One City councillor is hoping to broaden the intent of the Smoke Free Bylaw.
Councillor Tara Veer recently put forward a Notice of Motion to council to include the smoking of illegal drugs and other herbal products in the City’s existing Smoke Free Bylaw, which currently prohibits the public smoking of tobacco alone.
“If supported by council, this motion would expand our existing bylaw to hold those smoking illegal substances in public accountable for doing so, recognizing that the cumulative impact of individuals smoking illegal drugs in public is extremely detrimental in terms of the health effects of second hand smoke, potentially hazardous litter, and the poor social message it communicates to our children and youth, in addition to the consequences of drug trafficking and drug addictions,” she said.
Veer said she presented the Notice of Motion to council in response to public concerns that have been expressed over the past year.
“I think that public response will be favourable. When council recently debated adding additional provisions in the Smoke Free Bylaw to include outdoor spaces where children and youth frequent, it was apparent to me that the problems of second hand smoke, litter and social modeling were not isolated to tobacco smoke alone, but applied even more so to the public smoking of illegal drugs which in many instances occurs without consequence,” said Veer.
“Having said this, I think it is important to not equate the smoking of tobacco and illegal drugs, but to address an existing inequity in that tobacco smokers are currently subject to fines and illegal drug smokers are not,” she said.
“In proposing this motion, it is critical to recognize that the smoking of cannabis, hashish, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, PCP/phencyclidine are first and foremost illegal substances and that illegal behaviour and activity should continue to be dealt with primarily through the Criminal Code of Canada and through the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It bears acknowledgement, though, that RCMP and other enforcement resources unfortunately often do not allow for the arrest and prosecution of every potential ‘simple possession’ charge.”
She added the inclusion of municipal fines would be an enhancement to existing legislation that would allow for community standards to be enforced with minimal bureaucracy and would be a useful tool for RCMP, peace officers, and bylaw officers to enforce illegal public drug smoking at a local level.
It would resolve the tension that law enforcement officials often feel in not wanting to overlook illegal activity, but feeling demoralized when simple possession of illegal substances charges fail to stand up in court.
“Municipal fines are a means of ensuring that individuals who currently feel free to smoke illegal drugs in public feel less free to do so in the future,” said Veer.
“The existing Smoke Free Bylaw compels municipal fines against tobacco smokers in designated public spaces. While I can understand the intent of the current Smoke Free Bylaw is to discourage second hand smoke, littering and to promote positive behavioral examples for children and youth in public places, I believe it is inconsistent to only penalize tobacco smokers and turn a blind eye to those who smoke illegal substances in public places.”
Veer added she believes there is considerable benefit to the community by changing the Smoke Free Bylaw.
“Specific in that those individuals engaging in illegal drug smoking can be held personally accountable for their disrespect of the law, and generally in that we help to create a social culture in Red Deer where it is less acceptable and less accessible for individuals to feel free to smoke drugs in public, which hopefully in the long run, and in addition to other strategies, would help to reduce and minimize drug addiction and trafficking in our community.”
If adopted by City council, Veer said Red Deer would be a leading municipality in this respect and the province could adopt similar changes as well.
“Drug trafficking and the ensuing addictions, property thefts, human trafficking and other social consequences that accompany it are issues that are plaguing many Alberta municipalities given some dynamics of Alberta’s geographic location and economy,” she said.
“Under Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, municipalities are able to impose regulations that support or increase standards imposed by other levels of government (for example the Criminal Code of Canada and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act), thereby giving the City of Red Deer and other Alberta municipalities local jurisdiction to elevate community standards,” said Veer.
“To my knowledge, no other Alberta municipalities have included municipal fines for the smoking of illegal drugs in public places, so if council adopts these provisions, Red Deer has the opportunity to lead the way in Alberta and potentially across Canada in establishing an elevated community standard.”
Council will debate the Notice of Motion at its next meeting on Oct. 15th. If council supports the motion, the City will then add provisions into Red Deer’s existing Smoke Free Bylaw to make the public smoking of illegal substances subject to municipal fines and charges.
The revised bylaw will then have three readings for the public to provide feedback on and for council to discuss.