Pivot Examining Implications Of City’s Ant-Harm Reduction Decision

Release – City of Abbotsford overturns it’s “anti-harm reduction” bylaw

Abbotsford- Last night, Abbotsford City Council voted to remove the barriers to harm reduction by striking down an eight-year old provision in their zoning bylaw that stood in the way of the life-saving harm-reduction services within the city.

Following a pubic hearing last night, Council voted to remove references to “harm reduction” in the bylaw. This long overdue decision will pave the way for services such as needle exchange to be legally established in the city. The Fraser Health Authority has already proposed these services for Abbotsford in its Harm Reduction Service Plan of 2012.  Drug user groups, medical professionals and social service providers have been fighting to repeal this bylaw since it was introduced eight years ago.

In 2005, Abbotsford City Council amended their zoning bylaw to add “harm reduction use.”  For the purpose of the bylaw, harm reduction use included: 1) the growing, production, manufacture, sale, distribution and trade of drugs listed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, including cannabis marijuana, or any by-product of cannabis marijuana, or any substance held out to be cannabis marijuana; 2) Methadone treatment clinics and dispensing facilities, except where administered by a Provincially registered pharmacist; and 3) Needle exchanges, mobile dispensing vans, safe injection sites, and any other similar uses.  Harm reduction use was prohibited in any zone of the City.

“This decision was the right one, and we are thrilled that the City of Abbotsford will no longer stand in the way of healthcare,” says Barry Shantz, of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors.

A civil lawsuit in BC Supreme Court and a complaint in the BC Human Rights Tribunal was filed on May 21, 2013 by three individual plaintiffs and the  BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (BCYADWS), represented by Scott Bernstein of Pivot Legal Society. These legal actions sought declarations that the bylaw violates the Charter and the BC Human Rights Code protected rights of people who use drugs, and a declaration that the City had no authority to pass the bylaw.

“This is a great victory for our courageous clients who stepped forward when their rights were being violated” says Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein. “The lift of the ban on harm-reduction in Abbotsford is a step in the right direction, but now it is up to the Health Authority to implement these life-saving programs.  We are also hopeful that other municipalities with anti-harm reduction bylaws, such as Mission, Surrey, and Coquitlam, will follow Abbotsford’s lead.”

The implications of the City Council amendment for the ongoing legal proceedings are now being examined.

Press Release from The Pivot Legal Society

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