Nanaimo city council is willing to look at piloting solutions to mental health and addictions issues in the community, including, potentially, becoming a test site for a “safe supply” of drugs.
Councillors, at their regular meeting Monday, voted 6-3 to write to Judy Darcy, B.C. minister of mental health and addictions, to remind her that Nanaimo is willing to be considered for her ministry’s pilot projects.
Coun. Don Bonner’s motion came out of a conversation with Coun. Erin Hemmens, who said Darcy was looking to expand the safe-supply program from Vancouver and was looking for pilot sites.
“I don’t think this council is ready for an argument or debate on safe supply, so I would suggest we keep the language generic, recognizing that the innovative solutions that are coming out of that ministry typically are attached to safe supply, but we don’t need to engage in that,” Hemmens said.
Coun. Tyler Brown suggested council should be “forthcoming” and use the term “safe supply” in its communication to the ministry if that’s what’s being discussed. He said business owners with whom he’s spoken are asking if providing users with a safe supply of drugs might help reduce crime.
“Within the last week, as crime has gone up, talking to some business owners that are impacted or worried they’re going to be impacted, they are also too wondering if safe supply is an option for our community … to help mitigate, as the drug of choice is becoming harder to obtain,” Brown said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong voiced a range of objections, saying she supports addictions treatment but would want more information about the City of Vancouver’s experiences with safe supply of drugs, including impacts on crime.
“My concern is that we keep doing everything to keep people on drugs instead of trying to get people off drugs,” Armstrong said. “So we’re keeping people at a level of where their brains are starting to be impacted because they keep using.”
Coun. Ian Thorpe said he felt the motion was well-intentioned but premature, and he had concerns about the way it was worded.
“I don’t care for the open language regarding willing to be a test site without having more background and information about what that would look like and what it would cost and what it would entail [for] our community,” he said.
Mayor Leonard Krog questioned the need for the motion, since he’s previously written to Darcy on behalf of council about Nanaimo’s willingness to participate in her ministry’s pilot programs.
“The minister has changed her tone to a certain amount. There’s nuances and new things in her talking,” Bonner said, adding that he thought a formal motion from council would carry weight.
Coun. Jim Turley said he didn’t necessarily want to see the motion lead to a public hearing process, but said he was willing to support the motion “and see what happens.”
The motion passed with Krog, Armstrong and Thorpe opposed.
Clarification: Coun. Jim Turley voted in favour of the motion of writing to the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to say Nanaimo is willing to be a test site for ministry pilot programs, but told the News Bulletin the types of treatment he favours do not include safe supply of drugs unless it is medication to treat and cure addictions.