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New Edmonton public spaces bylaw would ban open drug use, panhandling at intersections

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Open drug use is among the activities that would be prohibited by the City of Edmonton in a proposed new bylaw governing public spaces.

City council is slated to review the proposed Public Spaces Bylaw at a special meeting on Feb. 2. It would replace three existing ones: the Public Places Bylaw, the Conduct of Transit Passengers Bylaw and the Parkland Bylaw.

A move to ban open drug use is something harm-reduction advocates worry will lead to more deaths on Edmonton streets, however.

Bradley Lafortune, the president of Public Interest Alberta, told CTV News Edmonton on Friday that driving drug users out of sight will lead to catastrophe.

"If people are not able to use drugs where they feel safe, they’re going to use drugs in back alleys, where it’s not visible and more people essentially are going to die," Lafortune said.

Ward Pihesiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell says open drug use is already illegal on public transit and thinks expanding the law to parks and sidewalks will help create a safer city.

That may be for some, but late last year, a supreme court justice in British Columbia ruled legislation with the same intent there would cause irreparable harm for drug users.

"That was a provincial law, and this is municipal," Cartmell told CTV News Edmonton. "We’re talking bylaw. So what is the remedy for breaking a bylaw? It’s a ticket."

Public drug use is one of 250 offences the new Public Spaces Bylaw looks to address.

The city project on what's now proposed as the new bylaw began more than a year ago when city staff began to consider amendments to current bylaws in response to issues identified by council and the public.

Among the rules that would be tweaked and enveloped in the Public Spaces bylaw:

  • Visible drug use would be prohibited in all public spaces, expanded from bylaw that disallows drug use in transit spaces.
  • No loitering in transit spaces.
  • Aggressive panhandling and panhandling on medians or near roads would be prohibited.
  • Food trucks could set up and operate in places such as parking stalls and parks like they can now but without requiring a new permit each time.
  • Loudspeakers would be banned from public spaces except those granted permission.
  • Buskers would be able to work without a permit in transit areas but would have to remain in a designated area.
  • Events attended by more than 50 people would require a permit in all public spaces. Existing rules limiting attendance affect only parks.
  • Life jackets would be required by people using vessels in the river, with the exception of the Edmonton Riverboat.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson

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