North Cowichan is looking to regulate camping in its public parks.
Camping is currently unregulated in much of the municipality, but after tent cities by the homeless were recently set up on public land in Duncan and Victoria, North Cowichan is considering tweaking its bylaws to prohibit camping in certain areas and regulate it, to the extent possible, in its parks and public lands.
“This new bylaw aims to ensure that parks can be safely enjoyed by the public, and sensitive environmental areas can be protected,” said a release from the municipality.
The B.C. Supreme Court stepped in and granted an injunction to remove the campers in Duncan’s Charles Hoey Park in April after they were found to be in contravention to Duncan’s parks bylaws, which regulates camping in public parks, and the proposed new bylaw in North Cowichan plans to emulate many aspects of that bylaw.
Particularly, the campers were found to have erected tents without authorization, exceeded the permitted hours for erecting and maintaining tents, and obstructed the public’s enjoyment of the park, contrary to the bylaw.
In a report to council, Alyssa Meiner, North Cowichan’s deputy director of corporate affairs, said the new bylaw would, like Duncan, allow homeless people, defined as those with no fixed address and no access to public shelters, to set up a temporary shelter in municipal parks between 7 p.m. on one day and 9 a.m. on the following day.
But the campers would not be allowed fires or to set up their tents within 40 metres of a playground or sports facilities, or any area of the park that has been designated for an event.
The camps are also not allowed within 10 metres of an established trail, sidewalk or private property or anywhere near environmentally sensitive areas.
It’s expected there will be more revisions and possibly some areas where overnight camping by the homeless will be prohibited in the new bylaw by the time it is finally adopted by council, which is expected before summer.
“To say we currently have nothing in our parks bylaw to allow any overnight camping by the homeless is misleading,” Meiner said.
“In actual fact, we are currently only able to regulate camping in select parks, and there is nothing in our existing parks bylaw to prevent overnight camping by homeless or otherwise, beyond those areas. The new bylaw would prohibit all forms of camping during the day and actually dramatically narrow the area where homeless are currently able to camp overnight.”