Nelson city council has voted in favor of a bylaw amendment to ban public drug consumption at 10 parks and facilities around the city.
The bylaw suggested public consumption of illicit substances be banned at public parks often used by children including Gyro, Cottonwood, Rosemont, Queens, Lions and Lakeside Park (except land adjacent to Duck Bay). It also recommended open use be banned at the Hall Street Pier and Plaza, and within a ten-meter radius of the Civic Centre, and the NDCC
During a special council meeting last night, councilor Rik Logtenberg supported the bylaw, saying it’s less about criminalizing and stigmatizing drug users and more about holding “adults accountable” and protecting children who use the facilities.
“In my mind, this is about adults making choices that impact other people, particularly children,” he said
“These are adults who in these certain circumstances in these places are making decisions that impact other people’s enjoyment of that park. The park doesn’t exist for drug use. It exists for fitness; it exists for experiencing nature. It exists for recreation, exercising and for the community. So if there’s instances that are impacting the primary use of that park, then of course we’re going to regulate it, and so we should.”
Logtenberg emphasized the bylaw isn’t about banning open use altogether, but rather encourages users to use locations that don’t put as many members of the public at risk.
“There’s lots of places to engage in public drug use. It’s just us saying, ‘listen, we’re adults here, and as adults, we each have responsibility to each other.’ In that responsibility, there are certain norms of behavior.
“If you’re going to be violating those norms by threatening other people, whether it be direct or indirect through just littering and leaving garbage around or creating a space that goes against the reason for these parks in the first place, then you’re going to be removed and the only mechanism we have for moving people along that are creating disturbance is to regulate the parks.”
But councilors Jesse Pineiro and Leslie Payne had come concerns, as both stated the bylaw would stigmatize marginalized people who struggle with substance abuse even more.
Pinero suggested a broader approach is necessary, saying that solving the toxic drug crisis and preventing open use starts with finding a solution for many other issues such as housing.
“I think with many laws and bylaws and many enforcement strategies that have maybe the best of intentions or are driven by those sorts of sentiments, the intent and the reality can be quite different,” he said.
“There’s a good chance if we make a bylaw against this it will stigmatize and criminalize drug use, especially given that we are not putting forward this bylaw in conjunction with other measures, like housing.” Pineiro countered Logtenberg’s argument that it’s the public’s right to enjoy public facilities safely, saying it should be a human right to have a home.
“So if we adopt the bylaw, we’re going to regulate public space because it’s a human right for people to enjoy their public space. It’s a human right for people to enjoy a place to live.”
He said other measures need to be considered when deciding on the bylaw, such as higher regulations for short term rentals or revisiting the idea for a designated consumption space.
“Airbnbs that rob people of places to live, they need to be regulated too. If we did that in conjunction with an actual designated space for public consumption of drugs, then it becomes a package.”
Pineiro said a multilayer approach to solve both sides of the problem is necessary before passing the bylaw.
“It would create this multilayered approach that gives people an option and demonstrates to people on both sides that we’re not just performing for the people that are scandalized when they see a poor person and feel threatened by that.
“We’re also not just blind to the people, to concerns about littering and public disorder. We’re doing both of those things. I think we need to be addressing both of those sides of the argument because they’re both legitimate.”
Another concern for council surrounded the bylaw’s use of the word “punitive” which indicated violators be ticketed and fined. City staff clarified the term will not fall under this bylaw, as they know ticketing would have the opposite intention of decriminalization.
Staff suggested the bylaw is less about punishment and more about education. If a violator is reported in one of the proposed banned locations, enforcement would only go to the extent of education and communicating with individuals on better and safer places to consume in the city.
Enforcement would also include first responders providing individuals with education cards that list resources for individuals to utilize when they’re ready to get help.
Mayor Janice Morrison supported the bylaw; she said it’s necessary to ensure people are educated on right and wrong places to use drugs, but she offered assurances violators won’t be penalized by the police.
“It shouldn’t be going to police. The fact that somebody is open to using a place that we designate as a place that maybe isn’t the best place to use doesn’t trigger a light-and-sirens police call. So, it’s not going to be police that interact with these people every time. Everybody should be safe. This isn’t being written to give police some kind of tool to enforce.”
Morrison also said the proposed bylaw was modelled almost exactly after one adopted in Sicamous that banned public consumption in parks and locations often used by children as well, which has already been approved by the province’s medical health officer.
After the lengthy discussion the motion was moved to a third reading at a future meeting. If adopted the bylaw with take effect immediately.