By Mike Archer. Abbotsford City Council voted unanimously Monday night to amend its controversial Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw removing all references to harm reduction and replacing the illegal bylaw with a ‘Good Neighbour’ policy to provide City politicians with some control over the methods used to save lives.
Now that the bylaw’s biggest defender, Councillor Simon Gibson, has officially retired to his job as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in Victoria, Abbotsford has finally been able to move beyond the bylaw which made it illegal for any property in Abbotsford to be used for any harm reduction health care services for drug addicts.
The bylaw has been the cause of a number of lawsuits by the Pivot Legal Society representing drug addicted homeless citizens.
The City chose to defend those law suits based on the fact that, although the bylaw exists it is fundamentally unenforceable.
Fraser Health has been battling with the City through most of Mayor Banman’s administration citing abnormally high rates of Hep C and HIV in the City which it attributes to the fact addicts are forced to use dirty needles and shoot up in unsanitary, unhealthy conditions.
After a rehash of many of the arguments in favour of doing harm, council nonetheless voted unanimously to amend the bylaw.
Councillor Barkman asked staff if the City could still control the harm reduction activities of Fraser Health and he was reminded that the City has no jurisdiction over healthcare – the whole reason for the amendment. Under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), The ‘Good Neighbours’ policy has the City partnered with Fraser Health and the Abbotsford Police Department (APD).
Councillor Dave Loewen asked the representative from Fraser Health just how many organizations had been offering clean needles “illegally” in Abbotsford since the bylaw was first put into effect in 2005. He was gently reminded that it was the bylaw that was illegal and the Fraser Health had been attempting for years to do its legal duty while still “respecting” the bylaw.*
*Councillor Loewen has pointed out that the choice of wording above can be interpreted to imply he either is or was in support of the bylaw. As Councillor Loewen points out, since 2006 he has consistently stood on the side of removing the bylaw.
Councillor Braun reminded council that, “What we have isn’t working and the simple fact is if we try to charge somebody we will lose,” referring to the illegality of the bylaw.
Braun added that one of the major things missing from the approach to drug addiction in Abbotsford was any form of detox facility and urged Fraser Health to consider adding one as soon as possible.
The Pivot Legal Society is expected to put out a press release Tuesday morning on the issue.
Late Monday evening the City of Abbotsford issued the following press release:
Harm Reduction Bylaw Receives Third Reading
ABBOTSFORD January 13, 2014 – Following a Public Hearing, Abbotsford City Council gave second and third reading to amend the zoning bylaw that will remove the restrictions prohibiting harm reduction services in Abbotsford, announced Mayor Bruce Banman this evening.
The next step in the process is for the bylaw to receive final consideration and adoption by Council on February 3, 2014.
“It was very important for us to hear directly from the community at the Public Hearing this evening,” said Banman.
“Council is committed to finding the right solution for Abbotsford and it is time to move forward on this issue.”
“In 2010, the Fraser Health Authority and the Hepatitis C Council of British Columbia submitted letters asking the City to re-examine its harm reduction regulations,” said Banman. “Council asked staff to undertake a comprehensive review of harm reduction practices and report back to Council with recommendations, which were discussed at length this evening. This is an important step for our community in providing the type of care needed.”
Abbotsford’s Zoning Bylaw was amended in 2005 to prohibit “harm reduction” activities, including the operation of needle exchanges across the entire City.
As part of the proposed bylaw amendment, a new working relationship between the City of Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Police Department and the Fraser Health Authority was established for implementing and reviewing an Abbotsford-based harm reduction program.
Council will give final read to the bylaw at the Regular session of Council on February 3, 2014 at 7:00pm in the Mastqui Centennial Auditorium.
UPDATED 15/01/2014 – 1:54 pm