Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West is often criticized for complaining about issues not always obviously connected to his city, including money laundering and Chinese sponsorship of a Union of BC Municipalities event.
That's not the case, however, with West’s criticism of Fraser Health and concerns about used needles being found in parks.
While some might say his complaints are hot air and he’s not helping to solve the problem. But we think it’s his job as mayor to bring up safety issues and air his concerns in public because it’s not right that city staff should have to pick up needles in parks and other public spaces.
At a recent meeting West raised the issue and didn’t offer a way to resolve it. But he’s like most people who expect the authorities responsible to come up with a plan that is practical, well publicized, based on research and has buy-in from the community.
Putting more needle collection boxes around the city so people using illicit drugs outdoors have an easy way to dispose of them may be the best short-term solution but the PoCo mayor isn’t the only person who needs convincing. Fraser Health needs to do a better job of explaining what the best practices are, what the research tells us and what the community can expect.
Piloting a few disposal units to see if they make a difference would be worth a try. That’s certainly a low-cost option that could be attempted before seriously considering a safe injection site — something Surrey has that would likely face pushback here — while more affordable housing would be the best option but takes longer to put into place.
West isn’t wrong to bring up the issue. Those who pay for parks through their taxes don’t want to have to deal with needles or worry about an injury, and they are bringing their complaints to the mayor.
Still, this issue is not a new one and it’s worth noting that there are already daily needle sweeps to ensure that used sharps are disposed of properly. In fact, Fraser Health has said in the past it collects more needles than it distributes, suggesting that the majority of people do discard their needles safely.
And we can’t forget that we B.C. is in a midst of an opioid overdose crisis, and that needles are being distributed to prevent an epidemic of HIV and AIDS.
At the same time, there must be a path forward and Mayor West has an important role to play in raising the issue and bringing these these groups together to ensure that Port Coquitlam is a healthy, compassionate and safe city.