The B.C. Court of Appeal has overturned a plastic ban. File photo, Black Press

UPDATED: Cumberland confident its plastic ban will stick

Court of Appeal decision leaves local government with questions

The Village of Cumberland announced Thursday morning it has implemented its new bylaw banning single-use plastics.

By lunchtime though, its economic development officer, Kaelin Chambers, heard the news the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned a plastic ban brought in by the City of Victoria.

He had just finished up doing some follow-up work with businesses about how the ban will work in the Village, going over information such as tip sheets and posters.

“It’s been an interesting day. This has all come about very quickly,” he said. “I sat down at my desk at noon, and there’s this announcement.”

Chambers, however, is confident the court decision will not change the direction Cumberland significantly, at least for now. For one thing, the ban in the Village, effective as of July 1, is not being enforced for six months. The Village is giving a minimum of six months between implementation of the bylaw and enforcement, meaning this could begin January 2020. The reason for the delayed enforcement is to give local businesses a grace period for compliance, support a period of public awareness and education, and allow businesses an opportunity to use up existing inventory while looking for find suitable alternatives.

“Hopefully, over this period of time, the regulatory environment will sort itself out,” he said. “It may require us down the road to have an adjustment to our bylaw.”

Cumberland made the move, in part, to support a Member’s Bill from Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns to keep plastic out of Canadian waters but was also driven by the local business community, made up of small businesses already moving toward getting rid of single-use plastics.

“We also recognize we had strong support from our business community,” Chambers said.

On Thursday, the BC Court of Appeal released a decision in favour of the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, which had appealed a B.C. Supreme Court decision from May 2018 upholding a City of Victoria bylaw banning the distribution and sale of single-use plastic bags.

The Court of Appeal decided that Victoria’s bylaw was motivated by a decision to protect the environment, rather than business regulation, and in doing so should have sought approval from the Ministry of Environment.

RELATED STORY: BC Court of Appeal sides with plastic bag industry in Victoria case

The Village issued a news release Thursday morning about its new bylaw going into effect through a phased approach.

“I’m very proud of the community support behind this initiative,” Mayor Leslie Baird said in the release, “particularly in the leadership of our business community in promoting our efforts to reduce the community’s reliance on single-use plastics.”

RELATED STORY: Comox considers plastic bag ban

RELATED STORY: Is there an appetite for a plastic bag ban in the Comox Valley?

The Comox Valley Record has contacted the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox about how the court decision could affect their own plans to bring in bans. Mayor Bob Wells of Courtenay sent a statement in response:

“We are aware of the BC Court of Appeal ruling overturning the City of Victoria’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw. Staff are carefully reviewing the ruling to learn how this could affect Courtenay and the other local governments that are working towards or have already passed bylaws restricting single-use plastics, and will consult with legal counsel as necessary. We will determine our next steps once we have more information.

“At a meeting with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman earlier this year I asked that the provincial government take the lead on this issue as it does not make sense for each municipality to come up with its own rules that affect entire industries, and further most of us do not have the resources to fight lawsuits on our own.

“It sounds like both the provincial and federal governments are finally taking this issue seriously so hopefully they will create regulations and supporting legislation to help move this forward.”

The Comox council is not meeting again until early August, so they have not had a chance to discuss the recent decision, says chief administrative officer Richard Kanigan.

Council has put its bylaw through three readings and is supposed to go into a public consultation phase. Implementation would not occur until next year, so council should have the opportunity to see how the City of Victoria responds or if there is any direction from the federal or provincial governments.

(with files from Nicole Crescenzi/Peninsula News Review)

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