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Island and Coast mayors comment on new drug possession rules

Staring Monday, possession of illegal drugs within 15 metres of a playground, pool or splash park and other public spaces will be prohibited.

The announcement yesterday from the province comes after a request was made to Health Canada for an amendment to the decriminalization policy to add these spaces.

The decision to approve the request is being welcomed by mayors along Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Courtenay mayor Bob Wells says it offers protections for children and families in these spaces.

“I think it’s a welcome change, we’ve been hearing from citizens talking to myself and councillors and staff and we’ve been relaying these conflicts and challenges and concerns onto the province,” said Wells.

“We’re really happy to hear they’ve listened to that, and they’ve responded by making these changes. This is a public health emergency which is harming people from all walks of life.”

Wells says he thanks everyone who has been bringing their concerns forward to council, as they have been getting more feedback like many communities across the country.

The comments are echoed by Nanaimo mayor Leonard Krog, who says the city welcomes the changes and helps them not have to pass a bylaw that would be very difficult to enforce.

He adds that many people find public drug use “offensive and frightening” and feels that the decriminalization of drugs has not had much of an impact in reducing the stigma, particularly around public consumption.

Powell River mayor Ron Woznow also welcomes the change as the city has been receiving multiple complaints, especially over the dry and hot August.

“We’ve had numerous parents contact us and say ‘you can’t have a beer in the park but you can use all kinds of drugs’,” said Woznow.

“I think the public is going to appreciate the fact that they can take their children or grandchildren to parks and not have to try to explain to them what somebody is doing snorting or burning or whatever.”

However, all three mayors add that it is a small part of the ongoing crisis seen in the province and across the country. They say more needs to be done, but it is a complex issue with multiple steps.

“We’ve been urging the province for quite some time to have a multi-layered solution that includes expanding treatments, safer supply, supervised consumption sites and supports for people affected by substance abuse who need the help,” said Wells.

The comments are echoed by Woznow, who adds there is no simple solution and help from the federal government will be needed to address a variety of reasons and issues that cause people to turn to substances from support groups to social services and repeat offences.

The mayors add next week is the meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities, and the toxic drug crisis will be a subject of discussion. They say concerns need to be brought forward to council and staff so they can be further discussed.

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