Council takes harm reduction debate public

Abbotsford's harm reduction debate will go public.

Council decided on Monday to put aside a staff recommendation to first consult with the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) and local service providers to assess harm reduction needs before taking the issue public.

Instead, based on a motion made by Coun. Simon Gibson, council will first hold open meetings to see if there is any appetite to change the current harm reduction bylaw.

In 2005 the city unanimously voted to ban the use of needle exchange programs in the community. With urging from the FHA, council is taking a second look at the decision.

Gibson said he has concerns about how aggressively Fraser Health is pursuing harm reduction in Abbotsford, which he called a controversial issue and that council has to approach the public first.

"I think it would be inefficient and in fact insensitive, and even impertinent for us to now consult with Fraser Health, go through a long process, then add on a public consultation when we don't even know what public views are on this," he said.

Not all councillors, including Mayor Bruce Banman, agreed.

Banman said there is a lot of misinformation about harm reduction and it would be good to go to people who deal with it all the time, including the Salvation Army, Cyrus Centre and other organizations.

Banman said it isn't just harm reduction, instead the ultimate goal is detox.

"I think it's wise that the groups who deal with this have a discussion first. Because if they can't get together, what's the point of involving the public?" he said.

Despite the mayor's views, council voted 5-4 in favour of Gibson's motion to go public first.

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