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Delegation spoke against Courtenay bylaw set to ban sheltering in parks

The group shared concerns about the legislation’s “ambiguous” language and potential negative impacts
On the night of Jan. 24, a delegation formed by local advocates and members of the unhoused community voiced their opposition bylaw before Courtenay’s city council. The legislation would ban sheltering in numerous parks and public spaces across the municipality. (Olivier Laurin / Comox Valley Record)

On the night of Jan. 24, a delegation formed by local advocates and members of the unhoused community voiced their opposition to a bylaw before Courtenay’s city council.

Led by Angela Fletcher, co-ordinator of Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness and Taija McLuckie, a harm reduction support worker at AVI, the group spoke against the legislation that would ban sheltering in Courtenay’s numerous parks and public spaces. (The bylaw passed first and second reading at the Jan. 10 council meeting.)

“Today we are asking for a pause and more consultation around Bylaw 3121,” said Fletcher.

LEARN MORE: New bylaw would ban sheltering in many places in Courtenay

In a letter submitted to the council on Jan. 17, the delegation describes the nature of their opposition to the document.

“We are deeply concerned about the bylaw’s potential impact on individuals experiencing homelessness and strongly urge Mayor Wells and the city council not to adopt it,” reads the letter. “We find the bylaw’s language ambiguous, making it susceptible to misinterpretation. The bylaw also fails to provide clear guidance to enforcement bodies and the public regarding their rights, responsibilities, or enforcement procedures.”

Though Fletcher recognized that some efforts were made to avoid potential negative outcomes, she added that “the mark has been missed” and asked for the language in the bylaw and policies to be “adjusted for accessible understanding, providing clear guidance.”

McLuckie followed shortly after Fletcher.

“Courts across the country are recognizing the rights of unhoused individuals to exist and survive, even in public spaces,” she said. “Our bylaws must align with these legal developments and acknowledge the human rights of those without shelter.”

McLuckie emphasized the need to employ plain and clear language when “crafting legislation with profound implications for our community.” She added that bylaws of this nature must be accessible by all, including those living on the streets.

The advocate concluded her statement by criticizing the lack of insight sought by city staff during the conception of this legislation.

“We understand that you believe to have made all efforts in engaging with people with lived and living experience however, as mentioned they were only involved during the third stage of the consultation process,” noted McLuckie. “This involvement happened once, despite several attempts, in requesting our involvement from the beginning stages.”

Jesse Smith, a member of the homeless community, shared his thoughts on how this bylaw could potentially negatively impact his well-being.

“The bylaws that are being brought before us, and the negligence in the building of these bylaws, have not made life any easier for the hardships we are trying to survive through.”

Council’s response

Councillor Hillian was the first to speak following the delegation’s presentation.

“This bylaw is not entirely about sheltering in parks, it’s got other issues as well… We have tried to get some balance in this but it’s clear to me that we haven’t got it right.

“We do need to do more work… so that there is a clear understanding… But in the meantime, I hope that we can find a way (to) work together, as a community, to resolve this problem.”

Next up was Coun. Evan Jolicoeur, the only council member who dissented from the motion in the Jan. 10 council meeting.

“One of the things I think is important is the language we use. The language we use when we’re communicating with each other (and) when we’re communicating out in the community.

“I see multiple solutions and a path forward for the city and staff in understanding and incorporating the voices of people with lived and living experience impacted by… this bylaw.”

Coun. Wendy Morin, who mentioned having a family member currently dealing with homelessness, thanked the delegation for sharing their insight.

“I know this has been difficult because we’re trying to strike this balance. Some of you know that this council has had your backs and our staff in turn have worked very hard to try to strike that balance.

“As councillor Hillian said, there may be some adjustments that we can make… I believe that it’s important that we represent all of our citizens regardless of how much money you have or how many property taxes you pay.”

Coun. David Frisch followed Morin and shared a more nuanced support.

“Obviously, it’s a very upsetting situation and the problems you brought forward about the (bylaw’s) language and how that’s going to affect the people on the ground is really important.

“But I also wanna take this opportunity to talk about what the real problem is… this bylaw doesn’t solve any of the real issues, which (are) homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction, (and) poverty. I know all of us, as a community, are getting really tired of not finding a solution… I think we’re waiting patiently for the province to step up, but we might be coming to the point where we can no longer wait and have to take matters into our own hands.”

Mayor Wells concluded by thanking the delegation and voicing some general concerns.

“This (current homeless crisis) is a result of a failed system with decades and decades to get to where we are right now… Our council has been doing what we can.”

The third reading of the proposed bylaw is Feb. 14.

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Olivier Laurin

About the Author: Olivier Laurin

Olivier is a bilingual multimedia journalist from Montréal, Québec. He possesses a deep curiosity and a passion for exploring the connections between people and their communities.
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