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B.C. asks Health Canada to make drug use in public illegal again

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government is asking Health Canada to “urgently change” the province’s decriminalization policy to stop drug use in public. 

Premier David Eby said Friday the change would make illicit drug use illegal in all public spaces, including inside hospitals, on transit and in parks. 

The U-turn by the provincial government comes after repeated criticism from politicians, health workers and police about decriminalization policies including open drug use in public spaces. 

The province had tried to make drug use illegal in public places with its own legislation, however the group Harm Reduction Nurses Association challenged the bill in court, and Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that if the laws were enacted “irreparable harm will be caused.” 

Eby said they’ve now asked for the same changes from Health Canada. 

“The resolution of that court issue is potentially more than a year down the road and we cannot afford to wait. We need to act now,” Eby said. 

“I have talked to the prime minister about this,” he said. “He assures me that the federal government will provide full support to ensure that police have the tools that they need.” 

Eby said criminalizing drug use costs lives and money for prosecutors and police while not making the public safer,  but “police do need the tools to address extraordinary circumstances where people are compromising public safety through their drug use.”

The changes would mean guidance will be given to police to “only arrest” people for simple possession in “exceptional circumstances.”

The government said the change would not recriminalize drug possession in private homes or places where someone is legally sheltering, along with overdose prevention sites and locations with drug-checking services.

When asked if the changes were an admission that the government’s decriminalization program had failed, Eby said it’s clear to him that police need the authority to be able to address the issue of public drug use. 

“This is a very significant change on the ground, in communities, in response to a situation that none of us is going to tolerate, which is the situation where people feel unsafe in their parks or going to a local downtown business.”

The premier said that the issue has admittedly been intensely politicized, and that’s a reality as the province heads into an election

B.C. residents go to the polls Oct. 19. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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