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Duncan wants more info before deciding whether to restrict drug use in public

Decriminalization of small amounts of drugs came into effect Jan. 31
Duncan Coun. Stacy Middlemiss said that while she thinks the city should explore ways to deal with the consumption of drugs in public places, she’s not in favour of punishing people. (Citizen file photo)

A motion for the City of Duncan to draft a bylaw restricting drug use for certain public spaces in the municipality was referred to staff for further study at the council meeting on June 19.

The motion was made by Coun. Garry Bruce who said his intent is to make the city’s streets safe again after Health Canada decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in B.C. early in 2023.

He said that when Insp. Chris Bear, the former head of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, recently spoke to council, Bear said Health Canada’s move makes it more difficult for the police to deal with many drug issues on the streets.

“I think the police need our help,” Bruce said.


Coun. Tom Duncan said people aren’t allowed to walk down the street and drink alcohol, but they can use opioids openly and leave the drug paraphernalia behind.

But he said he doesn’t know what the answer is as to where people can use drugs if they are homeless.

“Maybe we can bring this to the Union of BC Municipalities’ convention [in September] as an emergency resolution because I think it will take provincial legislation to deal with this,” Duncan said.

“I feel for this idea, but I don’t know how best to deal with it. I’d also like to see what other communities have done.”

Coun. Mike McKinlay said it’s unlikely the city would be successful in banning the use of drugs in public places because Campbell River tried to do that, but that municipality was legally challenged by Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society and backed away from the proposed bylaw.

“I think if we banned drug use near schools and parks, that would set some parameters and we can go from there,” he said.

Coun. Jenni Capps also said she agreed with the intent of the motion, but rather than trying to “reinvent the wheel” and come up with a standalone bylaw that might be struck down legally, it might make sense to review some of the city’s existing bylaws around other substances, like the use of tobacco, in public places and determine if something from there could be used to help address the issue.


Coun. Stacy Middlemiss said she also agrees that the city should look at its existing bylaws and see if they can be adjusted to deal with the use of drugs in public places, and she would also like to see what other jurisdictions are doing to deal with it.

But she said there are a lot of things that she’d like Duncan to be seen as a trendsetter for, but punishing people is not one of them.

“People are on the streets and there’s not often a place to go,” she said.

Mayor Michells Staples made the successful motion that the issue be referred to staff to determine if existing bylaws can be strengthened to deal with drug use in public, and staff were also directed to prepare a report on how other communities are dealing with the issue.

‘Then we can make a more informed decision about what our next steps could possibly be based on that information,” she said.

Duncan’s director of corporate affairs Paige MacWilliam pointed out that during Insp. Bear’s talk with council, he said that there hasn’t been a marked increase in open drug use and it has not changed the dynamic on the city’s streets very much since decriminalization went into effect on Jan. 31.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not observing what’s going on,” she said.

“Part of our hesitation of moving forward with a standalone bylaw is the announcement on May 15, which didn’t have much in terms of concrete facts, but alluded to future tools that will be coming down to local governments to help address some of these issues that some communities have identified have been happening since decriminalization. So we’re cautiously optimistic that we may have some tools to use in the near future.”

MacWilliam said it may be that a standalone bylaw is what’s needed, but staff are not certain yet.

The motion to refer the issue to staff was passed, with Bruce opposed.

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Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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