B.C. government hits pause button on amendments to Mental Health Act
An organizer displays a naloxone kit at Centennial Square in Victoria, on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government has decided to hit pause on amendments to its Mental Health Act that would have allowed youth to be detained for up to seven days after they overdose.
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy said in a statement Monday the ministry will take more time for consultations to ensure the rights of young people are protected.
"We remain deeply committed to protecting youth in the aftermath of an overdose," the statement reads. "We were managing a number of bills this session, and unfortunately we weren't able to get through this one. This is a challenging topic and this does give us a chance to pause."
Darcy said Bill 22 is based on a pilot program at BC Children's Hospital, and the amendments were developed by the ministry, along with First Nations groups including the First Nations Health Council and Metis Nation B.C.
Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, is calling for the bill to be withdrawn.
"This is a highly complex issue that defies simple solutions," she said at a news conference Monday.
While she says she can appreciate the ministry is trying to find ways to meet the needs of young people with substance abuse disorders, the focus should be on developing an array of voluntary services.
"From early supports for young people and their families and their loved ones and their community members, right through to intensive…voluntary residential care and treatment, including harm reduction," she said. "Involuntary care may have a place in some extreme situations. However, it's not a place to begin."
Charlesworth was joined by representatives from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Health Justice and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who expressed deep concerns over the bill.
They say there was a lack of meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples, and the bill would more negatively impact youth in care and Indigenous youth.
"Youth in care don't have the same supports as single or two-parent homes have," said Kali Sedgemore, member of the 'Namgis First Nation and overdose prevention site youth peer and outreach worker. They added that the bill would also deter young people from asking for help.
"They get ashamed of it…so they'd hide it a lot more which increases overdose fatalities. So we need to recognize that youth use drugs. We need to work with them instead of against them."
The government says its primary focus is on building a voluntary care system, which includes 19 Foundry youth centres, increased access to counselling, including nine First Nations-run organizations.
The ministry says it plans to add new youth treatment beds, substance use teams, and building and upgrading First Nations-run treatment centres this summer.