City responds to harm reduction lawsuit

City states that bylaw does not restrict access to health care in Abbotsford

The City of Abbotsford has responded to a civil suit that aims to repeal the city's harm reduction bylaw.

The City of Abbotsford has responded to a civil suit that aims to repeal the city's harm reduction bylaw.

The City of Abbotsford has filed a written response to a civil claim filed by local drug users, stating that the bylaw against harm reduction does not prevent drug users from accessing health care.

The lawsuit against the city, filed by PIVOT Legal Society, argues that the city has overstepped its authority by using a 2005 zoning bylaw to prohibit harm reduction measures in the community, therefore determining who has access to health care, which is a provincial responsibility.

Scott Bernstein, a lawyer with PIVOT Legal Society, is representing three individuals who use drugs, and the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, in the suit which aims to repeal the bylaw.

The city denies the claims made in the lawsuit and states that the bylaw does not restrict Fraser Health Authority from using land within city boundaries for activities that address adverse medical outcomes associated with the consumption of illicit drugs.

Bernstein also said the bylaw is a violation of drug users’ charter rights, by depriving them of life or security of the person. The city contests that statement, and states that services have been available through other agencies in Abbotsford.

The city denies harm caused by the bylaw, stating that “death, injury, mental and physical anguish, or other negative health effects” do not arise from the bylaw but result from the individuals’ choice to do drugs.

It states that the bylaw is not based on stigma and does not “in purpose or effect, perpetuate stigma or a stereotype that drug users are less worthy of equal treatment.”

In April, council received a report from the social planner, citing high hepatitis C rates and high hospital admissions due to drug overdoses in Abbotsford. Council decided to review the issue and send it back to city staff.

City manager George Murray said he cannot comment on the issue as it is before the courts, but said he expects the issue of a potential bylaw amendment or good neighbour agreement will come back before council by the end of July. If council decides to amend the bylaw, the issue would have to go to a public hearing.

At the time the lawsuit was launched, Bernstein expressed concern about allowing the issue to go to a public hearing, stating that a judge – not the public – should determine whether the bylaw should be repealed.