Abbotsford, B.C., city council has voted to reconsider its ban on needle exchanges and supervised injection sites because of the high rate of hepatitis C in the community.

The city, which is located in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, has a zoning bylaw that prevents methadone treatment clinics, needle exchanges and supervised injection sites from setting up.

But the Fraser Health director of health promotion and prevention, David Portesi, is encouraging Abbotsford to look at harm reduction strategies for intravenous drug users.

Portesi says hepatitis C is a problem in the Fraser Valley, which has become known as a hot spot for drug and gang activity in recent years.

"Certainly [Abbotsford] has higher rates of hepatitis C. I believe they're ranked third in the province," Portesi said.

The provincial health authority wrote a letter to council asking it to revisit the ban, but Portesi said it doesn't want to strong-arm anyone.

"Do we think they have the authority? I think that's up for discussion. Do we recognize that we have to work in co-operation? Absolutely," he said.

Council votes to reconsider

Abbotsford council voted this week to research harm reduction programs like needle exchanges, but not all councillors supported the move.

Coun. Patricia Ross said the disease statistics are skewed because they factor in inmates in nearby prisons, and she voted against revisiting the issue.

"When you settle for a needle exchange that's often all you really get. That's where the money goes. You get a needle exchange, which is like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound, and it's like they can wash their hands and say there, we're addressing it," she said.

Mayor George Peary said a public hearing could take place in the fall and everyone should keep an open mind.