By Mike Archer. For anyone who thinks that Abbotsford Council’s unanimous decision to end it’s nine-year-old Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw means an end to the City’s mistreatment of drug addicts and the homeless or that there has been a shift in thinking due to the decision … think again.
Two questions from councillors at Monday’s meeting were indicative of the fact that some of our manufacturers of bylaws still don’t get it.Councillor Les Barkman asked staff if the City would still have control over Fraser Health’s dispensation and fulfillment of its commitments and duties under the Health Care Act.
The answer was short and to the point. Barkman was told ‘No.’ Health care, for those who still don’t get it, is not an area over which municipalities have any legal jurisdiction.Councillor Dave Loewen later asked a member of Fraser health who was at the meeting just how many organizations had been, in effect, operating illegally since 2005 by dispensing clean needles and providing other harm reduction services.
As politely as possible the Fraser Health representative said that all of those providing harm reduction services have been trying to do so while ‘respecting’ Abbotsford’s bylaw.
Translation: Dave … it’s the bylaw that is illegal not the provision of health care. In case you didn’t listen to the lawyers who were ultimately responsible for explaining this to council – the bylaw would not have stood up in court. It was illegal, ultra vires and moot.
Dave took me to task on my reporting of his exchange with Fraser Health and, while I accepted his criticism I also explained my reason for covering it the way I did. 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. Read the comments here.
In fact, had a group of homeless drug addicts, some of whom were sitting at the back of the council chambers, not had the courage and the wisdom to challenge the City’s decision to break the law, the City would likely still have an Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw.
So, first of all, some of our doddering old councillors still don’t understand the law, the fact that they can’t just pass laws willy-nilly, or that part of their job is to protect Abbotsford taxpayers from the enormous and growing expense of defending its own decisions.
(Next thing you know – Dave will be announcing his candidacy for mayor based on a complete review of the National Defence Act)
Secondly, if you want a clear idea of how much the City’s thinking has changed, drive up and down Gladys Avenue sometime.
On Monday, Bruce Banman told CKNW that beds have been found for some of the homeless at the protest camp that was set up and then dismantled in Jubilee park.“We have sent two children — two young youth, rather — back home to Calgary. A couple of people went into rehab, is my understanding, and a couple of the ladies found some help through the Elizabeth Fry Society, is my understanding. The city is working with the support groups that we have to try and find beds for people, one person at a time. Of the 12 homeless that were found in the protest camp, there were many protesters that had beds. Of the 12 that were actually homeless we did manage to find warm beds for nine of the 12, three refused,” said Banman.
Perhaps the mayor has trouble counting but there are five homeless camps of which we are aware, just along Gladys Avenue, and several more around the City which people drive by every day on their way to work. If Banman is trying to imply there are only three homeless people still unable to find shelter, he will have a hard time selling either the citizens of Abbotsford or the BC Supreme Court the idea.
The mayor must have blinders on if he thinks the $50,000 to $250,000 he spent fighting the homeless protesters before Christmas means Abbotsford’s homeless situation has been solved and dealt with. If anybody can actually get through to the man they should help him see the light of day.
Ward Draper and Jeff Gruban are still waiting to find out what the City intends to do about their proposal for low barrier housing and the Abbotsford Chapter of the Drug War Survivors (DWS) is still waiting to find out if anybody at City Hall is even going to talk to them about theirs.
Add to that the fact that the Pivot Legal Society still has eight lawsuits and two human rights complaints against the City and there seems to be a disconnect between the Mayor and reality if he thinks he solved the homeless problem with an injunction before Christmas.
Abbotsford was forced by legal and constitutional realities to abandon its discriminatory and ultra vires Anti Harm Reduction Bylaw. Anybody who thinks it was because of a sudden change in their way of thinking about the homeless, those who suffer from addiction, alcohol dependence or mental illness will likely be be sorely disappointed.
If nothing else, Monday’s decision was at least a victory for the rule of law. After all it would be more than a little unseemly to have such a conservative bunch of community leaders to be revealed as lawbreakers.