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B.C. court blocks new law against public drug use, warning of ‘irreparable harm’

January 2, 2024  By The Canadian Press

By Darryl Greer

Vancouver — The British Columbia Supreme Court has blocked new provincial laws against public consumption of illegal substances.

The ruling in favour of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association imposes a temporary injunction until March 31, with the judge saying “irreparable harm will be caused” if the laws come into force.

The Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act was passed by the legislature in November, allowing fines and imprisonment for people who refuse to comply with police orders not to consume drugs in certain public places.


The nurses association argued the act, which has yet to come into effect, would violate the Canadian Charter in various ways if enforced.

But Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said in his ruling issued Friday that it was unnecessary to turn to those arguments, since the “balance of convenience” and the risk of irreparable harm weighed in the plaintiff’s favour.

“I accept that lone drug use may be particularly dangerous due to an absence or a diminished degree of support in the event of an overdose,” Hinkson’s ruling says.

“When people are isolated and out of sight, they are at a much higher risk of dying from an unreversed overdose.”

The law would allow police to order people to “cease using an illegal substance in a specified area,” or to leave that area.

The places specified in the act include sports fields, beaches, or parks, within six metres of building entrances and within 15 metres of a playground, skate park or wading pool.

People who refuse could be fined up to $2,000 and imprisoned for up to six months.

The act would give police discretion to arrest those who don’t comply and seize and destroy their drugs.

Lawyer Caitlin Shane for the nurses association said the injunction, pending a constitutional challenge, shows “substance use cannot be legislated without scrutiny.”

Shane said in an interview that most people who use drugs in B.C. “live in communities that do not have safe, legal indoor spaces to use drugs.”

She said the court granting the injunction was a “welcome decision” because even though the act hadn’t been brought into legal effect, it was already being enforced by police.

“We have heard, kind of, on the ground from people in communities around B.C., that police have already begun attempting to enforce this law, which was never in effect,” Shane said. “So this judgment makes absolutely certain and confirms the fact that the law is not enforceable. It is not in effect and it can’t be used against people.”

Shane said the law “stands against” the provincial government’s public positions about “appropriate responses to drug use and the toxic drug supply.”

“A law like this imposes even greater burden and hardship on people who are already being failed by B.C.’s laws and policies respecting drug consumption,” she said.

In October, the province said the new laws aligned with rules around tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use, providing “a consistent approach throughout the province.”

According to the BC Coroners Service, at least 13,317 people have died due to unregulated drugs in B.C. since a public-health emergency was declared in April 2016.

In an update issued at the end of last month, the service said unregulated drugs had claimed at least 2,039 lives in the first 10 months of the year.

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