Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog talks about ‘hypocrisy’ around drug enforcement and harm reduction in Canada during discussion about supervised consumption at Monday’s city council meeting at the Shaw Auditorium. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo city council decides not to ease zoning for supervised consumption

Mayor blasts ‘hypocrisy’ around drug enforcement and harm reduction in Canada

Nanaimo city council won’t ease zoning for supervised consumption after all.

The topic of potential supervised consumption sites came back to the council table Monday and councillors decided not to follow through with zoning amendments they had asked for in the summer.

The decision means any supervised consumption site application will still have to go through a public process and be subject to council’s approval.

Last July, city council voted to direct staff to bring forward proposed bylaw amendments that would have allowed supervised consumption at any medical office, which would have removed the requirement for a public hearing.

But the amendments brought forward by staff Monday – with options to leave decision-making to Island Health or put buffer zones around schools – were not supported by council and failed on an 8-2 vote.

Coun. Erin Hemmens said the choice of the two options presented “[doesn’t] feel sophisticated enough for the depth of the the problem that we’re facing.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe said adding supervised consumption to medical office zoning looks like an attempt to “hide the truth” and said trusting that the city’s input into federal application processes would be considered is not good enough for him or for citizens.

“As council, we have to advocate not just for one segment of the population, but for all of our citizens and we have to be mindful of the safety of our citizens and the well-being of our businesses that drive our city’s economy,” Thorpe said.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, argued for the zoning amendments, saying the City of Nanaimo’s current medical office zoning that precludes drug addiction treatment wouldn’t stand up to a human rights tribunal challenge.

“The language in this bylaw is so discriminatory it’s amazing that it continues to be there,” he said. “I think you can tweak some stuff, but you have to get rid of something which discriminates against people with substance use disorders.”

Asked about the urgency for supervised consumption, Hasselback said “it doesn’t sound like it’s very urgent” to city council, but also said he didn’t think there’s money in the system to start such a service right now.

“I’m fairly sure we wouldn’t automatically begin the conversation, but I will say that we have curtailed any conversation until this is resolved here,” he said.

Mayor Leonard Krog suggested drug legalization should be put to a national referendum and in the meantime, “we are engaged in an incredible mess of hypocrisy and stupidity” between drug enforcement and harm reduction.

“[This] is the last I want to hear from this until the provincial government … and the federal government finally step up to the plate [and] address the hypocrisy of trying to restrict the use of substances that people continue to use, whether illegal or not, and asking taxpayers on one hand to have police go out and try to arrest folks and on another hand, have health officials ensure that they take the drugs so they don’t die in the process,” Krog said. “This is ridiculous. This is ridiculous on every level.”

After the zoning amendment motion failed, Coun. Tyler Brown motioned that council direct staff to bring forward new zoning amendments to amend the definition of medical offices, excluding supervised consumption but potentially allowing for other drug addiction treatment services, and also refer discussion of supervised consumption sites to the city’s health and housing task force.

“I don’t think this is a perfect motion, but the intention is to address some immediate concerns that we can address with zoning and at least carry on the conversation of supervised consumption sites, and hopefully get it to a place where we’re at least prepared and ready to go if there’s a site-specific application,” Brown said.

The initial motion to amend medical office zoning to allow supervised consumption a certain distance from schools failed 8-2 with only councillors Jim Turley and Brown in favour. The second motion, to ask staff for new potential medical office zoning amendments excluding supervised consumption, passed 8-2 with councillors Turley and Thorpe opposed.

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