Faced with the reality of a legal challenge from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, New Westminster City Council last night rescinded the heart of its “Public Nuisance Bylaw.”
The bylaw banned anyone convicted of street drug trafficking during the previous 12 months from huge sections of the city. Those sections included most of the downtown area, a two block corridor on either side of 12th Street and all three SkyTrain stations.
“We are obviously pleased that City Council has repealed the offensive sections of this bylaw,” BCCLA Executive Director John Westwood said today. “However, we are discouraged to hear that in doing so, members of Council said that the reason for the repeal is that the problem has been cleaned up and the bylaw no longer needed. We would have hoped that they would acknowledge that the bylaw stood little chance of surviving a legal challenge, and repealed it out of respect for the rule of law.”
The BCCLA’s legal challenge, filed in B.C. Supreme Court two weeks ago, claimed that the bylaw was beyond the powers given the city under the Municipal Act, encroached on federal jurisdiction in assuming powers granted to Parliament, and violated various Charter rights of those affected by the bylaw.
Westwood noted that the BCCLA does not oppose police arresting those caught dealing drugs. Nor does it oppose courts creating reasonable “no go” zones for those out on bail or on parole for trafficking offences, after a hearing at which the person’s individual circumstances and needs are taken into account. What it would not tolerate was City Council’s automatic banishment of such persons from the city.
“The problem of drug addiction in New Westminster has not magically gone away just because the streets are now relatively clean of dealers,” said Westwood. “The reason there were dealers in New Westminster is that there are addicted persons in New Westminster, and the dealers will be back. What is needed is a health and social services approach to the problems of drug addiction and the street drug trade.
“Unfortunately, this bylaw undercuts such an approach by making it difficult for addicted persons who have turned to street-level trafficking to support their habits from accessing the very services they need to help themselves, such as methadone dispensing pharmacies, drop in medical clinics and counselling services. Instead of trying to deal with the problem, New Westminster City Council merely tried to shift it to neighbouring municipalities. It was a bad law, and we’re happy to see it go.”
The BCCLA is most appreciative of the efforts of our legal counsel in this case, John McAlpine, Q.C., Richard Peck, Q.C. and Bruce Elwood.