The debate over harm reduction measures in Abbotsford is surfacing again as the city undertakes two public forums to examine the controversial issue this month.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman said the focus of the meetings is to present all sides of the issue and get public input on the topic of harm reduction.
"The Fraser Health Authority has said it totally disagrees with Abbotsford's harm reduction policy," said Banman. "They believe we are putting people in harm's way with contamination via needles."
Out of respect to its health partner the city is conducting the review, but plans to hear from the public as well as service providers, said Ban-man.
"We believe you need to listen to the public, but also believe you need facts and education before you make an informed decision."
As such, the first forum features a panel of community organizations providing services to drug addicts in the city while the second features a panel of Fraser Health experts.
The full spectrum of opinion on harm reduction will be represented, said Banman, adding the meetings also allow for public input.
But Banman stressed a supervised injection site is absolutely not an option in Abbotsford.
"It's not on the table," he said.
What's more, the city wants Fraser Health to do a better job of providing detox services.
"The ultimate method of harm reduction is detox . . . we need to get people off drugs in first place," Banman said.
Abbotsford's current anti-harm reduction bylaw prohibits harm reduction measures such as needle exchanges, marijuana dispensaries or supervised injection sites.
Fraser Health believes the city's high rate of new hepatitis C infections can be tied to the lack of needle exchange services and addicts reusing dirty needles and crack pipes.
Abbotsford's Hep C infection rate for 2010 was 64.4 per 100,000 people versus a provincial rate of 54.9 and a Canadian rate of 33.7 in 2009.
Fraser Health already assists some form of harm reduction in Mission, Chilliwack, Surrey, Burnaby and New Westminster.
The harm reduction forums are designed to allow for exchange of ideas and information, said Banman.
"It's designed to have responsible dialogue, not to yell and scream and push one part of the agenda," he said. "It's so people wondering what the pros and cons are get the full picture."
? The forums are set for Jan. 22 and Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, 32315 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford. For more information visit abbotsford. ca/home.