Skip to Content

Court in Canadian province blocks new laws against public use of illegal substances

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The Supreme Court of the Canadian province of British Columbia on Friday blocked new provincial laws against public consumption of illegal substances.

The ruling imposes a temporary injunction until March 31, with the judge saying “irreparable harm will be caused” if the laws come into force.

The Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act was passed by the B.C. provincial legislature in November, allowing fines and imprisonment for people who refuse to comply with police orders not to consume drugs within six meters (20 feet) of all building entrances and bus stops; within 15 meters (49 feet) of playgrounds, spray and wading pools, and skate parks; and in parks, beaches and sports fields.

The act was introduced following concerns from some municipalities and attempts by several city councils to impose extra limits on open air drug use.

The Harm Reduction Nurses Association argued the act, which has yet to come into effect, would violate the Canadian charter in various ways if enforced.

But Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said in his ruling that it was unnecessary to turn to those arguments, since the “balance of convenience″ and the risk of irreparable harm weighed in the plaintiff’s favor.

Lawyer Caitlin Shane for the nurses association said the injunction, pending a constitutional challenge, shows “substance use cannot be legislated without scrutiny.”

Mike Farnworth, the province’s public safety minister and solicitor general, said the province is reviewing the decision and assessing its next move.

“The law in question prevents the use of drugs in places that are frequented by children and families,” Farnworth said in a statement. “While we respect the decision of the court, we are concerned that this decision temporarily prevents the province from regulating where hard drugs are used, something every other province does, every day.”

British Columbia is in the second year of a three-year decriminalization experiment, which allows drug users aged 18 and older to carry up to 2.5 grams of opioids including heroin, morphine and fentanyl, as well as crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy for personal use.

The pilot project is a first of its kind in Canada and it aims to treat illicit drug use and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one that stigmatizes people and prevents them from seeking help.

The province declared an ongoing public health emergency due to rising overdose deaths in 2016. Since then more than 13,500 people have fatally overdosed in the province.

Brad West, one of the mayors who voiced concerns about public drug use, denounced the decision.

“The court is, once again, demonstrating how out of touch they are,” said West, mayor of Port Coquitlam, located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Vancouver. “The rules were very modest, providing just a small restriction on drug use in public places, especially where children are present.”

“If this restriction doesn’t stand, then we have truly entered the wild west of unrestricted drug use, anywhere and everywhere,” he said.

Article Topic Follows: AP-National

Jump to comments ↓

Associated Press


KVIA ABC 7 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content