Washroom Access at Bob Harkins Branch: FAQ

The following information will help library patrons understand the temporary changes we are making to public washroom access at the Bob Harkins Branch of the Prince George Public Library.

What are the changes?

Due to frequent incidents of suspected substance use, observed substance use, and improperly discarded substance use supplies at Bob Harkins Branch, downtown, the Prince George Public Library will begin locking the public washrooms at the branch. This change will begin on Tuesday, August 3rd. The public will have access to the washrooms by request. The doors will be unlocked by members of the security team as needed; after each use, security staff will inspect and then relock the washrooms. This is intended to be a temporary measure to disrupt patterns of behaviour that violate the library’s Code of Conduct. We will review this practice after three months.

This decision comes after consultation and collaboration with the library’s Leadership Team, Security Team, Health & Safety Committee, and WorkSafe BC.

We want to recognize that the drug poisoning crisis, the impacts of COVID-19, and the limited number of public washroom facilities in downtown Prince George have all contributed to the current situation. We also understand that using substances in public washrooms, where other people are nearby in case of an emergency, is a form of harm reduction.

Why are you temporarily locking the washrooms at Bob Harkins Branch?

We’ve noted frequent incidents of suspected and observed use of substances in our washrooms, as well as improperly discarded substance use supplies, including biohazards. We have also noticed an increase in discarded pipes which indicates to us that folks are using our washrooms to smoke substances. This is a safety concern for staff who may be exposed to harmful inhalants or residue when checking the washrooms. As an employer, the Prince George Public Library is responsible for taking steps to ensure that workers have a healthy and safe workplace. Locking the washrooms is one of several steps we are taking to try and minimize staff exposure to unknown substances.

What other steps have you taken to address risks to staff and patrons when
accessing public washrooms?

Several years ago, we installed sharps containers in all washrooms to provide a way for people who use injection supplies to safely dispose of sharps. More recently, we installed smoke detectors in washroom stalls to alert us when substances are smoked in the washrooms.

We have recently implemented a procedure whereby we close the public washrooms temporarily for one hour whenever there is evidence that someone has used an inhalable substance in that space. This is so the ventilation system can clear the air. Security staff who monitor the washrooms will have added layers of personal protective equipment including specialized respirator masks and protective eyewear.

Why can’t you simply deny access to people who do not have library cards?

Restricting washroom access to library members violates the BC Public Health Act,which requires that the “operator of a public place meant for assembly or recreation must ensure that the public place contains, and the public has access to, adequate sanitary facilities.” Denying people access is also in opposition to the values of the Prince George Public Library. The library is open to everyone. People do not need a library card to attend programs, book a study room, read, use the computers, or spend time in our branches. We will continue to provide washroom access to everyone who adheres to our Code of Conduct. Those who violate the Code of Conduct will have their library privileges suspended.

Will everyone who asks be permitted to access the washroom?

Security staff will provide access to anyone who requests to use the washroom. Library visitors who are temporarily suspended from library facilities because of previous violations of the Code of Conduct are not permitted to access washroom facilities.

What about the accessibility impacts of this decision?

Locking the washrooms may delay access for those who need to use the facilities. We intend to have security staff posted nearby the washrooms so that this delay is minimal. However, there may be occasions where security staff are addressing high priority safety or security concerns in other parts of the building and are not immediately available. In these incidences, patrons may have to wait to use the washroom. We are sharing this information is so that members of the public know what to expect before they visit Bob Harkins Branch.

How will you support people who use substances in accessing services?

The library will refer those who need a space to use substances to appropriate community resources that are better equipped to support their needs.

How can I voice my opinion on this decision?

We welcome feedback from the community. Please share your comments at www.pgpl.ca/comments. All comments will be reviewed by the library’s Leadership
Team.