Park camping fine challenged

Vernon officials have little expectation that anyone breaking camping rules in parks will pay the fine.

On Monday, council adopted a bylaw that requires temporary shelters in parks to be dismantled between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.”

“It will put an insurmountable barrier on a person,” said Coun. Scott Anderson of the $100 fine if a shelter is set up before 9 p.m. or remains after 9 a.m.

“One hundred dollars may be $1 million to someone who may have $10 a day. I can see someone struggling to move forward because of accumulated debt they have no way of paying.”

Anderson suggested there should be a community service option instead of a monetary fine if the bylaw is broken.

Coun. Bob Spiers called for a more reasonable penalty.

“It’s like getting blood out of a stone and for what purpose?” he said.

In the end, though, only Coun. Juliette Cunningham opposed the bylaw which establishes fines. She raised a concern about seasonal factors in the fall and winter.

“If it’s getting dark at 7 p.m., these people won’t be able to set up until 9 p.m.,” she said.

Mayor Akbal Mund defends the need for fines, saying it will allow the city to track the issue.

“If they’re a repeat offender, you can ask them to leave the park,” he said.

Vernon’s bylaw is consistent with a Supreme Court of B.C. ruling that states municipalities are legally required to allow homeless individuals to sleep overnight in public spaces when there are not enough available shelter beds. The shelters in Vernon are either full or close to capacity on a nightly basis, and the City must therefore allow homeless individuals to stay overnight in parks.

City staff and social agencies will now to try create awareness among homeless individuals about the bylaw.

“We will treat people with respect but they need to understand there is a bylaw and expectations,” said Will Pearce, chief administrative officer.

Also on Monday, council approved an interim strategy for Polson Park, including playground improvements, a two-year pilot program that will allow dogs on leash, enhancing bylaw compliance staff and trimming vegetation along the boardwalk.