Blair Ireland

Coun. Blair Ireland

Lake Country has joined a growing chorus of B.C. municipalities urging the federal government to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.

At its regular meeting earlier this week, Lake Country council voted to send a letter to the federal government calling for the federal government to act.

All six members of the council who were on hand voted in favour of the motion, brought forward by Coun. Blair Ireland. One councillor, Todd McKenzie, was not present for the vote but Ireland said he felt sure, from previous discussions about the issue, that McKenzie would also be in support.

“This is incredibly important,” said Ireland, speaking at the meeting. “People have been paying attention to the COVID numbers, but not as much to the deaths every day due to this.”

He said he recently met with the family of his son’s best friend, who died due to a drug overdose.

Yesterday, Ireland said it is shocking the number of people who are dying — especially young people — due to drug overdoses.

“It’s upsetting to go the celebration of life for a 20-year-old who has died from illicit drugs,” he said, adding while the problem may not be as visible in a small community like Lake Country, that does not mean it is not a problem there.

His colleague, Coun. Bill Scarrow, was emotional in supporting Ireland’s motion at the meeting. He wiped away tears as spoke of losing family members to drug overdoses.

Scarrow said something needs to be done now.

The motion to send a letter to the federal government included a call on Ottawa to allocate resources to the provinces to address drug treatment and drug rehabilitation.

Coun. Penny Gamble asked that the addition be made because it is important, she felt, for there to be more than just decriminalization of illicit drugs. Support services are needed too and help needs to get to those addicted to drugs, she said

Both Ireland and Coun. Jerremy Kozub said the issue of drug addiction needs to be viewed as a health issue, not a criminal issue.

Throwing addicts in jail is not the answer, said Kozub.

Ireland said he does feel the police should still go after those who sell drugs but not the people addicted.

Lake Country council’s support for decriminalizing small amounts of illicit drugs — not legalizing them — follows Kelowna city council’s refusal to write a similar letter to Ottawa earlier this year.

In February, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said his council would not follow Vancouver’s lead in writing to the federal government to support such a move. He said his council would rather deal with issues it could control.

By June, Basran appeared to have softened on the issue saying he personally supported the idea of calling on Ottawa to act, but said he did not agree to sign a letter at that time after councils in Kamloops, Victoria, Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Saanich and Nanaimo agreed to do so because he had not discussed it with his own council.

Speaking for himself, Basran said he saw decriminalization as potentially being one part of a broader drug strategy that would include enhanced support services, a cleaner drug supply and housing for those struggling with addictions.

“Do I think decriminalization is one part of a more wholesome solution to helping people get better? I do,” Basran said.

“I’m supportive, but with the caveat that there needs to be better supports in place to, when people are caught with small amounts of drugs, instead of being sent through the court system, they are sent to get help.”

Under what has become known as the Vancouver Model, that city’s municipal staff, police department and the regional health authority worked together to set initial thresholds for 15 common illicit drugs and anyone found in possession of less than the threshold amount would not face criminal, financial or administrative penalties.