Abbotsford may end ban on safe-injection sites
BY ELAINE O'CONNOR, THE SUNDAY PROVINCE
Abbotsford drug users - for years officially denied harm-reduction services in the conservative community - may soon have access to services such as addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have.
Faced with pressure from the health authority and advocacy groups, Abbotsford City Council will on May 28 review a 2005 zoning bylaw amendment prohibiting needle exchanges and safe- injection sites.
Mayor Bruce Banman, elected in 2011 on a pledge to make Abbotsford more progressive, said he's open to potentially scrapping the bylaw.
"From a humanitarian perspective, just because you're an addict doesn't mean you're entitled to less than the rest of us," Banman said.
"My personal view is that I think that needle exchanges have some positive attributes with regards to AIDS and hepatitis.
"Having needle exchanges, you bring addicts in contact with a professional on a regular basis and give them the opportunity, when they are ready, to try detox."
Earlier this month, the Fraser Health Authority sent a proposal to the city to distribute up to 120,000 needles per year to an estimated 500 injection drug users.
Pivot Legal Society was considering a legal challenge to the bylaw earlier this year, arguing it violates an individual's Charter rights and access to medical care.
The reality is that harm- reduction services have been operating illegally in the region for years.
A consortium of community groups, called the Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee, has been quietly distributing needles in Abbotsford shooting galleries since 2005.
"Is there a need? Absolutely," said Brian Gross, board member and Abbotsford liaison for the B.C./ Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, a consortium member.
"They go out with thousands of needles at night and they come back with none."
Gross said councillors shouldn't set health policy and he feels the bylaw sends a cruel message: "They would rather see addicts dead than within the city."
The PHS Community Services Society, which manages the Downtown Eastside's InSite safe- injection site and runs a needle-exchange van, made a business permit application last week to bring its van to Abbotsford.
The group's been quietly operating there once a week for six months, handing out up to 500 needles a night.
"What we found distributing at our needle exchanges is that people were coming from as far away as Abbotsford to get clean needles," said Mark Townsend of PHS.