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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

View Royal to prohibit camping in all parks but one—and new bylaw wording prohibits it there too

If implemented as written, the bylaw could violate a BC Supreme Court ruling by effectively banning all sheltering

By Michael John Lo
December 7, 2022
Homelessness
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

View Royal to prohibit camping in all parks but one—and new bylaw wording prohibits it there too

If implemented as written, the bylaw could violate a BC Supreme Court ruling by effectively banning all sheltering

Photo: Zoë Ducklow / Capital Daily
Photo: Zoë Ducklow / Capital Daily
Homelessness
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

View Royal to prohibit camping in all parks but one—and new bylaw wording prohibits it there too

If implemented as written, the bylaw could violate a BC Supreme Court ruling by effectively banning all sheltering

By Michael John Lo
December 7, 2022
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View Royal to prohibit camping in all parks but one—and new bylaw wording prohibits it there too
Photo: Zoë Ducklow / Capital Daily

The Town of View Royal is looking to restrict camping in 44 parks in the latest version of a camping bylaw, leaving only View Royal Park accessible for those seeking temporary overnight shelter.

But camping there would be technically illegal too, according to the wording of the bylaw, which among other things excludes people from erecting shelters within 100 metres of a footpath. There is no part of View Royal Park more than 100 metres from a footpath.

Mayor Sid Tobias says that the bylaw was not intended to be a wholesale restriction, and that allowances will be made once staff confirm just how much of the park will be available for shelter.

When made aware in an interview with Capital Daily of the potential for the bylaw's wording to create a complete camping ban, Tobias said that changes may be needed.

“If that’s the case, then we may have to amend the bylaws to be able to permit an area for it,” he added.

If the bylaw results in an outright blanket ban on overnight sheltering anywhere in the municipality, it could violate the very landmark BC Supreme Court ruling the new bylaw was intended to comply with.

The right to erect overnight shelter in parks was established in the 2008 Victoria v. Adams decision, but the decision allows some restrictions on how long and where people can shelter. It also specifies that sheltering only needs to be permitted as long as there isn’t enough homeless shelter space—of which View Royal has none.

Town staff say the bylaw is needed to protect the town from large tent encampments that might be established in View Royal, and that its proposed form is consistent with similar bylaws across municipalities in Greater Victoria. The bylaw has been in the works since 2019.

“These are these one-off events that are going to cripple this town financially,” said View Royal Director of Public Safety Paul Hurst while presenting the updated bylaw, adding that the costs might reach six figures. “If an encampment gets set up, we do not have the resources or the finances to deal with it.”

Earlier this year, the province broke up a homeless camp near View Royal that sat on provincial land, the Times Colonist reported. Thetis Lake Regional Park, and certain areas along the E&N trail that have seen encampments in the past, are not regulated by the town’s new bylaw as they’re outside of View Royal’s jurisdiction. The town has dealt with 81 parks bylaw complaints in the past year and at least 35 of those were camping-related.

In addition to footpaths, the proposed bylaw bans camping within 100 metres of other park amenities like playgrounds and washrooms.

At the council meeting on Dec. 6, Coun. John Rogers questioned some of those distance exclusions. “Why wouldn’t it be 300, or 200 [metres]?” he asked.

The City of Colwood’s park bylaw, which was cited in a View Royal staff report, only stipulates 40 metres of distance between a temporary overnight shelter and a similar list of park features. In Saanich, sheltering is prohibited within three metres of playgrounds, pools, bleachers, and the like—but only pathways themselves are exempted, with no buffer around them. Victoria requires that shelters be 50 metres from schools, eight metres from playgrounds, and four metres from property lines—but, like Saanich, does not specify distance from footpaths. Victoria prohibits overnight sheltering in 23 parks, while allowing it in nine.

At the Dec. 6 View Royal council meeting, several councillors asked for a map that would show what the bylaw would change.

“There is a significant amount of geometry associated with the bylaw,” Tobias said.

Hurst said the intent is not to ticket a homeless person but to provide bylaw officers and the city tools to prevent large encampments from forming. “The courts do not look favourably on government or enforcement agencies ticketing people who have nowhere to live,” he added. “Our bylaw officers and myself are sympathetic to this issue.”

The town, according to Tobias, is looking for more solutions, echoing Coun. Alison MacKenzie’s previous remarks in council about finding creative ways to help provide unhoused people with dignified support.

However, these deliberations are coming against a backdrop of disapproval from a group of View Royal residents. More than a dozen people have written in or have spoken to council about the bylaw, all in opposition, with some under the impression that the bylaw’s purpose is to legalize and permit overnight camping in View Royal. Some suggested that camping be banned within the municipality and for the unhoused to be directed to a nearby Our Place Facility instead, while one accused unhoused people of “stealing, threatening, and destroying our neighborhood.”

“Allowing overnight camping would greatly reduce the safety and security of View Royal tax payers and our families and ruin our parks,” wrote David Buchanan in a public letter to council. “Please learn from the disaster the City of Victoria created when the[y] allowed overnight campings.”  

The possibility of opening a shelter in View Royal has been raised at council this past summer, though there has been no concrete action on the matter as of now.

“The Town is very compassionate to the plight of folks that are homeless, and that we will continue to seek every opportunity to either advocate for or do what we can to support a more permanent solution to homelessness and underhoused in the district,” Tobias said.

—With files from Jimmy Thomson

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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