Parksville’s controversial needle bylaw and the long discussion around it has come to a close.
While reports have indicated the bylaw has been rejected by higher levels of government, the NEWS did not receive an answer from either the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, despite repeated requests for comment, nor has the city of Parksville received an official rejection at this time.
Mayor Ed Mayne said the city has requested an official rejection but has not been able to get one after trying for approximately two weeks. Mayne said the city sent a letter to Minister of Health Adrian Dix, explaining how disappointed they were in the lack of communication.
“They have never called us, to this point, we did receive an email from a staff member in another area that advised us, but it wasn’t an official announcement or recognition or anything, it was just ‘understand that it’s been turned down’,” he said. “You get past the point of massive disappointment and it’s just acceptance that they’re not going to respond to you – I haven’t gotten quite there yet.”
The bylaw, which would limit the distribution of clean hypodermic needles in the city, was discussed at a June 1 council meeting after the matter was first brought forward approximately a year ago.
At the meeting, Parksville’s chief administrative officer Keeva Kehler said she had gotten unofficial word that the bylaw wouldn’t pass. It had already received negative feedback from the medical health officer for the central Island, Dr. Paul Hasselback, who criticized the bylaw for being a potential infringement on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as a contradiction to widely accepted provincial government harm reduction practices.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that efforts to limit access to the management of ‘addictions’ are subject to review under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms… The application of the B.C. Human Rights Code may be an issue of concern for the implementation of the bylaw as written should any individual perceive that they are adversely impacted in their access to a service,” said Hasselback in a letter to council from October 2019. “In summary, the bylaw has the potential to negatively impact the health of individuals and residents of Parksville. It does so through limiting access to services known to be lifesaving and health protecting.”
“We have been told at the staff level, informally, that the city’s bylaw will not be approved by the minister in any way,” said Kehler at the June 1 meeting. “Essentially, they have said that it will be a wholesale rejection.”
In Mayne’s eyes, higher levels of government didn’t give the city enough of a chance.
“We’ve had no communications on this, whether it makes sense or not, and just have gone their own way without listening to our discussion at all,” said Mayne.
In terms of next steps, Mayne said there isn’t much more they can do. He still stands by the bylaw, which includes specifics on needle exchanges: one-for-one plus 10 needles when someone brings in a used needle. Mayne said he’s seen a lot of discarded unused needles during clean-ups and thought that would help address it. The city doesn’t have any official numbers for needles found in the area.
“People are getting these needles by the handfuls from Island Health, from their distributors, and then – I don’t know. Why would they throw them away? Except they just can’t be bothered carrying them around anymore, so they get rid of them,” said Mayne. “Does that not make sense?”
In Hasselback’s letter, he said there’s evidence that shows limiting the number of needles increases the risk of people sharing/reusing needles, which increased their risk of contracting HIV and other infections.
When asked why Mayne thought himself and council were qualified to create a bylaw about this, he said they were just trying to put some control on needle distribution.
“There is no control – there is no control over cigarettes and alcohol over the distribution of needles,” he said. “If it’s a medical issue, don’t you think it should be controlled a little bit tighter? Do you know of anything else that the medical community deals with that they’re not in control of? In this one, they’re not.”
Overall, Mayne feels like the problem of discarded needles is getting worse, and said he is worried about the safety of people in Parksville. He pointed to sharps containers as another failed effort at limiting the numbers of needles on the ground. The city sent back three unused sharps containers to Island Health last summer because they thought they were too expensive and ineffective.
“Sharps containers is a fallacy, it’s a feel-good thing,” he said. “It doesn’t work and nobody has been able to show me where it does.”