Substance abuse is a public health issue, not a criminal one, the head of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment told North Cowichan council on May. 3.
Insp. Chris Bear was explaining the rationale behind the government’s decision to allow British Columbians, aged 18 and older, to carry up to 2.5 grams of street drugs — including cocaine, opioids, methamphetamine and ecstasy — without fear of penalty or seizure, provided the drugs are for personal use.
“The sad reality is that too many people are dying of drug poisonings in British Columbia, and the same can be said for the Cowichan Valley,” Bear said to council.
“Shame and fear of criminalization can drive people to use drugs alone, and using toxic drugs alone can be fatal. Decriminalization will help reduce stigma and encourage people who use drugs to seek lifesaving services and care.”
But Bear pointed out that decriminalization is not legalization.
“These drugs remain illegal and unregulated and will not be sold in stores,” he said.
“Drug trafficking and related offences remain illegal. As well, any amount of illegal drugs can’t be possessed on school properties, childcare facilities, airports or other points of entry or within reach of a person operating a motor vehicle or watercraft.”
Bear said decriminalization will also not change how police deal with those trafficking in these illicit substances, “as that is very much illegal and will be enforced”.
He also said the province is recommending to communities that they explore the possibility of implementing bylaws to curb the use of illegal drugs in certain areas if they wish to do so.
As well, Bear reported to council that crime was up in many categories across the Cowichan Valley during the first three months of 2023.
He said crimes against persons — including assaults, sex offences and uttering threats — were up 23 per cent in the first quarter, crimes against property were up 19 per cent, which included a 63 per cent increase in auto thefts, and break ins at businesses were up 91 per cent.
Bear said a large number of offenders from the region that were incarcerated have been released from corrections facilities lately as they finished serving their sentences, but made no connections between that and the increased crime rate in the first quarter of the year.
Mayor Rob Douglas asked Bear what the RCMP’s plans moving forward are for the York Road/Lewis Street area that is plagued by homelessness, mental health issues and drug use.
Bear said he couldn’t get into specifics as there may be people willing to take advantage of that information.
“But every morning, we’re out patrolling before school and trying to clean up the area and move people along with what legal authority we have, and we don’t have too much of that nowadays but we’re doing what we can,” he said.
“We do that with front-line police officers in the morning and we have our corridor enforcement unit out on their bikes that work afternoons and evenings to assist throughout the day. We’re doing our best to try to have a presence there and keep some sort of order.”