Parks camping bylaw approved

Intent to comply with Supreme Court ruling on Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Maple Ridge gave final approval Tuesday to its parks and recreation bylaw allowing people to camp in certain city parks, albeit with restrictions.

The change was introduced in May, when the bylaw received three readings. The intent is to ensure Maple Ridge is complying with an October 2015 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that allows homeless people to camp in Abbotsford city parks, between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.

The court ruled that banning homeless people from sleeping in parks violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Given that ruling, people now can legally camp in civic parks, said Coun. Craig Speirs.

“Recent court decisions have underlined the fact that permission already exists,” he added.

Maple Ridge’s bylaw change allows tents in city parks between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.

It also specifically bans all camping from Memorial Peace Park and the civic centre, Haney-Nokai Park and Raymond Park. Camping is also banned from playgrounds, skateboard bowls, tennis courts, sports fields, stadia or picnic shelters.

“What this will do, in my view, will protect some of the more sensitive parks,” Speirs said.

The bylaw is “not permission to camp in the park. That permission already exists.”

Coun. Tyler Shymkiw didn’t like changing the bylaw, but had to accept it. He initially voted against it.

“This is specifically designed to prevent it from places like Nokai Park, prevent it from playgrounds,” he said.

“It’s the only way we can pragmatically protect our playgrounds from exactly what we saw on Cliff Avenue.”

A homeless camp sprang up a year ago on Cliff Avenue, next to the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, and took until October before being disbanded.

Mayor Nicole Read said the bylaw gives the city the power to go to court to remove camping from certain areas, while allowing it in other areas, and thus ensure the city is complying with the court ruling. The bylaw’s intent isn’t just to allow people to camp in city parks, she added.

“This is a situation that all communities are facing right now,” Read said.

Other cities that haven’t made such a change could be powerless to remove a homeless camp from a high-profile area.

“I’m pleased that we’re here, disappointed nonetheless that we’re using municipal bylaw to legislate homelessness when really we just need homeless people to be given health care and housing,” Read added.

Final reading received unanimous consent from the four councillors present, with Couns. Bob Masse and Kiersten Duncan absent.

“I think it’s a terrible bylaw, but I don’t think we have any choice. I think it’s the best we can do,” said Coun. Gordy Robson.

Coun. Corisa Bell also said that she recognizes the issue won’t be settled so she wants to support council and staff.

Abbotsford, Victoria and Kamloops have also made such changes.