Parksville city council’s proposed bylaw to regulate the distribution of hypodermic needles has been met with criticism from the medical health officer for central Vancouver Island.
Dr. Paul Hasselback’s letter to council, dated Oct. 8, 2019 and included in the council agenda for the Nov. 4 meeting, outlines a number of issues in the bylaw, which passed first and second reading on July 3, 2019.
Some of these issues include, according to Hasselback, potential contravention of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as possibly opening up issues of discrimination under the B.C. Human Rights Code.
Hasselback recommends council seek legal advice before attempting to pass the bylaw in its current form.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that efforts to limit access to the management of ‘addictions’ are subject to review under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms… The application of the B.C. Human Rights Code may be an issue of concern for the implementation of the bylaw as written should any individual perceive that they are adversely impacted in their access to a service,” said Hasselback in the letter.
“In summary, the bylaw has the potential to negatively impact the health of individuals and residents of Parksville. It does so though limiting access to services known to be lifesaving and health protecting.”
Any municipal bylaw impacting health services in B.C. must be first approved by the Ministry of Health. If council decides to proceed, they would need to wait on provincial approval before implementing any changes related to the distribution of the needles.
The bylaw as read on July 3 would see the distribution of harm-reduction supplies (defined in the Nov. 4 agenda as “needles which are associated with the use of illegal substances…”) restricted to authorized distributors, who would need to be registered with the city. It would also require distribution of needles from municipally owned property, such as 222 Corfield, to be authorized specifically by council.
It would require all needles distributed to be retractable or needle-less, have labels citing their source, and require organizations to track individuals to ensure that they have returned all used needles to appropriate containers before getting more.
“In British Columbia, the distribution of needles and syringes, and certain other harm-reduction supplies is to assist in the prevention of bloodborne illnesses such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C,” said Hasselback in the letter.
“Knowingly acting in a fashion which may cause harm has the potential to place the Council of the City of Parksville in a liability exposure which should be referred to their insurer.”
He also states that limiting supply of needles is in conflict with provincial policy and national guidelines.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s information sheet “Harm Reduction Best Practices – Needle Distribution” says the practice of requiring “one-for-one” needle exchange is “outdated.”
“Evidence shows that limiting the number of needles distributed increases the likelihood of people sharing or re-using needles, and thus increases the risk of HIV, HBV, HCV and other infections,” reads the release.
Council has several options, as outlined in chief administrative officer Keeva Kehler’s report to council dated Oct. 24.
Kehler’s recommendation is that council receive the report for information. In that case, the bylaw will remain at second reading until council provides further direction.
The other options are to submit the bylaw to the Minister of Health for consideration of approval, continue consultation with Hasselback and make amendments prior to submission, or provide alternative direction to staff.