public spaces be prohibited, just as public consumption of alcohol and smoking are restricted.

The motion will be discussed at council’s next meeting, scheduled for April 18.

Neustaeter told KTW she is proposing the amendment because she feels the new policy from the province needs to be aligned with the city’s bylaw.

“Just like you can’t consume alcohol or smoke in those public spaces,” Neustaeter said.

Under the province’s pilot project, which is running from Jan. 31, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2026, police will not make an arrest nor seize the drugs of adults in British Columbia if they possess up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal use, including heroin, morphine, fentanyl, crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy).

The exemption, however, does not apply to possession at or on elementary and secondary school grounds and at licensed child-care facilities. Nor does the decriminalization of possession apply to those ages 17 and younger.

Neustaeter said the current implication is that any space not specified under the province’s pilot project would be permissible for decriminalized drug use. She said another reason she has brought the amendment forward is because residents have expressed to her concerns of increased substance use in public spaces and a desire to see it banned when it comes to implementing decriminalization.

“This just seems like a logical step to make sure everything we can do for the welfare of our community and achieving balance,” Neustaeter said.

Campbell River city council attempted to implement similar bylaws earlier this year in anticipation of the pilot project, banning public consumption of illegal drugs and imposing a $200 fine. Those bylaws, however, led to a petition and court challenge claiming the bylaws were outside the city’s jurisdiction. Campbell River council rescinded the bylaws in late February.

Read more: Sicamous parks with children’s play areas remain in proposed bylaw prohibiting drug use

Read more: Sicamous council moving to prohibit use of illicit drugs in parks

The District of Sicamous has drawn up a similar bylaw, as well outlining public spaces where use of illicit drugs is prohibited.

Interior Health, meanwhile, has written the district, raising concerns that such a bylaw and fine reinforces drug use stigma and is counter to the intent of decriminalization.

If Kamloops council agrees to amend the bylaw, Neustaeter said she expects it will be challenged, but argued that does not mean municipalities should not pass such bylaws as the concerns of their constituents must be heard.

“And if enough municipalities bring forward a bylaw like this… hopefully, the message will get through that there is some lacking structure for implementation,” she said.

As for whether the proposed motion would water down the province’s intent of decriminalization, Neustaeter said she does not see why it would as Kamloops has supervised drug-use sites. She said while it is important not to stigmatize drug users, there needs to be protection for those with concerns, such as drug exposure to children in parks.

“We have to make sure we’re holding up all the pillars that will make harm reduction successful and that includes prevention — and this is a piece of that,” Neustaeter said.

Neustaeter said she hopes there will be an opportunity to raise the issue of decriminalized drug use in public spaces at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in September, if there is an appetite from her colleagues.

The City of Kamloops’ bylaw 35-66 makes it unlawful, among other things, to consume or possess any alcohol or liquor in any city park or on public lands unless allowed under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act. Violators are subject to a $100 fine for a first offence and $200 for each subsequent offence. The bylaw also prohibits smoking at or in a park or a publicly accessible portion of a city facility and states it is unlawful to do any activity interfering with or becoming a nuisance to the general public within any park or public lands.

—with files from Black Press
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