Sicamous council is one step closer to a decision regarding its illicit drug prohibition bylaw.
Council debated how it will go ahead with its parks bylaw prohibiting the use of illicit drugs in public spaces and members heard a recovering addict’s plea to keep the community safe at the March 22 council meeting.
The district’s bylaw amendment prohibiting the use of illicit substances in public spaces got its third reading at the meeting, where Mayor Colleen Anderson mentioned lots of community feedback and support from people outside of the district. Anderson said although doctors and officials have said Sicamous doesn’t already have a drug use issue and likely won’t be affected by the B.C. government’s decriminalization initiative, the district doesn’t want to take the chance.
Chief administrative officer Kelly Bennett shared the feedback the district has received after the bylaw’s first and second readings. An Interior Health medical health officer recommended changes to the list of public spaces originally impacted by the proposed bylaw, taking off any that were not a dedicated park with children’s play areas attached and specifying exactly where prohibition was intended.
The new list of prohibited areas reads:
- River Front Nature Trail Park, DL 1035 SW of the Eagle River
- Sicamous Beach Park, Lot B, Plan 31008, District Lot 452
- Finlayson Park, Rem. Lot 11, Plan 527, District Lot 497
- Shuswap Avenue Park, Plan 39790 (commonly referred to as the Lions Park)
- All designated children’s play areas
Bennett said the new list focuses specifically on where children play. Councillors asked for Flocky’s Beach off Tecumseh Road, the dog park and 2 Mile beach to be added to the list, and the bylaw was amended to allow those additions.
Coun. Siobhan Rich asked about Campbell River’s similar bylaw, which had been put forward before Sicamous’ and was the subject of a recent legal case. Bennett said Campbell River has repealed their bylaw as it prohibited drug use in all public spaces, not just parks, and with that specification Sicamous’ bylaw should have more legal ground to stand on.
Coun. Pam Beech noted Campbell River’s bylaw was officially a public nuisance bylaw, and the word nuisance can carry a negative stigma. The difference, she said, is Sicamous is debating a parks bylaw, and recommended keeping the wording impartial to avoid any more challenges.
The amendments have to go back to medical health officer (MHO) Jonathon Malo as he specifically requested consultation before the bylaw is approved. Any bylaws related to public health require consultation and possible approval from the Minister of Public Health before adoption. Though this is a parks bylaw, district staff said they still likely have a duty to consider any comments that come back from the MHO.
Laurie Weber, a recovering addict, presented council with her personal experiences and opinion on decriminalization. Weber said she represented a delegation of concerned people in the community and has firsthand knowledge of both the drug supply and the experience of buying and selling drugs.
“All drugs are toxic in some way,” said Weber. “It’s not just a toxic drug supply here, it’s dangerous ideals surrounding drug use.”
Weber pointed out drug use in public is not only dangerous for children to see but also for recovering addicts to come across.
“I believe the bylaw is not just a good idea but necessary to keep children and parks safe,” she said. “How do you explain to kids they [drug users] can do that but you can’t, this is bad for you but it’s okay for them?”
When asked what else can be done that would make a difference, Weber said help needs to be more readily available. She said someone needs to be able to answer a user’s call for help immediately and Sicamous doesn’t have the facilities for that. Weber also suggested a rural treatment facility where recovering addicts can heal in nature, and added it doesn’t need to be anything expensive or fancy, and addicts should be involved in helping each other.