Community members oppose the harm reduction bylaw at a public forum held in January.

Community members oppose the harm reduction bylaw at a public forum held in January.

Council to reconsider controversial harm reduction bylaw

City staff will prepare an amendment to the bylaw for council's consideration

Abbotsford will reconsider its controversial bylaw against harm reduction measures, following a unanimous decision to review the issue at Monday’s council meeting.

Council received a report from the city’s social planner, which outlined the results of  two public forums held in January about the issue of harm reduction in Abbotsford.

Harm reduction refers to public health policies designed to reduce harmful consequences and is usually associated with needle exchange programs, free condoms, safe injection sites and other services that help drug users, prostitutes and other at-risk individuals.

The report states that 85 per cent of those who commented at the forums supported council approving a policy that favours harm reduction.

The city report states that Abbotsford is faced with high hepatitis C rates, high hospital admissions due to drug overdoses and a lack of access to additional health care services for vulnerable populations of drug users.

Council voted unanimously to direct city staff to prepare an amendment to the bylaw for council to consider, amending the city’s current definition of harm reduction. Staff will also prepare a “good neighbour policy,” which would determine the most appropriate way to allow harm reduction measures in the city and mitigate the impact on the community.

Though the vote was unanimous, many councillors still expressed concerns about allowing harm reduction in Abbotsford.

Fraser Health Authority (FHA) asked council to reconsider the bylaw in 2010, citing Abbotsford’s high hepatitis C infection rates and the high associated costs as a concern.

The report also states that the health care services be left to the responsibility of the province, while the city will retain municipal control where possible.

Coun. Simon Gibson said he was concerned changing the bylaw would make Abbotsford a centre for drug users.

“I feel we are being forced into a model that is not in the best interest of the community.”

Coun. Henry Braun said that the current bylaw clearly isn’t working, but any possible changes are still in their infancy.

“This is not the end, it is the beginning of the process.”

Mayor Bruce Banman said that if FHA supports ending the bylaw in order to save money, they must be prepared to support detox efforts in Abbotsford.

“All this money that they say they’ve been spending… they better come to the table with some detox and some rehab money.”

A change in the zoning bylaw would require the issue to go to a public hearing.