01/14/2014 11:27 EST | Updated 03/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Abbotsford strikes down ban on harm reduction programs

Needle exchanges, methadone clinics and safe injection sites are now permitted in Abbotsford, B.C., after the city council voted last night to amend a 2005 zoning-bylaw that had forbidden them.

Abbotsford was one of only three cities in B.C. with restrictions on harm reduction services.

The amendment means the Fraser Health Authority can now implement its proposed harm reduction plan, but there are no plans for a supervised injection site.

Mayor Bruce Banman acknowledged since harm reduction measures were first proposed by Fraser Health in 2010 but blocked by the anti-harm reduction city bylaw, people have been taking matters into their own hands.

"There has been a sort of a wild, wild west going on out here. We have had a needle exchange of people dropping off clean needles, but there has been no pickup that has been coordinated by the Fraser Health Authority"

Human rights complaint could be dropped

Pivot Legal Society lawyer Scott Bernstein says the decision is long overdue, noting hepatitis C and HIV infection rates in Abbotsford far exceed the national average.

"It took many, many people protesting this and speaking up and a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court and a human rights complaint, but finally council did the right thing and took action to save people's lives."

Bernstein predicts not all Abbotsford residents will be pleased , but he believes the city will be safer once harm reduction programs are underway.

He says PIVOT will likely drop its human rights complaint against Abbotsford for denial of services that could prevent overdoses and diseases such as hepatitis.

He is also hopeful the city will next approve a low barrier shelter for homeless people who currently refuse to come indoors in the winter.

The city considered lifting the ban in 2010 but the motion failed to pass.