Representatives from four local service providers answer questions from the public regarding harm reduction in Abbotsford.

Representatives from four local service providers answer questions from the public regarding harm reduction in Abbotsford.

Harm reduction debated at public forum

Second Abbotsford meeting set for Jan. 29 at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.

Abbotsford’s harm reduction debate continues.

The first of two public forums took place Tuesday night at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.

About 150 people came out to listen and ask question of representatives from four local service providers – The Women’s Resource Centre of the Fraser Valley/Warm Zone, Kinghaven Peardonville House Treatment Centres, Life Recovery and the Salvation Army.

Harm reduction refers to public health policies designed to reduce harmful consequences and is usually associated with needle exchange programs, free condoms, safe injection sites and other services that help drug users, prostitutes and other at-risk individuals.

Currently, the City of Abbotsford is reviewing its 2005 zoning bylaw that prohibits harm reduction measures, including needle exchanges, from occurring in the city.

In 2010, Fraser Health asked the city to take a second look at the bylaw, on the basis that needle exchanges could help lower cases of Hepatitis C, caused by using dirty needles.

Forum moderator Dr. Adrienne Chan told audience members to keep their questions to the subject of harm reduction and not the city bylaw.

“The purpose of the public consultation is to bring information forward to the city so they can have an informed opinion about where to proceed with the bylaw.”

Audience input was mixed.

Barry Shantz, founder of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, told the panel that withholding a specific type of health care to a specific group of people is a “violation of their charter of rights.”

He also objected to the fact that his, and other groups, were denied representation at the meeting.

“When a city excludes a specific group of people from a process that is affecting them in a negative way, and you participate in some type of charade, I don’t understand how you can do this and discourage other questions. I just want to know if you have some kind of explanation of this whole fiasco?”

Speakers stressed that harm reduction is a health issue, not a sobriety issue and felt that has been forgotten in the debate. Others felt that, while the groups represented all offered services to help addiction, there is no “one way” to treat it.

While several speakers expressed support for harm reduction to help those battling addiction, some felt there were other solutions.

Gerda Peachey told the panel there is a perception in the public that if you oppose harm reduction that you are “cold-hearted” and don’t care. She said that isn’t true.

“It is not a lack of love and it’s not a lack of concern.”

She quoted the saying that when it comes to addiction one is too many and 1,000 is never enough.

“In these 12-step programs they are emphatically saying no. No to providing drugs, no to going off the wagon and having even one … you must not help people to stay on drugs.”

The public will have another opportunity to voice concerns and comments during a second meeting,  Tuesday Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.

The guest panel will include representatives from Fraser Health.