The Village of Cumberland office. Comox Valley Record file photo

Cumberland council shows support for decriminalization of drugs

Council responded to a recent request from Comox Valley couple who lost son

The Village of Cumberland council supported a motion to pressure senior levels of government to do more to tackle the opioid crisis at the Jan. 13 meeting.

They were revisiting a matter from a meeting in December. At the time, a local couple, Jennifer and John Hedican, appeared before council to ask for support. The Hedicans want the provincial and federal government to address the toxic drug supply poisoning people in the Comox Valley and beyond, as well as work toward the decriminalization of drugs. The Hedicans lost their son Ryan in 2017, and in their letter, they pointed out 55 Comox Valley residents had died preventable deaths due to a toxic drug supply since 2016. The couple had also appeared before other local councils in recent months.

RELATED STORY: Courtenay couple holds senior governments accountable for drug crisis

Coun. Jesse Ketler referred to a motion passed at the regional district for council’s consideration.

“It’s basically dealing with having a safe drug supply, so that people don’t have to rely on a toxic drug supply,” she said.

She added part of the motion deal with having safe sites to reduce the risk. The wording addressed to the Province, and she acknowledged the request from the Hedicans included the federal government. In response, Coun. Vickey Brown made a motion for council to support the decriminalization of drugs and the creation of a regulated, safe drug supply through a letter to the federal government.

Mayor Leslie Baird added that this issue typically comes up at the mayors’ caucus at the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities meeting.

“This is a topic that is talked about,” she said.

She also referred to recent presentations at UBCM from the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and the provincial health officer showing support for the idea. Cumberland’s council unanimously passed the motion.

Secondary suites update

Manager of Development Services Ken Rogers updated Cumberland council about changes to the BC Building Code that permit secondary suites in more types of housing. Last month, the Province removed barriers for secondary suites. The changes include discontinuing prescribed floor space amounts and percentage distribution as well as allowing suites in side-by-side duplexes, row housing and buildings that have occupancy other than residential.

Rogers clarified the Village would need to change the current bylaw if it wants to take the changes into account.

“Just to be clear, our bylaw stands until we wish to amend,” he said.

He added staff will be looking at how these changes could be incorporated into Cumberland’s current zoning bylaw. He urged caution and cited examples of potential problems associated with introducing suites into structures such as duplexes because of neighbourhood density issues. For example, street parking can become harder to find as density in a neighbourhood increases. He referred to one street in Dawson Creek that faced such problems.

“Parking was like a Tetris game,” he said.

Cumberland staff will now bring forward a report to council on how to address the building code changes.

Island Food Charter request

Council is holding off for now on moving ahead with support for a charter about community food security.

LUSH Valley Food Action Society has asked local councils to adopt an Island Food Charter for their communities.

At the Jan. 13 meeting, the recommendation from Village staff was that they consider the charter during a planned update of the official community plan (OCP) in 2021. Coun. Vickey Brown wondered why council should not proceed with the charter at this time.

Manager of Development Services Ken Rogers explained there were a number of issues the Village should consider before signing a charter, which implies certain rights and authority. He explained that, in contrast, OCPs do not commit a municipality to proceed with any project in the plan.

“A charter is slightly different than that,” he said. “Once you sign, there is a commitment.”

Rogers cited a section in the charter talking about livable incomes for people working in food production, explaining the Village should investigate certain clauses further to determine the commitment this could mean for local government.

“That’s just my cautionary note,” he added.

Mayor Leslie Baird suggested council follow staff advice concerning the Island Food Charter.

“Although I agree with the concept, I … think we really need to know what we’re getting into,” she said.

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