Earlier this year, the BC government received a three-year exemption by Health Canada from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the possession of certain illegal drugs. While local governments were largely in support of decriminalization as one of the tools to address the overdose crisis, UBCM members have also been raising concerns about the use of these drugs in parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces. This session was set up to explore the complex issues of the drug toxicity crisis, decriminalization, stigma, and public substance use. It provided an opportunity for local governments to share what they’re experiencing on the ground.
What they said is that their communities are working hard to meet the needs of their community, but feel they’re often left hanging.
“I’m supportive of decriminalization, but I don’t think we’re being supported,” said Gladys Atrill, mayor of Smithers.
The panelists described specific supports they need from the government—most especially, “Housing, housing, housing,” according to three panelists, followed closely by treatment beds.
These communities have a lot of compassion, and the will to work hard on this issue, but they need more support to do so.
After six years of trying to meet mounting needs of the toxic drug crisis¬, compounded by the housing crisis and the stressors of the pandemic, communities are at a turning point where they’re at a risk of losing the sense of compassion that makes them so strong.
The final word from Dr. Bonnie Henry was her oft-reiterated message of hope, that amid all the work there is still to do, “There are a lot of people benefiting; all the little things we’re doing are helping people, and we have to keep going.”
There are two special resolutions related to decriminalization that will be up for debate at the first resolution session, Wednesday morning September 20.