On Tuesday, the Maple Ridge council expressed that they will not support Councillor Ahmed Yousef’s motion to prohibit illicit drug use in public parks.
After submissions of complaints from the Chamber of Commerce serving Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows and the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association (DMRBIA), councillor Yousef submitted a notice of motion to prohibit illicit drug use in all city parks and outdoor public gathering spaces.
“As a business organization, I am concerned about the impact of drug use on the local business community in Maple Ridge. It’s unfortunate that the presence of drug users and drug paraphernalia in public spaces is creating an unwelcoming environment that is causing people to feel uncomfortable and scared to walk through parks and the downtown core where a lot of businesses reside,” said Kristi Maier, executive director of Chamber of Commerce.
Open use often results in business owners and community members dealing with and witnessing passed-out and overdosed individuals, loss of staff, customers and revenue due to safety concerns and increased security and maintenance costs, according to a statement from DMRBIA.
During the council meeting, it was noted that an existing bylaw prohibits the use of illicit drugs in Maple Ridge public parks and therefore termed this motion “redundant.”
Several community members attended the meeting to share their concerns, requesting that the council consider opening a safe injection site for illicit drug use for people.
One of them was Tracy Scott, a resident of Maple Ridge who is the founding president of Maple Ridge Street Outreach Society.
“I’m from your streets of Maple Ridge. I lived on these streets for three years with my dog and fight for whatever [these] people think they need whether that be treatment or anything else. But these people live on your streets and all I ask is that council please think of a safe site for them to use,” said Scott.
She added that safe injection sites have medical benefits including providing a social and equitable space for those who use drugs.
“These people need a place to go right now because the street is their home.”
Expressing her concern with the motion, councillor Jenny Tan added that local police officers are “severely overburdened and they do not have time or capacity for this.”
“What is a good use of the social resources here? Is it to further criminalize people who are largely poor and unable to find housing somewhere because folks who are middle income or above have homes to use in,” said Tan.
However, Yousef said the aim of this notice is to ensure that city staff and bylaw officers have clear directions on how to enact the prohibition of drug use, not introduce a new bylaw.
“My primary goal is to secure the facilities built predominantly for the use of children, families and seniors. We have the bylaw in place, we also have a significant amount of concern expressed by residents and businesses. Possession is one thing, use is another so let’s not conflate those two things,” he said.
He added that this has nothing to do with a person’s socio-economic status and is not a motion against the poor.
However, in his closing remarks, Mayor Dan Ruimy expressed his disagreement with the statement
“People living on the street are the very essence of poor. They don’t have the resources to treat themselves, they don’t have the ability to go home and do their drugs. The very essence of being homeless is being poor, with no hope whatsoever… these are folks that likely don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Mayor Ruimy.
The motion was defeated as six councillors opposed it.