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Council debates drug use ban in Nelson parks, final vote delayed

Bylaw will not include fines or tickets, but empowers police to move drug users to other locations
Cottonwood Falls Park, one of the areas in which public drug consumption will be banned in a new City of Nelson bylaw. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson City Council’s proposed bylaw that would outlaw drug consumption in city parks is likely to pass in the next few weeks.

On the second reading of the bylaw on July 25, council voted in favour of it. But they must still vote twice more to formally adopt it, and that has been delayed.

It’s been put off so a public health officer from Interior Health can address council about the bylaw. A July 6 letter to council from IH states that the Public Health Act and the Community Charter require municipalities to consult with a health authority before passing bylaws that may affect public health.

The bylaw, entitled Parks Amendment Bylaw (Public Nuisance) would outlaw the consumption of drugs in several parks in Nelson: Lakeside, Cottonwood, Rosemont, Queen Elizabeth, Gyro, and Lions Parks, as well as the municipal campground, the Hall Street Pier, Hall Street Plaza, the Nelson and District Community Complex, and within 10 metres of the Civic Centre.

Mayor Janice Morrison said this is needed because the city has received many complaints about drug use in parks, including numerous instances of needles and other drug paraphernalia found, most often at Lakeside Park. She said the need for the bylaw also stems from observed behaviour.

“I think people have a right to go to the park with their children or grandparents and not observe drug use.”

Councillor Logtenberg

The most outspoken advocate for the bylaw was councillor Rik Logtenberg, who said public drug use in parks and any resulting conflicts increase stigmatization of drug users, contrary to the stated policy of decriminalization.

Decriminalization refers to the three-year federal pilot program that began on Jan. 31, which allows for the possession, by adults 18 and older, of up to 2.5 grams of specific illicit drugs. This experimental exemption from federal law does not say anything about where people can and can’t use drugs. It only bans possession from schools, child care facilities and airports.

“(The proposed Nelson bylaw) is not criminalizing drug use, it is not criminalizing poverty and homelessness at all,” Logtenberg said, adding that all adults have a responsibility to follow certain norms of behaviour.

He said the bylaw would be an expression of what those norms are. He referred to the bylaw as a community agreement about where one can and cannot use drugs.

“It you’re going to be violating those norms by threatening other people — which is where a lot of the complaints have come — whether it be direct or indirect through just littering and leaving garbage around or really creating a space that goes against the reason for these parks are there in the first place, then you can be removed.”

Morrison, supporting Logtenberg’s comments, explained the bylaw is not punitive and does not result in ticketing or fines. Rather it empowers the police and bylaw officers to move people along and suggest other places they could go.

Logtenberg said the list of parks to which the bylaw would apply is a small fraction of the area of Nelson and that it is focused on places children are most likely to be. He said there are numerous other outdoor places where drugs could be consumed, including most of the waterfront and the dog walk.

Councillor Pineiro

Councillor Jesse Pineiro said he thinks the bylaw will have the effect of stigmatizing and criminalizing drug use because it deals with drug use in isolation, not in connection with other issues such as housing.

As an example, he proposed more control of short-term rentals to free up more housing. He said council could designate a place for using drugs, and that council should create a package of measures aimed at poverty reduction.

“This would demonstrate to people on both sides that we’re not just performing for the people that are scandalized when they see a poor person and feel threatened by that,” he said. “And we’re also not just blind to the people’s concerns about littering and public disorder. We’re doing both of those things.”

City manager Kevin Cormack pointed out that Nelson has the most stringent rules about short=term rentals in the province that are being emulated by other communities. Pineiro responded that although this may be true and it is laudable, it is apparently not working, because the rental vacancy rate has not changed.

Pineiro said he would support the bylaw if it came as part of a larger package of social measures.

He said he agreed with the bylaw’s intention to educate and not enforce, but he said the police are the last people who should be doing this.

“I also know that there’s a huge history of police abuse with marginalized people, and it’s going to take a lot of time for that to change, for that relationship to change. And with drug users in particular, drug use was illegal until Jan. 31.”

Morrison said the work of moving drug users out of parks would not necessarily be done by police officers, but perhaps by two new Community Safety Officers or bylaw officers.

Pineiro said his gym location on Baker and Hall Streets has a unique window on the issue.

“It’s not like I haven’t noticed that people do drugs in front of my gym all the time,” he said. “And 90 per cent of people that come to my gym are under 18, they’re kids. They walk by it and deal with it.”

From this vantage point, he said, he has frequent contact with the street outreach workers, who have been on Nelson’s streets for several years, funded by Nelson Community services.

“They’re doing amazing work, and they’ve saved a lot of people from death. And I also know that they’re totally understaffed.”

Pineiro said there should be a drastic increase to the street outreach staff and they should be the ones who work with drug users.

Councillor Payne

Councillor Leslie Payne also said she would not support the bylaw. She pointed out that the stated purpose of the bylaw is for the protection and enhancement of the well-being of the community.

“I think there is a sector of the community whose well-being is not going to be enhanced by this,” she said. “We’re trying to protect people from dying alone. And that is a risk to their well being.”

She said that parks are for recreation, and that drug users are recreating in their own way.

Payne questioned whether there are actually places where the police or bylaw officers could move people to and she questioned whether all of the parks listed are frequented by children.

She said the proposed bylaw might create more confrontation, which would in turn increase stigmatization.

Payne also wondered why the city needs a bylaw when the province has stated its intention to create legislation toward the same ends in the fall. Morrison responded that the city needs a framework for action in the meantime and that it is unknown how long it will take the province to pass legislation.

Council’s discussion of the bylaw can be viewed at

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly stated that Councillors Pineiro and Payne voted against the bylaw.


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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