Local and national organizations report proposed Barrie public space bylaw to United Nations

Barrie, ON | September 20, 2023

One day after Barrie City Council’s community safety committee heard presentations on a controversial proposed public space bylaw, local and national organizations have sent it to the United Nations Rapporteurs on Homelessness and Extreme Poverty for review. 

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and Pivot Legal Society filed the report today, with endorsements from Barrie Housing and Homelessness Justice Network, Indigenous Harm Reduction Network and the Gilbert Centre, in response to a UN call for submissions on laws and policies that criminalize and punish people in poverty and homelessness. In the report, advocates and policy experts point to Barrie’s proposed bylaw as a particularly egregious example of public space legislation and policy in Canada endangering people living in homelessness and poverty, particularly those who are at risk of fatal drug poisoning. 

“This bylaw targets unhoused people and their ability to survive,” said Sarah Tilley of the Gilbert Centre. “It effectively criminalizes being homeless — and interferes with the ability of us as outreach workers to carry out our potentially lifesaving work. Despite the public outcry and serious concerns from grassroots organizations and policy experts, the City of Barrie seems determined to move ahead with this harmful and ineffective approach.” 

The proposed bylaw amendment would introduce fines ranging from $500 – $100,000 for distributing food, water, clothing, shelter, or other essentials to assist people with sleeping or protection from the elements without authorization from the city of Barrie. It came to Barrie City Council in May and June 2023. Met with significant public opposition, including a public statement from the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, council referred the matter back to city staff for review and updates.  

“This is not the kind of international attention we want Barrie to receive,” said Reverend Christine Nayler of Ryan’s Hope. “I am hoping to appeal to Council’s humanity and ask them to rethink these punitive bylaws that will harm our city’s most vulnerable residents, and to remind them that these proposed bylaws are a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Passing bylaws that go against Charter Rights opens the city to legal challenges and will end up costing the city more than addressing the root cause of the issue: a lack of truly affordable and low-barrier housing. Investing dollars in prevention rather than punishment makes sense.” 

In October 2021, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition hosted health and social service workers, policy experts, people who use drugs, and other community members affected by the toxic drug crisis to discuss challenges and solutions. The resulting report identified six key recommendations for action, including:

  • increased access to deeply affordable housing;  
  • funding for a lived experience advisory group to address the toxic drug crisis, and; 
  • the creation of multi-sectoral decision-making tables to support municipal policy development for the City of Barrie.

“In the Barrie dialogues, we heard the need for community-driven solutions that lift people up, rather than cause harm,” said DJ Larkin, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. “Every person, regardless of their housing status or relationship to substances, should be able to access safety. The frontline services provided by Barrie’s community organizations are part of that. Our governments should be working to make people safer, not putting them at further risk.”  

The UN submission comes as Barrie City Council considers next steps on the public space bylaw amendment. There is currently no public date for a council vote on the bylaw.


Video and documents available: 

About the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition 

Founded in 2010, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition works in partnership with more than 60 organizations and 7,000 individuals working to support the development of a drug policy for Canada that is based in science, guided by public health principles, respectful of the human rights of all, and seeks to include people who use drugs and those harmed by the war on drugs in moving towards a healthier society. Learn more at www.drugpolicy.ca 

About Ryan’s Hope 

Ryan’s Hope is a grassroots volunteer-based organization started in memory and honour of Ryan Nayler. Our mission is to advocate for and support people living with mental illness, substance use issues and experiencing homelessness. www.ryanshopebarrie.ca 

About Barrie Housing and Homelessness Justice Network  

The Barrie Homelessness & Housing Justice Network (BHHJN) is a multidisciplinary network of homelessness and housing advocates who have come together to advocate for the right to housing and the elimination of chronic homelessness in Barrie. www.bhhjn.ca 

About The Gilbert Centre 

The Gilbert Centre provides social and support services to empower, promote health, and celebrate the lives of people living with and affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) and the individuals and families from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) communities of Simcoe Muskoka. www.gilbertcentre.ca

Media contacts: 

DJ Larkin 

Executive Director, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition 

Phone:  604-341-5005

Email: [email protected]

Reverend Christine Nayler 

Co-founder and Director, Ryan’s Hope  

Jennifer van Gennip 

Barrie Housing and Homelessness Justice Network  

Sarah Tilley

Harm Reduction Program Manager, Gilbert Centre

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policy grounded in evidence, compassion, and social justice