Will the new parks bylaw prove to be a ‘gigantic hammer’?

Published: The Global Canadian
April 1, 2018
714 words

Barry Rocks OnThe District of North Vancouver is preparing to adopt a new Parks Regulation Bylaw, the first update since 1961. The new Bylaw is nearly four times the size of the old one, growing from four pages to fifteen, and promises “public safety through regulation.” During last week’s Council Workshop District staff explained that the new Bylaw is needed to give them “teeth” to enforce and regulate the use of District parks, but promised that rules would only be enforced some of the time, for some activities, by some people. Teenage partiers are a particular target for the new Bylaw’s enforcement.

Much of the new Bylaw is devoted to either prohibiting or regulating almost anything that you might want to do in a public park. It governs where and when people can play “organized sports,” cook a burger, rent a kayak, or cycle, and prohibits residents from erecting a “memorial or other object” commemorating a family pet. The Bylaw includes a list of more than dozen commercial activities that will require permits and fees. As well as film shoots and dogwalking, the Bylaw now designates bus tours, exercise classes, “providing instruction,” and even walking tours as regulated activities.

The one group who will enjoy more access to Parks under the new Bylaw is homeless people, who will be specifically allowed to camp overnight during the hours when non-homeless people are prohibited from using the parks. When Councilor Robin Hicks worried that including homeless access in the Bylaw would “encourage” people to camp out, Parks staff explained that the District was forced to add this section in response to court cases that ordered Victoria and Abbotsford to allow camping where there was a lack of low-barrier shelter space.

The largest part of the discussion at Council’s Tuesday workshop revolved around the question of how much regulation is too much. When asked by Councilor Mathew Bond how this Bylaw would affect residents who do night time bike rides, or enter local parks before sunrise on long hikes, the District’s Parks Manager Susan Rogers explained that these are activities that aren’t allowed unless a permit has been granted.

The new Bylaw continues the practice of closing parks between “dusk and dawn.” Many parks like our local Princess Park are locked up at 6pm for much of the year, and officially “closed” at 10pm, effectively making criminals out of anyone who likes to take their dog out for a walk after dinner. Councilor Roger Bassam, exhibiting what he described as his “Libertarian streak,” argued for fewer rules, not more. When the argument was made that more rules were needed to help the RCMP shut down teenage parties in parks, Bassam told staff and Council that there were already enough rules on the books to deal with drinking parties and other problem activities, and that the new Bylaw was a “gigantic hammer” that would have prevented him and his friends from playing touch football in Princess Park during their high-school years, and would prevent late-night cyclists and walkers from using many of the newly installed network of trails that were intended to serve them.

District staff tried to reassure Council that there was nothing to fear, because the District would practice “selective enforcement,” and that the local RCMP could be relied upon to “use discretion.” As well, Council was told that “we don’t enforce unless there’s a complaint,” and besides, “we don’t have the staff to monitor every park.”

Bassam argued that if the District doesn’t apply the law equally to all citizens – to both teenagers and late-night dog walkers – the regulation shouldn’t go forward.

Much of the North Shore is undergoing a change from single-family homes to higher-density strata developments. As more families settle in North Vancouver without the luxury of having a back yard, the demand for public parks will grow. Even though in some neighborhoods like Deep Cove there is a real problem with overcrowding and overuse of local parks, most of the District will need to find ways to accommodate more park users, not less.

When the new Bylaw is put to the vote later this spring, the question that Council should ask is whether adding more rules, but promising they won’t often be enforced, is sensible way to give District residents an enjoyable outdoors experience.