City will have to defend harm reduction bylaw to human rights tribunal

Complaint filed in May has been accepted by tribunal

Drugs users and members of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors launched a civil lawsuit and human rights complaint against the city of Abbotsford in May.

Drugs users and members of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors launched a civil lawsuit and human rights complaint against the city of Abbotsford in May.

Abbotsford will have to defend its harm reduction bylaw to the B.C. Human Rights tribunal.

The complaint was filed in May at the same time a civil suit was filed against the city, both aiming to repeal the city’s legislation restricting harm reduction measures.

Scott Bernstein of PIVOT Legal Society is representing three individual drug users and the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors in both the lawsuit and the complaint.

Bernstein said the tribunal has a screening function in which it assesses a complaint to make sure it is within the tribunal’s jurisdiction. They have now accepted the complaint, and it can move forward to the tribunal.

The human rights complaint argues that the bylaw is discriminatory against drug users. Bernstein states that medical doctors and the courts view drug dependence as a physical disability, and therefore singling out drug users in a bylaw is discrimination, as the city does not single out any other disabilities in its bylaws.

Bernstein said they are seeking a “systemic remedy,” which would mean repealing the bylaw, and not monetary damages.

“We’re looking to have an adjudicative body say, ‘your bylaw is discriminatory, you are acting in a way that is contrary to human rights code.’ “

Berstein said that in the first four months of 2013, 23 people died of drug overdose in the Fraser Valley, adding that in the last month, eight people in Abbotsford have overdosed.

“The bylaw is actually standing in the way of dealing with these things in an effective way.”

Abbotsford police issued a warning on Wednesday stating that the city has seen a spike in overdoses, believing this is due to a potent form on heroin currently on the streets.

Bernstein said this issue could be addressed, and lives could be saved, through the presence of harm reduction measure in Abbotsford.

The city is currently reviewing its harm reduction bylaw.

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