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Courtenay parks and open spaces bylaw to go through more review

A parks and open spaces bylaw (Bylaw 3121) did not go through a third reading and will be sent back to city staff for requested amendment reports and provide more opportunity for Indigenous engagement.

This comes after the bylaw went through the first and second readings in January. However, Courtenay Council received many correspondence pieces from community members and groups such as the Coalition to End Homelessness, AVI, and community outreach workers over the following weeks.

A delegation to council from coalition coordinator Dayna Forsgren Wednesday further highlighted issues the area’s unhoused have expressed towards the bylaw and some of its language.

Forsgren pointed to several terms found within the bylaw that she says could cause confusion and could be reworded. Section 5.9 (d) for example, says that “camping in a park or open space, with or without a shelter, is only permitted with a valid permit that complies will all terms and conditions of the permit.”

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“It is unclear how someone would camp without shelter. If they are referring to someone sleeping in the park, then that should be clearly defined,” said Forsgren’s delegation slide.

“We recommend striking out “with or without shelter” to create a clear delineation between the definition of camping and sheltering.”

Concerns were also raised about interactions with city bylaw officers and the number of Indigenous people represented on the street, at around 28 per cent according to Forsgren’s presentation.

Director of Corporate Services Kate O’Connell said while they did try to engage with K’ómoks First Nation, “repeated phone calls to set up the engagement sessions were not necessarily returned.”

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The delegation also asked for more leniency from city officers for people with disabilities that may prevent them from cleaning up their temporary shelter before 9 a.m.

Councillor David Frisch was in favour of going through with third reading, as he felt it is in the city’s best interest to draw a line on what is allowed.

“I’m actually in favour of going ahead with this bylaw as its written and doubling down on our work to get proper solutions around mental health, drug addiction services and housing,” said Frisch.

“I think that’s what we need to be focusing our energy on right now. I think we need this bylaw put through, so we don’t end up with a horrible situation where camps are being set up in our parks.”

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However, councillor Evan Jolicoeur disagreed, adding the “law is the law” and people are allowed to shelter in parks because “we have massive system failure and there is no housing.”

“I think that we can ensure that our laws are aligned with things that we say we are aligned with, equity, reconciliation, human rights, supporting people with disabilities,” said Jolicoeur.

Jolicoeur said that he feels the city’s work lies in policy direction around daytime sheltering, health issues and cannabis consumption or designated areas for smoking.

The city says staff will review requested amendments from community members and come back with a report while also working to engage more with First Nations.

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The motion passed unanimously.

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