Victoria considers time limits for park use

Victoria's committee of the whole is considering a new bylaw that will put more restrictions on park use — but a critic says the changes target the homeless.

New bylaw would limit time spent in parks and where those using the parks as shelter can pitch a tent

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, B.C. is one of the municipality's 137 parks and open spaces. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There could be time limits coming for people using Victoria's 137 parks and open spaces.

Victoria's city councillors are considering bylaw changes to the city's park regulations. Some of the changes include establishing a time limit for visitors, closing any part of a park when required for public safety and impounding property left in the park.

There is currently no time limit on how long someone can stay in a city park, but the committee is considering an amendment that would limit a person from staying in a single location in the park to no more than six hours.

This amendment would not apply to people using the park at night for overnight sheltering. Under the current bylaw, people in need of shelter can pitch tents in Victoria parks as long as they pack up by 7 a.m.

However, the councillors are considering a bylaw amendment that would require these campers to move to new areas each morning.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Help says the repetitive camping on the same spot is hard on the park's grass and vegetation. 

"When people wake up in the morning, all we are asking is that they move at least a hundred metres from the spot that they have camped overnight to allow that piece of earth to kind of revive," she explained.

Victoria's notorious tent city — which lasted from November 2015 to August 2016 — was set up on the courthouse lawn. The lawn was provincial property and not subject to the city bylaw.

Changes target homeless, critic says

DJ Larkin, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, says the proposed changes to the bylaw were highly problematic and targeted homeless people in a way that it doesn't target other citizens.

"For years, the City of Victoria has had to deal with the problem of thousands of homeless people [many of whom live in the city's parks]," Larkin said.

"This policy, however, says we're going to save the grass. We're going to do that at the cost of the lives and safety of some of the most marginalized people in our community."

Larkin also questioned how the city would measure how much time somebody had spent in a park.

"It seems [these bylaws] would only be enforced against the homeless [not] me or a family having a picnic."

Councillors will meet to discuss the proposed changes at the committee of the whole meeting Thursday.

With files from Megan Thomas and CHEK News

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