As expected, Council’s approval of an update to the City’s Nuisance Bylaw has created some push back in the community and some concerns that Council is trying to get money out of people who clearly are struggling just to survive. Despite multiple attempts from Council to explain the rationale behind this bylaw, misinformation and deliberate disinformation about Council’s intent abounds, especially on social media.
Council regularly updates all its policies and bylaws and the recent update to the Nuisance Bylaw is, in part, merely part of this process. For example, we’ve been asked for some time to deal with the issue of vacant and/or abandoned commercial and residential properties. These “nuisance” properties can become highly problematic from both a public safety and a community aesthetics perspective, so we needed to strengthen the previously existing nuisance bylaw with respect to these properties.
We also need to regularly update bylaws to current legal standards and best practices gleaned from other communities. In the case of the Nuisance Bylaw, one area that is changing is in the domain of nuisance behaviours in public spaces, especially spaces in communities that have high pedestrian traffic and areas that have been heavily invested in for tourism attraction.
Quesnel’s updated Nuisance Bylaw designates limited areas in the City’s core, where behaviours that cause members of the public to feel unsafe are prohibited. The bylaw seeks compliance with public nuisances that impact the peace, enjoyment, safety, security and well-being of residents and members of the public.
If laws are created, then consequences need to be put in place for those who break the law. For municipalities, the only real consequences we can impose are tickets and fines. However, fines are never intended as a “money grab” – the desire of any Council is always to educate people about bylaws and have people voluntarily comply with them once they know the law.
The intention is most definitely not to try and get money from people who, most likely, would not have it. Our intent is to give our Bylaw Officers a tool to address what is increasingly becoming highly problematic behaviours; behaviours that are chasing citizens (especially the elderly, families with young children, and visitors) out of what should be our most highly used community spaces. In most cases, Bylaw officers will first attempt to educate individuals about the bylaw. If needed, any tickets issued to individuals under the Nuisance Bylaw create a case for further action if the individual receiving the ticket(s) continually refuses to adhere to the law. In short, the updated Nuisance Bylaw gives our Bylaw Officers more tools to protect all citizens’ rights to feel safe in public spaces.
As I’ve stated many times, local governments have limited tools to ensure public safety. The update to the Nuisance Bylaw is an effort to make sure the limited tools we have are current, as strong as we can make them, and enforceable.
With respect to the claim made by some that we’re focused on the wrong end of this complex situation: Council is also actively engaged in improving the housing options and social programs for individuals in our community who struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues. We have been for the past three years and have seen marked improvements in a number of these services, including the deployment of direct supports on the street and the engagement of peers. More on this in my next column.