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Abbotsford gives green light to needle exchanges

ABBOTSFORD (NEWS1130) – Councillors in Abbotsford have voted to repeal a bylaw that banned needle exchanges, methadone clinics and other harm reduction techniques.

Last night’s vote, giving second and third readings to amending the 2005 bylaw is hailed by Pivot Legal Society lawyer Scott Bernstein.

He represents three people in a civil suit and human rights complaint against Abbotsford for denial of services that could prevent overdoses and diseases. Bernstein says now it’s up to the health authority to implement programs already proposed for Abbotsford in a 2012 harm reduction service plan.

The room was divided at the public hearing; half of the speakers were against harm reduction, with some fearing increased drug use.

Nick Bergman said the City should offer other alternatives. “Instead of giving them free needles, why don’t we put our effort and money — if we have any — to treatment centres… to detox centres… give the people who want help help.”

Lilly Kaetler was one of those in favor of allowing needle exchanges, saying this was more of a health issue and that needle exchanges wouldn’t lead to increased drug use.

“They are not going to rush out and find more drugs simply because they’ve been given clean needles. The idea of the clean needle is to prevent disease, such as Hepatitis C and HIV, from sharing needles,” she said.

Mayor Bruce Banman says allowing needle exchanges is a good move for the city.

“I think that this is a much safer option for the public because what’s been going on currently is the Wild, Wild West. We have rogue agencies that have been coming into our city, handing out needles with no collection process. This will help fix that,” he explains.

Banman doesn’t think all Abbotsford residents will be pleased, but he believes the city will be safer once harm reduction programs are underway. He says he will continue to work with Fraser Health to bring more detox options to the area.

Council will vote on final adoption of the amendment February 3rd.