The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear a complaint alleging Abbotsford discriminates against drug users by blocking harm-reduction services.

The complaint, filed by Pivot Legal Society on behalf of current and former drug users, focuses on the city’s zoning bylaw that blocks access to sterile needle exchanges, supervised injection sites, and methadone clinics.

Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein said the bylaw has contributed to the city having more overdoses and Hepatitis C transmissions than the provincial average.

“Our clients are really in danger and this bylaw is really hurting them so we want to use every tool in the toolbox to advocate for them,” said Bernstein.

Bernstein said the bylaw, which has been in place since 2005, breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it denies health care access to people with recognized physical disabilities.

The human rights complaint is especially pertinent because of what police describe as a “concerning” jump in heroin overdoses in recent months.

Abbotsford police reported eight heroin overdoses, including one death, since mid-May. A new brand of heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl is currently circulating on the streets and could be behind the spate of overdoses, they said.

Bernstein said supervised injection sites are set up to assist users who overdose, and can help prevent fatalities.

“If you look at Vancouver’s InSite – they’ve had hundreds of overdoses, but they’ve never had a death,” Bernstein said. “Abbotsford’s bylaws are getting in the way of saving people’s lives.”

There are an estimated 470 drug users in Abbotsford, though the Fraser Health Authority believes the figure could be much higher.

According to the health authority, Abbotsford has the third-highest rate of Hepatitis C infections in B.C., and the province has twice the national rate. Many of these infections are believed to be tied to people with addictions re-using dirty needles.

The city has been reviewing its bylaws for more than a year, and sought public input in January.

Eighty-five per cent of people who attended a public meeting and commented wanted the city to amend bylaws in favour of harm reduction.

A request for comment from the City of Abbotsford was not returned.

Bernstein estimated the tribunal would likely not hear the case until Spring 2014.

Mission has similar anti-harm reduction bylaws and Pivot Legal Society is looking into filing a human rights complaint against the city.