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B.C. secures measures to ensure families feel safe accessing public space

By Richmond Sentinel

Published 2:00 PDT, Thu September 14, 2023


To help ensure kids and families feel safe in their communities, the province has received approval from the federal government to prohibit the possession of illegal drugs at playgrounds, spray pools, wading pools and skate parks.

Effective Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, possession of illicit drugs within 15 metres of any play structure in a playground, a spray or wading pool, or a skate park will be prohibited. B.C. had made a request to Health Canada for an amendment to the decriminalization policy to add these spaces to existing exclusions on possession, including on the premises of K-12 schools and licensed child care facilities. The federal minister of mental health and addictions and associate minister of health has approved B.C.’s request.

“Our government is committed to breaking down barriers and connecting people to the supports they need,” said Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions. “We requested this amendment from Health Canada to ensure that families feel safe in their community while continuing to use every tool available to fight the toxic-drug crisis and save lives.”

With this amendment, police officers may enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act when individuals are found to be in possession of illegal drugs in these child-focused spaces. Intoxication remains illegal in all public places.

“Everyone, especially children, should feel safe in their communities,” said Minister Ya’ara Saks, federal minister of mental health and addictions and associate minister of health. “This cannot be forgotten as we continue to work relentlessly to reduce substance use related harms. This amendment ensures that law enforcement has the tools needed to address public drug-use concerns, while continuing to provide support for some of the most vulnerable people in our community who use drugs. Our government recognizes the tremendous work B.C. has been doing across the full continuum of care to address the overdose crisis and we will continue to work with them to save lives.”

The province has also recently completed consultations on public drug use with key stakeholders, and is planning to introduce provincial legislation to further regulate public drug use this fall.

The B.C. government is also releasing data on mental-health and substance-use services in the province. This new data snapshot will show how the ministry is expanding mental-health and addictions care to help people connect services, including early intervention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery, and after-care supports. 

The data snapshot includes information about the impacts of decriminalization, including law-enforcement data, research on the emotional well-being of people living with addiction, and connecting people to services, including treatment. It also reflects the work accomplished to date as part of A Pathway to Hope, issued in 2019, a strategy that lays out government’s 10-year vision for mental-health and substance-use care. The province has released a report to highlight progress to date on key priorities and action areas.

Since decriminalization came into effect, the provincial and federal governments have continued to work closely to monitor this exemption to ensure it is meeting the desired outcomes and that any potential unintended consequences are promptly addressed.

Decriminalization is just one tool in the province’s toolbox in the fight against the toxic drug crisis.

The B.C. government is working to build an integrated system of mental-health and addictions care that works for everyone. This includes adding hundreds of new treatment beds, expanding services for youth, and increasing access to programs that reduce harm and help keep people safe, such as drug-checking measures.

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