EDITORIAL: debating laws about camping in public parks

The City of Parksville really has more options than it is portraying

The City of Parksville, its staff and council, is trying to do the right thing.

No good deed goes unpunished.

One could argue the city is running scared, fearful of a court ruling that says municipalities cannot put an outright ban on tenting by homeless people on public lands. The city believes it needs to put bylaws in place that spell out precisely where people can tent, while protecting some other public lands.

That has been a dicey proposition, as staff and council learned last week when the public gallery was packed with residents of the homes around Foster Park, a popular park that did not originally get specific protection in the proposed bylaw.

The city could build a bylaw that bans the homeless from tenting on any city lands. The fear is someone could plop a tent in a park and, if sent away, could challenge that action to the Supreme Court. This could mean a hefty legal bill for the city and perhaps an order from the court that would be less palatable for residents than what’s proposed now.

Let’s forget, for the purposes of this piece today, that the real issue is the lack of housing (shelter, transition and permanent) for the homeless and at-risk-to-be homeless in Parksville.

The city is allowing the i-dotting and t-crossing bureaucrats to rule the roost on this issue. There is no guarantee anyone would challenge an outright ban here. There is no reason, if it was faced with such a court challenge, the city couldn’t choose not to defend itself, save the legal bills and then pass the (presumably) palatable bylaw it has ready now.

That would take some serious leadership. Mayor Marc Lefebvre has shown time and time again he will defer to staff at all times. That stance makes good sense for most, but not all, issues. Taxpayers are paying for this responsible, talented staff — might as well take their advice.

Staff, however, will always take the safe route, as they should. It’s up to the elected officials to stray from that path, because little has ever been accomplished in this world by consistently taking the path of least resistance.

If the bylaw stays the same as it is now, council and staff can expect a gallery full of angry people who live near parks at every council meeting.

— Editorial by John Harding

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