Balance is required

A number of erroneous media reports have been circulating about a recent Vernon council decision supposedly allowing campers in parks.

In fact, there has been no change to the existing bylaw at all. Vernon’s current parks and public places bylaw prohibits outdoor camping in public places. However, the B.C. Supreme Court recently ruled that when there aren’t enough shelter spaces in a community, banning outdoor camping is unconstitutional. Therefore, as long as there are no shelter spaces available, our current bylaw is unenforceable and will remain so until more shelter spaces open up or are created by the province.

What happened is that I attempted to introduce a bylaw that respects the Supreme Court ruling but at the same time stops tent cities from taking root in our public spaces. It is more or less the same bylaw that Victoria, Chilliwack, Abbotsford and other cities across B.C. have enacted and it has survived a number of court challenges. The new bylaw would allow camping when no shelter is available, but requires that the camps are removed each morning. The practical effect of this bylaw in other locations has been to dissuade most people from camping in public places at all. Unfortunately, the bylaw I moved to adopt was not passed at the city council meeting.

As a city, we have done our best with limited resources to help the addicted, shelter the poor and do what we can for the mentally ill. We have pushed for more housing, more addiction treatment and more mental health resources from the province, and we should continue our efforts to help whenever we can. But as a city councillor I feel a duty not only to our marginalized population, but to our taxpaying citizens as well. Our taxpayers are the ones who pay for our public spaces and they should be able to use them safely, without worrying about needles and other detritus generated by camps. This is not an unreasonable expectation.

We have to find a balance between the needs of the marginalized and the rights of our taxpayers.

We cannot allow our public spaces to be ruined. For taxpayers to be told that they will simply have to take their chances in the very parks they pay for is quite simply unfair.

Scott Anderson, Vernon councillor