Recent overdose numbers are skyrocketing.
The Kelowna downtown business community have had their staff threatened, customers harassed, and have seen a negative impact on their livelihoods and stress levels.
People don’t feel safe anymore.
In January, the NDP decriminalized the use of hard drugs.
Which now means that the police can’t stop someone from openly using in City Park, Cameron Park, or in any of the parks in Kelowna – even if there are playgrounds, childcare centres, or athletic parks.
There are prohibitions of drug use in schools and daycares, but not in playgrounds that happen to be near them.
It’s fair to say that drug use in certain parks was already a problem, however with the decriminalization, law enforcement has one less tool to use in combatting it.
Mayor Tom Dyas has come to Victoria to meet with the local MLAs, as well as have us arrange meetings with some of the Ministers involved in this decision.
His ask is simple: exclude parks from the scope of drug decriminalization in an effort to protect children and families who frequent these public spaces.
As your local MLA for Kelowna Mission, I joined Ben Stewart - MLA Kelowna West and Norm Letnick - MLA Kelowna Lake Country, and echoed Mayor Dyas’ call with a letter pressing government by calling for the same.
As a mom, I am devastated for what this means for the safety of our children, and what this does to their safe spaces.
How does a mom or dad check for needles and paraphernalia everywhere?
Mayor Dyas' request comes at a time when the issue of drug decriminalization is at the forefront of public discourse.
BC United, as the Official Opposition, has made it clear that they do not support decriminalization without the necessary recovery and treatment supports in place.
As it currently stands, Kelowna lacks the infrastructure to provide these essential services.
A study done in Kelowna’s supportive housing sites by Dr. Hannah Gibson, and published in the BC Medical Journal, found that tenants often don’t have access to the supports they need.
Supportive housing tenants in B.C.'s Central Okanagan region often do not have access to the health-care services they need, according to the study, which also says more funding is needed for more treatment beds and other housing options.
With only 5 of the 20 promised complex care beds available and a long way to go to meet the requested 150 beds, Kelowna is facing a critical shortage in resources.
The current situation highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to drug decriminalization that goes beyond simply allowing drug use in public spaces.
While the decriminalization of drugs can be part of the solution, it must be accompanied by a solid framework of recovery and treatment options for those struggling with addiction.
BC United’s leader, Kevin Falcon has also echoed this call for protection of park spaces, stating in the Legislature:
“While simple activities like having a beer at your local public park or using a plastic straw are tightly regulated, the premier's policy allows completely uncontrolled consumption of lethal drugs like crystal meth, crack cocaine and fentanyl,”
“Neighbourhoods, as a result, are being plagued by discarded drugs and drug paraphernalia, forcing families to worry about their children stumbling upon needles in parks, beaches and playgrounds.”
Kelowna needs protected park spaces.
We also need a more balanced and holistic approach to treatment.
Our community must prioritize the establishment of treatment and recovery programs that can cater to the unique needs of those battling addiction. This should include the development of more complex care beds and the expansion of existing support services.
Furthermore, we must consider the impact of decriminalization on the safety and well-being of our children and families. Excluding parks from decriminalized drug use zones is a reasonable measure to ensure that public spaces remain safe and welcoming for all residents.
In conclusion, I urge the provincial government and stakeholders to take a more comprehensive approach to drug decriminalization in Kelowna. This should involve the implementation of robust recovery and treatment support services, as well as a thoughtful consideration of the public spaces where drug use should be permitted.
My question to you this week is this:
Do you support decriminalized open drug use in our parks?
I love hearing from you and read every email I receive.
Please email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call the office at 250-712-3620.