The City of Abbotsford’s ponderous deliberations over its 2005 harm reduction bylaw appear to finally be moving to a conclusion that should have been reached long ago.
This week, council passed first reading of an amendment that would remove restrictions on services such as needle exchanges and mobile dispensing vans, which have been on the street, off the official radar, for some time.
However, final approval won’t be given until after a formal public hearing, which will be yet another round of supportive and opposing input that’s been aired many times in recent years.
The positions on harm reduction are quite clear.
In 2010, the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) urged Abbotsford to rescind its bylaw. FHA estimates there are approximately 280 to 470 injection drug users in Abbotsford, many lacking access to health care. The health agency has also stated that Abbotsford has a hepatitis C infection rate of 64.4 per 100,000 people – higher than the regional, provincial and national averages.
The city is facing a civil lawsuit and a human rights complaint from drug users in regard to the anti-harm reduction bylaws, maintaining the city has overstepped its jurisdiction by determining health care.
Meanwhile, opponents to harm reduction measures say that approach raises public security issues, condones drug use, and doesn’t address core addiction.
Those are fair points, but they don’t address the problems that have existed prior to and after the 2005 bylaw, which was more about avoidance than action.
Drug rehabilitation services are provincial and federal responsibilities, and while the city should exert its influence on both levels of government to improve those programs, it should not be standing in the way of basic measures that save lives and reduce public health costs.
Passing this mitigating bylaw shouldn’t be a hard decision for council.