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Calls grow louder for changes to decriminalization in B.C.

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Backlash to decriminalization dominated question period Monday in the B.C. legislature, with the Official Opposition BC United and BC Conservatives calling for the province to end the three-year pilot project.

“British Columbians are done; they are finished with the discussion about decriminalization in this province,” said BC United MLA, Shirley Bond.

On Monday, municipal councillors added their voices to the chorus upset about public drug use—including in hospitals—and about safe supply drugs being diverted to the streets.

Individual councillors from Surrey, New Westminster and Richmond pushed the province to follow Oregon's lead and reverse course.

“(We) call upon the province to end this experiment now and get our streets back in order,” said New Westminster councillor, Daniel Fountaine.

Surrey councillor, Linda Annis echoed that sentiment Monday. “We’re calling for a recall of the legislation that allowed drug use,” she said. “Clearly it wasn’t working in Oregon, and it certainly is not working here.”

The pushback came on the heels of recent testimony in Ottawa from the head of B.C.’s police chiefs. The president of the British Columbia Association of Police Chiefs, Fiona Wilson, expressed frustration that the police are not empowered under current decriminalization rules to prevent people from using small amounts of hard drugs in public spaces like beaches, where families often frequent.

“In the wake of decriminalization, there are many of those locations where we have absolutely no authority,” she told the parliamentary committee earlier this month.

Harm reduction and recovery advocate Guy Felicella passionately supports decriminalization—and fears scrapping it would cost many more lives. He notes recent statistics for overdose deaths from toxic drugs have declined slightly. Still, he opposes public drug use in areas where there may be children, and acknowledges some changes to the law—while still preserving decriminalization—are likely needed.

“Maybe it’s put overdose prevention sites in every town and every community, and if people use outside of those then maybe say ‘hey, we can come after you, you gotta go there to use,’” said Felicella Monday.

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

Whiteside wouldn’t commit to making changes yet, but says a report assessing the project is coming.

“We’re due to have an interim report on the first 12 months of the pilot project,” she said Monday.

Whiteside wouldn’t specify when the report is coming, other than sometime this year.

A seemingly increasing number, however, say they don’t need to see the report to want changes to decriminalization laws in B.C.

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