Motion to ban public drug use in Port Moody shot down by council

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A Port Moody councillor’s motion to ban open drug use in the city was shot down by council on Tuesday.

Coun. Kyla Knowes proposed that municipal bylaws be amended, prohibiting open consumption and display of controlled substances in city parks and playgrounds, thereby giving bylaw officers more enforcement tools.

She criticized the lack of resources given to local governments after the province decided to decriminalize small amounts of certain drugs through a pilot project, which started Jan. 31 and is set to wrap up in 2026.


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“Once again, as it did with housing, the province has downloaded a vitally important file to municipalities without giving us sufficient resources to help solve or even manage the problem,” Knowles said. “This is absolutely unacceptable, and residents need to be demanding adequate and commensurate action from our health authorities now.”

The province’s three-year project is meant to assuage the toxic drug crisis. More than 11,000 people have died from unregulated drugs since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016. According to the latest statistics, 18 people have died from overdoses in the Tri-Cities in 2023.

In June, B.C. Premier David Eby said the province was exploring legislation to restrict public drug use, which is expected by next fall.

“We are currently working with the Union of BC Municipalities, through the ministry of public safety, to see what tools we can bring to the table to support municipalities,” Eby said.

The premier’s statement came one day after Port Coquitlam council passed a unanimous vote to amend its own bylaws for illicit drug use in public areas where children are present.

Other municipalities which have, or are considering, similar bans include Pitt Meadows, Kamloops, Penticton, Sicamous, Prince George Kelowna and Campbell River, according to Knowles.

She referenced an incident in New Westminster in which two children were reportedly brought to hospital with puncture wounds after picking up a discarded needle.

Angry parents are now demanding action from New Westminster’s council, police, fire department and school district, Knowles said.

While Knowles said she understands how vulnerable many drug users are and that overdoses in public spaces are much less likely to result in death, the safety of the entire community must come first.

While there has not been an incident in Port Moody, that doesn’t mean the community will remain immune, Knowles said.

“One comment I keep hearing is: ‘I’ve never seen open drug use in Port Moody, so it’s not a problem here,’” Knowles said.  “We have most definitely received reports of abandoned intravenous drug paraphernalia. In fact, I received one today that I reported to the mayor.”

While her fellow councillors acknowleged the goal of Knowles’ motion was public safety, most said the amendment would have the opposite effect.

Some on council suggested pushing through legislation could be pointless if the bylaw was superseded by the province’s new regulations.

Coun. Amy Lubik cited reports from B.C’s chief medical officer, academic studies, the BC Coroners Service in favour of harm-reduction policies. Criminalization and stigmatization of drug use just creates greater harm, she said.

“Stigma and prohibition pushes us inside, and for our unhoused neighbors . . . it pushes them into isolated areas,” Lubik said. “The vast majority of people who die from an overdose die using drugs alone, inside.”

In 2023, only 18 percent of deaths occurred outside in vehicles, streets, sidewalks or parks, according to the latest data from the BC Coroners Service.

Lubik also said that bylaw enforcement officers can only issue fines, which likely would not be paid, and could result in jail time.

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki, who’s worked in public health policy, said she found the motion “immensely concerning.”

She said that Reagan-era approaches to social issues are simple but ineffective, and blame individuals rather than societal failings.

“Even if we went ahead with this, to be frank, it would not stop it. It would not. All it would do is criminalize those people,” Lurbiecki said. “It is the definition of a harm-based approach.”

The city should be following an evidence based approach, according to Coun. Samantha Agtarap, who said she hasn’t seen any support from the local health unit in support of a bylaw change.

Members of non-profits have spoken against the motion.

Jennifer Blatherwick, who is on the leadership board of the Tri Cities Overdose Action Team, said many people are dying of drug poisoning, but stigma is an indirect cause of their deaths.

She said Port Moody has no shelters, and no oversight services like safe-injection sites.

“You are seeing people in your parks because they feel safe in your community, because that’s where they grew up,” Blatherwick said. “(This bylaw) will push people further into the shadows, and they will not come forward for the help that they need.”

Agtarap also questioned some statements Knowles made regarding the possibility of children dying from incidental exposure to small amounts of fentanyl left in parks.

She said this type of exposure does not cause overdoses, and there is a “very, very low” risk of disease transmission through discarded syringes.

Mayor Meghan Lahti thanked Knowles for bringing the motion forward, as it prompted a valuable discussion. However, Lahti did not agree a bylaw change would have any effect beyond further stigmatization.

Lahti said the federal government needs to be funding lower levels of government if any progress is going to be made around the toxic drug crisis.

Municipalities need to be sending a clear message to lobby for those resources, Lahti said.

“There’s a lot of low hanging fruit that’s being done, which is great, but we really need the big money. We need the money that’s going to actually assist these people when they need it,” she said.

Lubik successfully brought forth a separate motion for Port Moody to work with its Tri-Cities neighbours, health authority, and nonprofits to develop a plan for safe consumption sites, treatment for mental health and substance abuse, stigma reduction and public education.

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