Vancouver holds off on higher fines for three bylaws affecting homeless

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The City of Vancouver will not proceed with higher maximum fines for infractions under three bylaws as it awaits the outcome of a court challenge launched by a former homeless man.

In November 2012, Vancouver city council voted to approve in principle amendments to 40 bylaws, allowing the courts to boost the top penalty from $2,000 to $10,000.

Among those were the City and Land Use Regulation Bylaw, the Street and Traffic Bylaw, and the Street Vending Bylaw.

Vancouver resident Clarence Taylor has challenged the constitutionality of the three bylaws in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court. According to Pivot Legal Society, Taylor was issued several tickets under Vancouver bylaws for having “structures” on city streets while he was homeless between March 2009 and January 2012.

“As there is a challenge to the validity of these bylaws currently before the courts, council has decided not to proceed with the approved amendments to the City and Land Use Regulation Bylaw, the Street and Traffic Bylaw, and the Street Vending Bylaw…pending the outcome of that court challenge,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said prior to a public hearing Tuesday (January 15) evening.

The public hearing was held on proposed amendments to two bylaws, the Zoning and Development Bylaw and the Sign Bylaw. Will Johnston, the city’s director of licences and inspections, said out of the series of bylaws discussed in November, those are the only two that legally require a public hearing before being amended.

According to city staff, a document on the public hearing initially referred to the incorrect appendix of the November staff report, which listed a series of bylaws, rather than just the Zoning and Development and Sign bylaws.

Johnston told council that under the Zoning and Development Bylaw, fines are imposed for cases such as land-use infractions. As an example, he cited an owner of a building illegally setting up a rooming house.

“Under these amendments…the maximum fine that the courts could set now could go up to $10,000,” he told council.

Under the sign bylaw, examples of infractions include cases such as a property owner who has installed a billboard where it’s not permitted.

Johnston said the increased maximum fines were recommended with the aim of encouraging increased compliance with bylaws.

“The current maximum fine of $2,000 is considered very low, not only by staff and enforcement, but also the city prosecutor’s office [and] members of the judicial system,” said Johnston. “At a $2,000 fine limit, our fine is not an effective deterrent to serious repeat bylaw violations. In many cases, it’s simply treated as a way of doing business.”

The maximum fines can only be imposed by the court, and apply to cases of serious or multiple infractions in which the city has requested charges.

“What the courts would be doing is they would be looking at a multitude of reasons to determine what the appropriate fine would be,” Johnston told councillors. “We do see the maximum fine set sometimes, but I wouldn’t say it’s common.”

Johnston said city council is scheduled to enact the amended bylaws to incorporate the increased maximum fines on January 29.

He noted the amendments to the three bylaws subject to the legal challenge will be put on hold pending the outcome of the court challenge.

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Ebenezer Scrooge
You must kick 'em some more when they're down, right?
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bill
Instead of worrying about fining somebody who might actually be helping to alleviate a problem, why is the city not actively and agressively finding ways to encourage any property owner who can provide housing?

The City of Vancouver should institute a tax on all government funded buildings that would be exclusively applied to the problem of the homeless...for example a 2% levy on the new roof for a football stadium could have gone a long way if applied to housing and social services in the downtown east side.
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