Parksville city council has voted to submit their bylaw regulating hypodermic needle distribution in the city to the Ministry of Health for approval.
Staff were directed at the Dec. 16 council meeting to make several amendments following the results of their initial consultation with Dr. Paul Hasselback, the medical health officer who oversees Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Alberni-Clayoquot. As the bylaw deals with the provision of health services, consultation with a medical health officer and approval by the Ministry of Health are a requirement before the bylaw can be enacted.
Hasselback identified a number of perceived issues with the bylaw as it was written, ranging from possible legal issues that have the potential to contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to potential limitations on access to a service perceived as lifesaving and direct conflicts with harm reduction best practices widely accepted by the provincial government.
The amendments will address some specific issues, including amending the definitions of ‘harm reduction supplies’ in the bylaw to only refer to needles for intravenous drug use, removing reference to needleless/jet syringes and removing the requirement to label all the needles distributed.
“I think it’s good because we have addressed a couple of the comments that the medical health officer had made, and to show that we were listening to it. It’s still a problem – the needles being dropped around the area is still a problem, and it needs to be addressed,” said Parksville mayor Ed Mayne.
Additionally, an amendment was made by Coun. Adam Fras so that the bylaw would allow for a one-for-one plus 10 needle exchange to occur.
“If you come with 20 [needles], you get 30, if you come with a 100, you can get 110,” said Fras.
Staff will submit the bylaw with the amendments for approval to the Ministry of Health.
Originally, council had wanted to meet face-to-face with Hasselback and the B.C. Minister for Health, and staff were directed at the Nov. 4 council meeting to try and arrange a meeting.
In a letter dated Dec. 4, Hasselback declined the opportunity to speak with council, noting that council did not move to make amendments based on the consultation he had already provided before requesting an in-person meeting.
“It is not the role of the Medical Health Officer to negotiate the acceptability (or not) of the bylaw’s various components. I would be pleased to be re-consulted, in writing, to provide ongoing objective analysis relating to proposed bylaw amendments,” said Hasselback in the letter.
“I have reviewed the expectations of the Medical Health Officer in this matter with colleagues provincially and determined that it would not be useful at this time to meet with Mayor and Council as part of the regulatory consultation process. However, should my participation be specifically requested by the Minister of Health, then I will do so.”
Fras expressed his disappointment that Hasselback had declined the opportunity to meet.
“I do think it’s very disappointing that the medical health officer refused to meet with us, considering that he had such strong criticism of and input into the bylaw we were looking at putting through,” said Fras.
Coun. Teresa Patterson expressed her desire to continue consultation with provincial health representatives.
“My thought and preference would be to continue to write and direct observations and what’s going forward and keep in communication as much as possible with the medical health officer, our honourable Minister of Health, and our provincial health officers,” said Patterson.
Additionally, CAO Keeva Kehler wanted to be clear that the city is still continuing to request a meeting with Dix and the Ministry of Health. The city said they have not yet heard a response from Dix’s office.
“Just to address, the CAO has just pointed out that we are continuing to ask the Minister to meet with us. We are trying to consult, we are trying to do our share of it,” said Mayne.