Parksville mayor Ed Mayne said the lack of movement on the city’s proposed needle regulation bylaw is “frustrating as hell.”
The bylaw would limit the distribution of clean needles in the city. It was discussed at a June 1 council meeting, the first in-person gathering since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented. The matter was first brought forward approximately a year ago.
The bylaw includes: making all people or organizations distributing harm reduction supplies register with the city; only allowing retractable needles or needless syringes to be distributed in the city; making distributors track who is receiving needles and require those people to return discarded needles or “declare they have been safely disposed of before supplying” more needles.
It was amended after feedback from the medical health officer for the central Island, Dr. Paul Hasselback, who said the changes were still not enough for him to endorse it. He criticized the bylaw for being a potential infringement on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as a contradiction to widely accepted provincial government harm reduction practices.
“The reference to needless injections was removed and council deleted the requirement to label syringes with the distributors’ name. Definitions were also amended to clarify the bylaw does not apply to prescribed medication that requires a hypodermic needle to administer or to naloxone kits,” read a report from the city.
Council can’t pass the bylaw themselves – they need the medical health officer on board. It’s mandatory for any municipality wanting to pass a health services related bylaw to consult with a medical health officer. It also needs to be passed by the Ministry of Health.
Hasselback “respectfully declined” the ask for an in-person meeting with council, according to a report by Parksville’s chief administrative officer Keeva Kehler.
Kehler said the report is just an update on the “longstanding project.”
“We have been told at the staff level, informally, that the city’s bylaw will not be approved by the minister in any way,” said Kehler. “Essentially, they have said that it will be a wholesale rejection.”
Kehler said as she understands, any regulation on needles will not be accepted by the ministry.
Coun. Adam Fras said he was disappointed by the lack of response, and said the timeframe isn’t COVID-related.
“It’s a disappointing situation for sure,” said Fras.
Coun. Al Grier said he thought the problem was local.
“I’d just make the comment that it’s probably the local people here that are stonewalling us, that’s for sure,” said Grier. “So, I won’t go any further. They’re dug in and I don’t think they’re going to make any changes.”
Mayor Mayne responded by saying that Kehler has had conversations with the ministry, as well as locally, so Grier is “partially accurate.”
“I’m so very unimpressed with the Ministry of Health’s response to this matter regarding discarded needles,” said Mayne. “First off, I hear the concerns with the fact ‘oh well, you’re going to deter persons with addictions from getting clean needles’ but they haven’t proven that fact yet. And I respond back to them that, should we be more concerned about the vast majority of people within the city of Parksville or should we be concerned about the few who are discarding these needles, actually very carelessly?”
According to Mayne, the number of needles being improperly discarded is increasing, and that they’re finding “almost equal” numbers of used and unused needles. He said he believes this is a result of distribution methods.
“They haven’t come to the table with anything that is anywhere near a solution to this problem, besides just walk out there with huge handfuls of needles and virtually say, ‘here you are folks, go ahead,’ and then they use a couple of them and the rest of them they throw down because they don’t want to be bothered carrying them around anymore,” he said. “We have to stop this.”
Mayne’s observations about the number of needles and the types of needles found are “more anecdotal/observational,” according to Deb Tardiff, the city’s manager of communications. The city doesn’t have the number for all needles found in Parksville.
Ultimately, council unanimously received the information from the CAO, which means the bylaw will stay at second reading until they hear back officially from the ministry.