False Creek boat-dwellers ready for legal battle against permit system

For a combined 15 days this year, Randy van Eyk and Shawn Wilson will stand trial in provincial court. The charge against them? Anchoring in False Creek without a permit.

Randy van Eyk and Shawn Wilson are challenging regulations that limit anchoring in Vancouver waterway

Shawn Wilson faces 16 charges of anchoring in False Creek without a permit. (Shawn Wilson)

For a combined 15 days this year, Randy van Eyk and Shawn Wilson will stand trial in provincial court.

The charge against them? Anchoring in False Creek without a permit.

The two members of the waterway's live-aboard boating community say they plan to argue the City of Vancouver is breaching their charter and constitutional rights by denying them a safe place to moor.

"I used to have a legal right of safe harbour — so long as I'm not bothering anybody and I'm not a hazard to navigation," van Eyk told CBC News.

"Without that right, I don't have a right to exist in society."

He's fighting two charges issued in August 2015 under the federal Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations. Those regulations require a permit, issued by the Vancouver Park Board to anchor in False Creek overnight or for more than eight hours during the day.

Randy van Eyk plans to challenge his charges for anchoring in False Creek without a permit. (Randy van Eyk)

Van Eyk is scheduled for a 10-day trial in Robson Square beginning in February. He plans to argue that because the regulations are administered by the city, they violate the Constitution Act, which gives Parliament "exclusive legislative authority" over navigation and shipping.

The second half of his argument focuses on the charter right to security of the person.

"For somebody who's a skipper, whose vessel is their home, security of the vessel is security of the person, and without that, there are consequences that people sometimes die at sea," van Eyk said.

The permits, which are free, allow boaters to drop anchor in False Creek for up to 14 days out of 30 during the spring and summer, and up to 21 days out of 40 in the fall and winter.

Enforcing a federal regulation

That system has been in place since 2006, when the federal Boating Restriction Regulations were amended. The idea was to reduce congestion, address safety concerns and "encourage turnover," according to a federal news release at the time.

A memorandum of understanding between Transport Canada and the city gave the Vancouver Police Department the power to enforce this federal law in False Creek.

A Vancouver police officer waves to Shawn Wilson and his dog during a visit to his boat in False Creek in December. (Shawn Wilson)

Wilson is charged with 16 counts of breaching these regulations in late 2016, and he's scheduled for five days in court in June. His police files show a VPD officer had directed "daily observations" of his boat to make sure he was complying with the permit regulations.

"It's pretty much like Shakespeare, where it's much ado about nothing," Wilson joked.

He's hoping the charges against him will be thrown out if van Eyk is successful in his trial.

Both men argue that restricting the number of days a boat-dweller can spend in the creek threatens their safety. They say several of their fellow live-aboards have wrecked on city beaches after they were forced to anchor in English Bay.

"Countless boats have wrecked out there. Probably well over a dozen boats last year ended up on the beaches, shipwrecked. Dozens of people are becoming homeless due to their [the city's] policies," Wilson said.

Three boats were blown onto Kitsilano Beach by a windstorm in 2010. (Steve Lus/CBC)

Van Eyk has experienced this first hand. He ended up on the beach after a storm in 2010, and it took him years to rebuild his boat.

"This incident of being run out of town, of getting shipwrecked, it basically devastated my life," he said.

City and park board spokespeople declined to comment on the issue, referring questions to police.

'We want to encourage safe moorage'

VPD Sgt. Jason Robillard told CBC News that ticketing is only used as a last resort when boaters refuse to get permits.

"We want to encourage safe moorage. If the weather is rough, we're definitely not kicking people out," Robillard said.

"We just want people to register and get this permit."

He estimates the police marine unit has handed out more than 200 "direction notices" informing boaters about the necessity of getting a permit. The police department was unable to provide statistics on how many people have been ticketed.

But Robillard said that police and the city are looking into a more permanent solution that would address everyone's needs — including those of the live-aboard community. One option under consideration is a dock somewhere outside of False Creek that would allow boaters to moor at a public park or beach.

In the meantime, van Eyk's trial is set to begin Feb. 27.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Reach me at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.