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Judge dismisses drug users group petition to flip Surrey council’s business licence denial

BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors sought judicial review of Surrey council decision
Statue of Lady Justice at Vancouver courthouse. (File photo: Black Press Media)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge in Vancouver has dismissed a BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors petition for a judicial review of Surrey council’s decision to deny it a business licence.

The non-profit network of drug users and former drug users, which advocates for harm-reduction programming and aims to increase public understanding of issues faced by those using illegal drugs, entered a lease agreement in 2020 in a multi-tenant commercial and industrial building at 13245 72 Ave. in Newton.

“In summary, I find that the petitioner has not established that Surrey breached the requirements of procedural fairness by failing to provide adequate reasons for the decision,” Justice Ronald Skolrood noted in his May 20 reasons for judgment. “The petition is therefore dismissed.”

In August 2020 the association applied for a business licence, at a time when the city wasn’t conducting interior building inspections on account of COVID-29.

Skolrood noted that the association was granted a business licence number to operate in the interim but both parties disagree whether the permission was provisional. In October 2020 the association opened and by February 2021 expanded its operation to seven days a week.

The following month, the city’s bylaws department received a complaint about the premises being used as a “safe injection site,” with “unsafe and unsanitary conditions.”

Kim Marosevich, Surrey’s manager of bylaw enforcement and licensing services, wrote the association advising that the city couldn’t issue it a business license “as it has come to the attention of the City that the proposed business operation includes facilitating the consumption of illicit drugs.”

She noted it also needed to obtain approval from “appropriate” provincial health authorities, including Fraser Health. The association replied it wanted to apply for reconsideration by council.

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The medical health officer for Fraser Health on March 15, 2021 wrote to Marosevich “expressing support for the work of the petitioner, and noting that the Premises provide a ‘critical space’ for the local community,” Skolrood noted. But later that month and into May, the city received more complaints, a bylaw officer investigated and “observed numerous breaches of COVID-19 safety protocols as well as indications of drug use,” the judge added.

After a hearing council denied the business licence, the lease was terminated, the association vacated the premises and filed its petition with the court arguing that council failed to provide “clear reasons” explaining the denial and therefore breached procedural fairness.

“Surrey does not take issue with the petitioner’s description of the services it provides and the importance of its work, nor do I,” the judge said. “Surrey does question whether the premises are a suitable location for the petitioner to operate out of or whether an alternate location could be found at which a better balance could be struck between the objectives and activities of the petitioner and the interests of surrounding businesses and community members.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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