Mayor and Council
City of Dawson Creek
Treaty 8 Territory, ancestral home of the
Sikanni, Slavey, Dane-zaa, Cree and Saulteau
Northern Health Authority
Dr. Jong Kim, Chief Medical Health Officer
First Nations Health Authority
Dr. Shannon McDonald, Acting Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer
November 19, 2021
Dear Mayor and Council of Dawson Creek, First Nations Health Authority, and Northern Health Authority:
RE: City of Dawson Creek Zoning Bylaw Amendment regarding supervised consumption services
I write on behalf of Pivot Legal Society, a human rights and legal organization that provides drug policy expertise to governments, research groups, academic institutions, and drug user-led groups across BC.
We have grave concerns about the City of Dawson Creek’s proposed zoning bylaw amendment regarding supervised consumption services, scheduled to be discussed in Council Chambers on Monday, November 22. Amidst the simultaneous COVID-19 pandemic, housing, and opioid crises, and an escalating climate crisis—all of which have heavily disrupted the illicit drug supply chain and put drug users at even greater risk of overdose and death—it is imperative that governments refrain from enacting provisions like this one, which will necessarily inhibit drug users’ access to life-saving harm reduction services.
Discriminatory Municipal Bylaws and Zoning
Pivot has researched the prevalence of discriminatory zoning across BC, has worked in communities with people experiencing discrimination through zoning, and has litigated in multiple communities where discriminatory zoning impedes access to life-saving services.
Though municipalities have the authority to determine land use and zoning within their jurisdictions, this authority cannot be exercised in a manner that discriminates against certain groups, including people who use drugs. As is the case here, the effect is a denial of critical health and social services that are desperately needed by marginalized populations.
Dawson Creek Zoning Amendment
The amendment in question proposes to add “harm reduction services” and “supervised consumption site” to the Zoning Bylaw’s definitions. This means that all existing and future sites covered by these definitions will be relegated to operating only in appropriately-zoned locations. However, there are currently no properties in the City of Dawson Creek that are zoned for either of these uses. The only option for such health services, then, is to attempt the costly, complicated, and uncertain process of rezoning. This does not respect the health care and human rights needs of your city’s residents amidst dual public health emergencies. Furthermore, the proposed bylaw fails to adequately consider the needs of Indigenous people who use drugs, despite high rates of fatal overdose rates in this community.
The clear and life-threatening effect of the proposed bylaw amendment is to limit existing and future harm reduction services by adding yet another (likely insurmountable) barrier to establishing life-saving health services. This is unconscionable at a time when illicit drug toxicity death rates in the Northern Health Authority are 42.8 per 100,000—a rate that is second only to Vancouver Coastal Health. In 2021, Northern Health has had the highest rate of illicit drug toxicity deaths in the province with a rate of 50 deaths per 100,000 individuals. Among the existing services that face closure under the amendment is SNOW House, which provides outreach, overdose response, harm reduction resources, and a welcoming community to the under-serviced population of people who use drugs.
In our 2017 report (attached), Pivot expressly identified amendments such as the one before you (along with the accompanying public consultation processes scheduled for November 22nd) as discriminatory, and therefore at odds with both the BC Human Rights Code and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
“Other, more opaque bylaws have the effect of prohibiting services such as needle exchanges…by defining such services within existing zoning legislation and then providing few or possibly no zones in which those services are permitted.
Zoning processes, which seem neutral on their face, to rezone land for the provision of … health care … services for people experiencing homelessness and addiction, can create a context where zoning decisions are made predominantly based on “who” will use the service, not the use to which the land will be put, e.g.:
a. public consultation processes are often required to establish services for people experiencing homelessness and addiction, but are not required for other housing or health services; and
b. public consultation processes often become a venue for people to openly air prejudice against people experiencing homelessness and addiction. In turn, municipalities are basing their decisions, at least in part, upon this discriminatory input.”
Discrimination against drug users is prohibited by the Charter and by provincial human rights law. In addition to our concerns about the discriminatory implications of this bylaw, the effect of ‘zoning out’ harm reduction services raises obvious threats to section 7 of the Charter, which guarantees the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. Harm reduction services are health services. Laws and policies that infringe or shutter those services—particularly where a Charter-protected group such as substance users is concerned—are extremely difficult to justify under Canadian law.
During multiple public health and safety emergencies, it has never been more urgent that municipalities and health authorities protect the health and safety of people who use drugs. Amendments like the one before you fly in the face of public health and evidence-based harm reduction. In the interests of health care for people who use drugs in your community, we ask you to oppose the amendment in question.
Pivot Legal Society
Staff Lawyer – Drug Policy
cc: Society for Narcotic and Opioid Wellness (SNOW)
Overdose Emergency Response Centre (OERC)
Discriminatory Zoning Backgrounder
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.