Skip to content

Premier says B.C. will continue to treat addiction as a mental health issue

But David Eby also said police will have the necessary resources to address public safety
Premier David Eby, here seen with Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, said Thursday that his government will continue to treat addiction as a mental health issue, but also promised additional resources for police to deal with public safety. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Premier David Eby said his government remains committed to treating addiction as a mental health issue rather than a criminal issue.

But he also reiterated promises to address ongoing concerns about public safety and diversion.

“(We) are not going to let it (this issue) go,” he said Thursday during an unrelated event in Langley. “We are going to ensure that communities are safe for British Columbians, so that people feel safe in beautiful parks like this in communities right across the province, (and) as well that we are getting people the treatment that they need, so that they can rebuild their lives.”

Eby made these comments when asked about testimony by two senior B.C. police officers in front of federal MPs regarding decriminalization.

While the acknowledgement of safe supply being diverted generated headlines, most of the comments from Fiona Wilson, president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, and Dwayne McDonald, commanding officer of E Division Royal Canadian Mounted Police, focused on public safety issues.

RELATED: Fix public consumption issue while decriminalization continues: B.C. cops

“We have attempted to address that issue by bringing in a provincial law restricting drug use in areas that would understandably be of concern to any British Columbian,” Eby said. “(We) have been blocked in that attempt by a group of that describes themselves as attempting to reduce harm, but frankly, has prevented us from reducing harm.”

Eby was referring to the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, which won a temporary injunction late last year against the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act.

B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said the initial ruling granting the injunction that the legislation “poses a sufficiently high probability of irreparable harm” by pushing drug users into places where it will be less safe to consume drugs.

B.C. last month lost an appeal against the injunction. It remains in place as the law faces a larger constitutional challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

RELATED: Judge rejects B.C. appeal, injunction against law limiting drug use remains

Both Wilson and McDonald generally praised the legislation with McDonald calling for additional measures. At the same time, they pointed out that decriminalization is just one part of a larger response to the toxic drug crisis that has killed more than 14,000 people since B.C. had declared it a public health emergency in 2014.

Each also pointed to safe supply diversion issues, while also trying to contextualize them.

Eby promised government would work with police to address their concerns about diversion. He also pointed that B.C. continues to invest in treatment, having “opened hundreds new treatment beds just this year alone.”

He added later that addiction is not a criminal issue.

“But because we have compassion about that, that doesn’t mean anything goes,” he said. “We will ensure that police will have the tools that they need to make sure that public spaces are safe, that hospitals are safe, that community spaces are safe.”

Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister, is scheduled to meet with her federal counterpart to further discuss decriminalization.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
Read more