CANADA: British Columbia Supreme Court Declares Drug Users Have Constitutional Right to Get High In Playgrounds

Jack Hadfield

The Supreme Court for the Canadian province of British Columbia has ruled that users of illegal drugs including fentanyl, MDMA, cocaine and heroin, have the right to get high in playgrounds, water parks and skateparks.

In September of last year, the left-wing British Columbia government enacted a restriction on their experiment on decriminalizing illegal drugs for personal consumption of up to 2.5 grams. But the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act made it so that if a drug user was within 15 meters of a playground, outdoor public pool, or skatepark where children were likely to be present, the consumption of drugs would not be permitted.

If such a user was spotted by the police, the authorities were mandated to “direct” the user farther away from the restricted areas, and only if that order was ignored were they then allowed to arrest the user in question. Areas such as schools and licenced care facilities had already been excluded in the original decriminalization act.

“Everyone, especially children, should feel safe in their communities,” said Minister Ya’ara Saks, federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health at the time. “This cannot be forgotten as we continue to work relentlessly to reduce substance use related harms. This amendment ensures that law enforcement has the tools needed to address public drug-use concerns, while continuing to provide support for some of the most vulnerable people in our community who use drugs.”

However, at the end of December, British Columbia Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled in favor of an injunction brought against the Act by the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, who argued that restrictions on public areas would increase the amount of “lone drug use,” and therefore deaths of drug users from overdoses.

“The plaintiff suggested that in a case, like this, where the fundamental rights and the lives and safety of marginalized people have been put at risk, the balance of convenience should fall overwhelmingly in its favour,” Hinkson noted in his ruling, which weighed on Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the section of Canadian constitutional law that protects “life, liberty and security of the person.”

Hinkson concluded that “irreparable harm” would likely occur to users of drugs if the act was allowed to come into force. This is despite the fact that he noted that “the social harms associated with public illegal drug use range from the loss of public space due to open drug use, to discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia, to drug-related criminal activity and decreases in real and perceived public safety,” which would particularly affect “seniors, people with disabilities, and families with young children” in the previously restricted areas.

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