Parksville mayor Ed Mayne has introduced a motion to investigate the possibility of a bylaw regulating needle distribution in the city.
Mayne made the motion during a Parksville council committee of the whole (COW) meeting focusing on public safety and held on May 6. His full resolution was “that staff be directed to report back to council on the legal procedures to prepare a bylaw regulating the unrestricted distribution of hypodermic needles to individuals in the City of Parksville including a requirement that those individuals return used needles to the distributor for safe disposal before being provided with new needles.”
“The reason for the resolution is that there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of needles being given out by various forms from all of the different health groups. No responsibility for them, they just hand out the needles to the individuals,” Mayne said. “If they’re giving away that many needles where do they expect them to end up? They’re going to end up on the ground… and that is what we’re seeing.”
Mayne added that he believes Island Health and other organizations that distribute needles, although giving them out for “maybe the right reasons,” need to be more conservative on the amount they’re handing out.
“I am also going to ask staff to add on to [the proposed resolution] just a little bit more. I would like to see the [organization] names of whose needles they are,” Mayne said. “If they’re all from one group or another then why wouldn’t we go after the people for giving them out? We have to start to clamp down on this.”
Mayne’s motion received applause from audience members and support from council.
“I think this is a great motion coming forward here and out of that I hope we can identify who are distributing needles in our community,” said Coun. Adam Fras.
Coun. Doug O’Brien requested an amendment to Mayne’s resolution, that staff also look into having any needle distributors in the city switch over to retractable needles.
“It is not only for the public safety, it’s also for the user’s as well,” O’Brien said.
According to Central Island medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback, there isn’t a limit on the amount of needles organizations can distribute.
Hasselback said millions of harm-reduction supplies are distributed province-wide. He said some communities are more willing to embrace harm-reduction efforts than others.
“Those (communities) that tend to think that they can regulate or legislate out (illicit drug) use have been unsuccessful and actually tend to exacerbate the situation. All I can do is encourage that Parksville take a more understanding view of what is working for the communities,” Hasselback said. “We’ve seen really good successes and we actually don’t see the community divisiveness and angst that happens when communities recognize that use is far more common than we ever recognized before this crisis happened.”
Hasselback said harm-reduction supplies are an interim solution to keep people alive while working to come up with longer-term solutions for people who have substance use disorders.
Parksville has several needle disposal sites, including in public washrooms at Foster Park, Springwood Park and the Community Park, at Oceanside Public Health Services Family Place, in the washrooms at the Parksville Civic and Technology Centre and at Oceanside Health Centre.
“There are a variety of different collection mechanisms in place, not only are there exchanges, people do bring back their needles. We try to encourage the use of safe needle disposal so boxes that are available,” Hasselback said.
“People are obtaining supplies in a variety of different fashions and I really encourage the mayor (Mayne) to come and have a conversation with us.”
During discussion at the meeting, Coun. Mark Chandler suggested organizations and people in the community who help individuals in need should speak with them about cleaning up after themselves.
“We are helping these folks with lots of handouts and food and so on, and I think we’ve got a hugely compassionate society in Parksville but I think there’s a lot of disrespect being thrown back,” Chandler said.
After Mayne’s motion was passed unanimously, more claps came from the audience.
Last week, on various occasions, Parksville residents took to social media to express their frustrations and concerns after finding needles and other garbage left in public spaces. One man was alarmed to find needles left in a forested area near Springwood Elementary School and another resident was upset to see needles left on a picnic table near the playground in the Parksville Community Park.
City of Parksville CAO Keevah Kehler said city staff do a patrol of community parks, typically around 7:30 a.m. each day, to combat litter.
“We focus our efforts in the Community Park and Foster Park,” Kehler said.
“Our staff are all trained on how to pick up needles but in some cases we also have a contracted hazmat professional who we are calling more often.”
Kehler said the city encourages people to call them anytime needles or litter are found on public land.
“We do rely on the public to let us know. We have on-call staff on weekends and we have a weekend bylaw officer as well,” Kehler said. “What I think is happening is sometimes we’re not getting the call, folks are perhaps going to social media which we don’t monitor, we don’t know somebody’s talking in a private group or talking on the PQB News… so we have information on our website on who to call at what particular time of day or after hours.”