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New Bylaw to Protect Parks and Prohibit Camping in Environmentally Sensitive Areas
June 13, 2017
North Cowichan Council has given first, second and third readings to a new Parks and Public Spaces Regulation Bylaw that would replace the existing Parks Regulation Bylaw.
This new Bylaw aims to protect parks and public lands and ensure public safety. It is hoped that the new Bylaw will enhance the publics confidence in the safety of the playgrounds, parks and trails within North Cowichan boundaries.
Under the existing Parks Regulation Bylaw, North Cowichan is only able to regulate camping in select parks. All other Municipal parks and public lands are currently unregulated.
The courts have consistently held that a local government cannot prohibit overnight shelter by homeless persons, but regulation is possible. In order to withstand legal challenge, this new Bylaw regulates camping and other activities so that parks can be safely enjoyed by the public, and sensitive environmental areas protected.
The proposed new Bylaw comes as close as the courts will allow to prohibiting camping in parks.
Under the new Bylaw, no person may camp in environmentally sensitive areas (including within 30m of a stream, lake, or watercourse), or within 40m of playgrounds, 40m of sports fields, 10m of trails, and 10m of private property.
If the proposed Bylaw is adopted, North Cowichans compliance staff, the RCMP, and social service groups within the community will be made aware of the limited areas where camping is not prohibited for those that meet the definition of homeless.
The proposed Bylaw also includes a number of provisions for regulating parks and public places. For example, it prohibits fires, littering, loitering, and damaging plants in parks, and requires permission for any commercial activities conducted in parks.
North Cowichan acknowledges the deep challenges of addressing homelessness in our community.
The new Parks and Public Places Regulation Bylaw includes regulations that are missing from the existing Parks Regulation Bylaw to allow North Cowichan to protect parks and public lands for recreation purposes. The new Bylaw includes rules about fires, littering, acting in a disorderly, dangerous or offensive manner, loitering, cutting trees, sheltering, etc.
Under the existing Parks Regulation Bylaw, North Cowichan is only able to regulate camping in select parks, and bylaw compliance officers and the police are unable to enforce unacceptable activities on these lands as regulatory provisions do not exist.
The new bylaw adds the regulations required to prohibit camping in parks and public lands within environmentally sensitive areas, as well as within 40m of playgrounds, 40m of sports fields, 10m of trails, and 10m of private property.
Asthe courts have consistently held that a local government cannot prohibitovernight shelter by homeless persons, the new bylaw includes a narrowprovision for homeless persons to shelter in parks overnight. This doesnot include the areas mentioned above - no person may camp in these areas underthe new bylaw. An absolute prohibition would be vulnerable to legalchallenge, and the exempted areas have been carefully selected to protectenvironmentally sensitive and play areas.
If the proposed Bylaw is adopted, North Cowichan's compliance staff, the RCMP, and social service groups within the community will be made aware of the limited areas where camping is not prohibited for those that meet the definition of homeless. In addition, the City of Duncan has designated an area where camping for homeless persons is not prohibited.
North Cowichan will continue to build relationships with community groups and other government bodies to help facilitate connections and support for the homeless.
Summary/highlights of the proposed bylaw:
The Bylaw protects parks (defined as playgrounds, sports fields, ball diamonds, skate parks, green space, public space, trails, beaches, recreation facilities), and other property owned, controlled, or operated by the Municipality for public park, recreation or cultural purposes.
The bylaw prohibits the following in parks:
damage to trees and plants
any vehicles between 10 pm and 5 am, without permission
littering or leaving personal belongings
loitering or taking up temporary abode
overnight or temporary structures in parks, without permission
To ensure the bylaw can be upheld in court, there is a narrow exception to shelter overnight (between 7:00 pm 9:00 am) for homeless persons who have no access to other shelter facilities.
No one, including a homeless person, is allowed to shelter overnight in:
an environmentally sensitive area (including marshlands and areas within 30m of streams, lakes and watercourses),
40 m of a playground, sports field, etc.
10 m of a trail or sidewalk,
10 m of private property, and
40 m of an area designated for an approved event or activity.
The bylaw allows a bylaw compliance officer (including RCMP) to remove objects/personal property from a park where it contravenes the bylaw, and provides a mechanism for individuals to reclaim their property within 7 days.
The bylaw establishes authority for a park or facility use permit, requires permission to conduct commercial activities in parks, and allows the Director of Parks and Recreation and his deputy to post rules of behavior and conduct in visible locations and establish mechanisms to enforce these rules.