City revives bylaw aimed at campers

 
 

Victoria is once again on its way to having a bylaw restricting daytime camping in city parks.

Councillors unanimously voted last evening to amend the parks bylaw to forbid camping between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., replacing an enforcement policy struck down by the courts.

The interim bylaw will be in force for only five weeks or until the B.C. Court of Appeal makes a decision on the case that started it all.

On Oct. 14, in a ruling known as the Adams case, now being appealed by the city, Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross ruled it was unconstitutional for the city to prohibit the homeless from erecting shelters to protect themselves from the elements in the absence of sufficient shelter beds.

Two days after the decision, city council met behind closed doors and decided to appeal Ross’s decision.

They also passed a resolution creating a new enforcement policy that limited campers to erecting tents between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. On Nov. 6, the hours were changed to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

But this week, provincial court Judge Brian MacKenzie found three people not guilty of violating the city’s anti-camping bylaw enforcement policy based on a legal technicality.

The newest version of the camping bylaw, which passed three readings and will be enacted at the next council meeting, also forbids camping at any time in Bastion Square, playgrounds, sports fields, footpaths, park roads or areas where special events are being held. That leaves Centennial Square open to night-time camping, said Rob Woodland, director of legislative and regulatory services, to impromptu applause from the audience.

Several councillors said they struggled with the decision to again ban daytime camping, but feel the new bylaw is the best compromise for Victoria residents.

“This bylaw is about balancing the needs of all our citizens, homeless and housed,” said Mayor Dean Fortin, who added that council remains committed to ending homelessness.

There were also pledges from some councillors to try and persuade their colleagues to reverse the decision to appeal the Adams case.

“I really urge you to look for better solutions,” said Coun. Philippe Lucas.

“I will keep urging us to drop the appeal of the original court decision.”

It is frustrating that council’s scarce resources are being spent at the courthouse, said Coun. Lynn Hunter. “They are being utilized in what I see as a wasteful way.”

The latest court defeat for the city came after Irene Faulkner, who acted on behalf of the homeless campers in their Supreme Court challenge, argued the city had imposed an enforcement policy on a bylaw that no longer exists.

MacKenzie agreed. He did, however, suggest that city council could pass an amendment to its bylaws if it wants to continue to enforce the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ban on public camping.

That’s exactly what council has now decided to do.

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