BC United vows to end drug decriminalization if elected

BC United leader Kevin Falcon says he’ll crack down on violence, crime, and drugs if he’s elected premier. As Kier Junos reports, experts say his new Safer B.C. plan is backwards, and goes against the research.

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon has unveiled his party’s “Safer B.C.” plan, saying if elected, his party will “restore public safety.”

As part of this plan, BC United, formerly known as the BC Liberal Party, is taking aim at the province’s current exemption to decriminalize possession of some illegal drugs for personal use.

Falcon says his party would “end the NDP’s failed and reckless decriminalization” and implement a “complete ban on open drug use in parks, playgrounds, beaches and public spaces.”

Currently, the province has a three-year exemption from the federal government’s Controlled Drug and Substances Act, which supports criminal penalties for those found to possess illegal drugs. This exemption, in effect from Jan. 31, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2026, came as a result of a request to the feds as part of a push to reduce stigma around substance use.

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Before the exemption came into effect in January, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it wasn’t going to solve all of B.C.’s toxic drug problems, but the hope was that it would help people feel safer about accessing resources and keeping people alive.

“It’s not going to change the crises that we’re dealing with overnight,” Henry said. “But it is a philosophical and an important step that helps us take that next [step to] work together to make sure that we are doing everything we can and that there are many different streams that people can follow.”

Criminalizing people has significant negative impacts, Dr. Lindsey Richardson, associate professor in sociology at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in Social Inclusion and Health Equity, told CityNews in April, a few months after the exemption took effect.

“Over and above interactions with police and incarceration, having a criminal record can impact people’s employment that housing status, their family life, and their physical and mental health,” Richardson said. “And it does very little to reduce the supply and use of illicit drugs.”

She also pointed out that the stigma and discrimination that accompanies criminalizing drug users can often drive people to use alone, which she says is a major factor in the risk of death by drugs.

She added that because decriminalization removes criminal charges for personal possession, it reduces interactions with police and the negative effects of criminal justice system involvement.

Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth reacted to the “Safer B.C.” plan Tuesday, saying, “It’s hard to take Kevin Falcon seriously on what he announced today, for a number of reasons.”

“One day he and his party are in favour of decrim(inalization), now they’re saying they’re not in favour of decrim,” Farnworth said. “At the same time, he’s said that he’s in favour of overdose prevention sites, now his caucus said that they’re not in favour of that, and he had to go out and correct and say he was in favour of that.

“And especially when you look at his record when he was a minister and cut important services in and around health, and at the same time, his government cut a repeat violent offender programme that we have reinstated,” Farnworth.

BC United’s “Safer B.C.” plan also includes other steps it says will “close David Eby’s revolving door of justice, and put the interests of law-abiding British Columbians first.”

“After six years on the job, the NDP has continuously failed in fulfilling one of its fundamental duties — keeping people safe. The endless cycle of chronic repeat offenders, arrested and released without consequences, has emboldened criminals and left British Columbians living in fear,” Falcon said. “Our streets and public places belong to the public, not criminals. BC United will get back to putting British Columbians’ rights to safety ahead of the rights of violent criminals to re-offend.”

One of the steps, he says, is to “let the police get back to policing” and end what he says is a 75 per-cent increase in non-charge assessments — where those caught committing crimes are released with no charges — under the current government.

“In Vancouver alone, (the increase in non-charge assessments) has led to the same 40 people being responsible for 6,385 negative police interactions in just one year, and an average of four people a day being subjected to random stranger attacks,” Falcon said. “The NDP’s catch-and-release program is compounded by a lack of adequate supports and treatment and rehabilitation programs for offenders with mental health and complex behavioural issues, increasing their entanglement with the justice system.”

Other facets of the plan include an alternative sentencing and rehabilitation program, body cameras for all police, and a crackdown on bail offenders.

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