Vernon’s street-entrenched population can keep their shopping carts.
City council agreed to a staff recommendation Tuesday to not proceed with a bylaw that would ban commercial shopping carts on public property.
“Administration does not support banning of shopping carts based on the legal challenges and potential infringement on person’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” wrote city administration in a report to council.
“Additionally, persons requiring storage and transportation of their belongings will seek other means such as wagons, strollers, carts or roller bags. Many seniors utilize shopping carts within the downtown core to transport groceries to their place of residence.”
At its July 23 regular meeting, council adopted five resolutions aimed specifically at shopping carts which were part of more than 40 recommendations made to council about downtown safety from the Activate Safety Task Force.
The fifth resolution was banning commercial shopping carts on public property in the City of Vernon.
Council voted by a margin of 5-1 to pass the resolutions with Coun. Juliette Cunningham opposed. Coun. Brian Quiring later announced publicly he was changing his original vote after receiving plenty of feedback from the public, and Coun. Catherine Lord said Tuesday she was embarrassed by the way she voted on July 23.
After the move, the city received letters from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and the PIVOT Legal Society, a non-profit legal advocacy organization that works to undo the social stigma faced by marginalized people, and fights to end the criminalization of homeless people, condemning the proposed bylaw banning shopping carts.
Helping council’s decision is a 12-page letter from the city’s legal firm, suggesting the city not follow through with the proposed ban. The letter was declassified from in-camera discussions with councillors Scott Anderson and Dalvir Nahal opposed to the move.
Anderson, who was the lone council member to vote against the staff recommendation Monday, said the issue is not about shopping carts.
“The ban was originally for the business improvement area downtown, and expanded at the mayor’s request city-wide,” said Anderson who, along with Quiring, sat as council representatives on the task force. “This was a way to clean up the city…What’s developing here, are two different levels of compliance. One law for street-entrenched population, one law for everybody else.
“A store owner dumped garbage on city hall steps, things he collected from around his store, and was charged. The same behaviour goes on at Linear Park every day. There are different standards of behaviour and we have to confront that. It’s not about shopping carts. Carts aren’t going to solve problems in the world.”
Anderson also took exception threats of legal action against the city in the letters received.
“Are we being governed by interest groups?” asked Anderson. “If every time an interest group threatens us with legal action, we’re going to back down. I’m not saying we’re going to lose but we’re saying it’s going to be expensive and we should avoid it. I don’t like backing down. From a political standpoint, bring it on. You’re not in charge of the city, we are. If you want to fight it in court, bring it on.”
Quiring said the most refreshing thing about Monday’s lengthy discussion is that the city is working on trying to find a solution.
“We’re going to try and find a solution that’s better for everyone,” he said. “We’re taking a pause, taking a step back, and saying the original solution was knee-jerk, heavy-handed. In my opinion, it’s not the right idea for the homeless people. We’ll deal with those people because we’re increasing RCMP and bylaw. That’s a solution. I’m not going to take a shopping cart away from homeless. We’re working on a process to solve it but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”
An Armstrong woman started a GoFundMe campaign to buy wagons for Vernon’s homeless with a goal of $1,000 to buy 15 wagons. To date, the campaign has reached $2,000.
The four other resolutions regarding shopping carts deal with retailers using theft protection for carts, decommissioning carts at their own expense, recover abandoned carts when identified and enforcing regulations through a fine for non-compliance.
The city’s protective services department is engaging business owners and managers for all of the major retailers who use shopping carts in Vernon. Discussions will be held toward finding some solutions to the shopping cart issue as related to the homeless.
A meeting is being arranged this month with store representatives from Canada Safeway, Save On Foods, Real Canadian Superstore, Real Canadian Wholesale Club, Buy Low Foods, London Drugs, Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, Rona and Home Depot.
Social Planning Council of North Okanagan executive director Annette Sharkey will liaise with social service providers and the street-entrenched on the social services side of the issue.