DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – Several groups recently weighed in during a City of Dawson Creek public hearing concerning a supervised consumption facility in Mile Zero.

On Nov. 22, a public hearing was held to hear commentary from the community on a proposed zoning bylaw amendment shifting approval of harm reduction services and supervised consumption facilities to a case-by-case basis by the city.

Several groups weighed in, making the case that the amendment will hold up the creation of services and facilities in a lengthy approval process, while disrupting existing services used to address drug addiction.

Project Co-ordinator Chelsea Mackay with the South Peace Community Action Team says their peer support group for drug users, Society for Narcotic and Opioid Wellness (SNOW), is making a difference, with an outreach house on 103 Avenue.

“As someone who grew up in Dawson Creek and loves it very much, I am concerned with any bylaw that may strip services away from its people. There are already very few resources for drug users in Dawson Creek, SNOW house has been doing amazing work in the 11, almost 12, months that it’s been operating,” said Mackay, noting she does not want see the bylaw used to block harm reduction services from opening.

It’s estimated five to seven overdoses a day are reversed at SNOW house, but the group is concerned it would not qualify under the new definitions to operate.

Mayor Dale Bumstead says the work of the peer team has been informative and educational, and wants the bylaw to move forward in a way that’s best for the community.

“That’s what the public hearing process is about for us. To ensure that we’re trying to move this forward in a way that is the most appropriate and best for our community,” he said.

The amendment comes on the heels of a request from the Nawican Friendship Centre, which asked the city in August about using their 1112 103 Avenue location as a 10-bed supportive recovery facility in partnership with Northern Health.

Delegates from Northern Health also made an appearance at the hearing, asking city council to revise the language used in the bylaw, stressing that drug addiction must be treated as a medical issue.

Medical Health Officer Dr. Rakel Kling says stigma around drug use and addiction persists in the public eye, and called SNOW a ‘vital’ service, which was approved by the health authority to offer overdose prevention services.

“Issues related to substance use are still medical issues, and it’s important to consider that we really wouldn’t see these sorts of conversations related to let’s say a diabetes centre, or cancer centre. It’s still a medical issue,” said Kling.

“When we do this job, we really ask for bravery from leadership and that’s something that make or breaks whether we live or die in this overdose crisis. And that’s complicated because there’s so many different views when it comes to substance use,” she added.

Third reading and adoption is expected at a later date, with the language yet to be revised by council.