Burnaby city council gave first, second, and third reading to the proposed controlled substances property bylaw. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Burnaby moving ahead with ‘really objectionable’ drug bylaw

The proposed controlled substances properties bylaw would add further pressure on landlords not to rent to people they believe could be involved in the drug trade. Karen Ward says that will lead to further marginalization of Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

By Dustin Godfrey | November 9, 2021 |5:00 am

Note: An earlier version of this story indicated the second section of prohibited activities in the bylaw—as it pertains to the collection of substances on properties—would apply to drug users. The word “use” appears to have been mistakenly included in the wording of the bylaw document.

The City of Burnaby is pushing ahead with a bylaw that one drug policy advocate previously called “really objectionable.”

Public safety director Dave Critchley introduced the notion of a controlled substance property bylaw in the spring of this year. On Monday, the bylaw was given first, second, and third reading by city council with no comment from councillors.

If passed and finalized, the bylaw would prohibit owners or occupants of a property from allowing a property to “become or remain a place for the manufacture, trade, storage, sale, or barter of a controlled substance.” There’s one notable change since the bylaw was first introduced: that list formerly included drug use as prohibited activities at properties.

The bylaw would further prohibit properties to collect “water, rubbish, noxious, offensive, or unsightly materials” in connection with drug trade or manufacturing. This is already prohibited by the city’s unsightly premises bylaw.

It also prohibits buildings to be altered to facilitate the manufacturing or growth of drugs, or for a building to grow mould or fungus as a result of the trade or use of drugs.

Finally, the bylaw would prohibit “a hazardous situation to exist or remain on the property.”

A hazardous situation is defined in the bylaw as “any real or potential risk to persons or property that arises or results from the use of a property for the manufacture, trade, storage, sale, or barter of a controlled substance.”

‘A window for landlords to discriminate’

When Critchley proposed the bylaw in May, drug policy advocate and advisor to the City of Vancouver Karen Ward said the proposal was “really objectionable” and discriminatory.

“It gives a window for landlords to discriminate against people that they think are drug users,” she said, noting the people who tend to be most affected by those kinds of policies are Black, Indigenous and people of colour, and people experiencing poverty.

In a message to Burnaby Beacon on Monday, Ward said the bylaw is “not OK.”

“It will discourage owners from leasing to a drug user organization, as if they need help with that,” Ward said.

Earlier she had concerns the bylaw would ban a supervised consumption site or overdose prevention site in the city. That, however, has at least been allayed by the removal of “use” from the first section of the prohibited activities.

But many of her original concerns may still apply, with the bylaw still expanding on criminalization of drugs and drug users instead of looking toward a decriminalization model.

The bylaw comes shortly after the province submitted its application to the federal government to get an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for possession of up to 4 grams.

Ward said earlier this year that the bylaw would give landlords a reason to not house marginalized people, or make those landlords more intrusive.

“That’s your privacy, right? … It’s wild. That’s wild,” Ward said.

“And this is obviously going to make things worse. And it’s really, really, like, wow, holy crap, the human rights violation,” she added at the time. “And it’s broad. It gives police a huge tool to just criminalize the shit out of people.”

But beyond that, in a message to Burnaby Beacon this week, Ward noted the bylaw also gives the city permission to enter the property to conduct inspections.

The continuing toxic drug crisis

Ward noted the increasing potential for further marginalization of drug users—or people suspected to be drug users—come as drug user deaths continue to rattle the province.

The monthly BC Coroners Service report is expected to be released today (Nov 9). The most recent available data, as of writing, showed 41 deaths in Burnaby in the first seven months of the year, among 1,200 deaths in BC.

In May, Mayor Mike Hurley defended the bylaw, saying it would be aimed at properties where a police drug bust leads to a cleanup by authorities, such as police and fire services.

​​“So, for example, if someone’s manufacturing fentanyl in a building, the cleanup of what’s gone on in that building is very, very, very expensive, and we believe that people who own those buildings should be responsible for the cost of that cleanup,” Hurley said.

“I don’t see that landlords would hold that against a marginalized community. I think this is more getting into the whole manufacturing of these pills and those types of things.”

If passed, the bylaw will come with a $500 fine, with no discounted rate for early payment.

Now that the bylaw has received first, second, and third reading, the bylaw just needs to pass reconsideration and final adoption.

Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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