Parksville provides details of proposed tent city bylaw

The city is moving forward with bylaw to protect some parks

Parksville city council is one step closer to prohibiting overnight camping by homeless people in key areas of the city, including Community Park.

Council directed staff Thursday to come back with a bylaw at a future meeting that will likely ban camping in Community Park, Springwood Park and anywhere within 60 metres of the ocean. That would leave open the possibility for the homeless to camp from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. in other city-owned lands like Foster Park.

The city is trying to get its legal house in order in reaction to recent court rulings that limit a municipality’s ability to prohibit the homeless from camping on public land. Essentially, the courts have ruled that if there are no shelter options for homeless — there are none in Parksville — people can set up tents in public parks. The court rulings do allow municipalities to prohibit the homeless from camping in sensitive park areas.

“The tourist season is coming and we have to have something in place,” said Mayor Marc Lefebvre.

“In the absence of such a bylaw, it can happen in all public places,” said Coun. Kirk Oates.

Coun. Leanne Salter made reference to a letter from the Friends of Foster Park, correspondence that was not part of the council package Thursday night.

“They are also not wanting people to sleep in their park,” said Salter.

Keeva Kehler, the city’s director of administrative services and the author of the report before council Thursday, acknowledged residents would not likely be happy with tents in any city park.

“I think any neighbourhood park, the people in that neighbourhood, will want a prohibition,” said Kehler.

Salter suggested the city might face a legal battle if it tries to prohibit the homeless from setting up tents in portions of Community Park not close to the beach. “I don’t think we are able to not allow anyone to sleep in the park proper,” said Salter. “I see that being a legal battle.”

Council voted unanimously to direct staff to come back with a bylaw that’s likely to prohibit overnight stays in Community Park, Springwood Park, the city’s Despard Avenue municipal well sites and anywhere within 60 metres of the ocean.

See Thursday’s edition of The NEWS for more coverage from city council meetings Thursday and last night (Monday).