B.C. Supreme Court protects drug use in playgrounds at the expense of children


British Columbia’s Supreme Court has ruled that keeping drug users away from playgrounds would cause them “irreparable harm.”

The province’s NDP government had their pilot program to protect children from drug users struck down following a court injunction last week, reported True North.

On January 31, the federal government temporarily decriminalized the possession of up to 2.5 grams of opioids and other narcotics, excluding “childcare facility premises” as restricted areas. 

Enacted on September 18, the “playground” amendment to the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act restricted users to staying at least 15 metres from where children congregate, including playgrounds, skate parks and “outdoor spray pool[s] or wading pool[s].”

But the court injunction ruled the amendment had violated section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson.

Although it discouraged law enforcement from arresting users in contravention of the order, Hinkson wrote that excluding areas where children congregate for drug use would impose “irreparable harm” on users.

In his decision, the judge acknowledged greater risks to the public, owing to littered bio-hazardous drug paraphernalia around public parks. 

“I […] accept that the attendant public safety risks are particularly concerning given that many of the restricted areas and places in the Act are frequented by seniors, people with disabilities, and families with young children,” he wrote. 

But Hinkson contends these “social harms” play second fiddle to the province’s drug overdose strategy. “I am satisfied that the suspension of the Act […] can be properly characterized as a substantial public benefit,” he continued.

The injunction, which remains in place until March 31, is courtesy of court filings by the Harm Reduction Nurses Association. The group argued that any restriction on public drug use would increase the number of fatal overdoses.

According to the British Columbia Coroners Service, 1,645 residents succumbed to fatal overdoses in 2023, as of August 31. In 2022, deaths totaled 2,383. 

A total of 4,605 people died from fatal overdoses in 2020; the following year, the number grew to 6,310.

Lawyers representing the B.C. government argued that the Harm Reduction Nurses Association used “anecdotal evidence, unsubstantiated conclusory statements” as part of their case.

This is a developing story.

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