British Columbia

Is it time to ban fireworks across Metro Vancouver?

It's that time of year in Metro Vancouver — when some neighbourhoods sound like war zones and pets cower under kitchen tables, plumes of smoke wafting into homes.

Fireworks bylaws vary across the region; some critics say it's time for a regional approach

Halloween fireworks are a holiday tradition in Metro Vancouver. But the risk they pose is leading some critics to call for a regional ban. (CBC)

It's that time of year in Metro Vancouver — when some neighbourhoods sound like war zones and pets cower under kitchen tables, plumes of smoke wafting into homes. 

That's right. It's Halloween, which means it's fireworks season. 

Rules vary around the region, with some municipalities allowing fireworks, others not, and others still allowing them to be set off, but not sold, within city borders. 

Even those that do allow them to be set off only do so for Halloween night. But as residents across the region know all too well, many can't seem to resist the lure of lighting them long before they're allowed to. 

The selling or setting off of fireworks isn't allowed in Surrey, but Newton Community Association chair Liz Walker says that hasn't kept people from setting them off there every year. 

"Every Halloween, the problem with fireworks is a topic we end up discussing, because we all have issues with fireworks," she said. 

This week, the City of Surrey seized a record number of illegal fireworks and firecrackers in a 48-hour period.

Walker says Metro Vancouver's hodge-podge of rules around fireworks isn't working, and she wants to see a regional approach to regulations. 

"It's not working because people are purchasing fireworks in other municipalities and bringing them here. And there's no way law enforcement or bylaw officers can react fast enough," Walker said.

"I think it does bear more discussion from civic leaders, because it's an issue every year."

Not only are fireworks a nuisance, she says, they're also dangerous if not set off properly, cause property damage and terrify little children and pets.

Driving sales underground

Those are also causes for concern for Vancouver Fire and Rescue public information officer Jonathan Gormick. 

Vancouver considered an outright ban, but he says the city decided against it for safety reasons. 

"Completely prohibiting the sale probably wouldn't stop people from acquiring them," he said.

"What it would do, is make them go underground and purchase fireworks and firecrackers that are illegal for sale and definitely not safe for use."

Last week, Gormick said bylaw officers in Vancouver had seen industrial explosives being sold online, misleadingly advertised as firecrackers. 

However, he did agree that a unified approach across Metro Vancouver could make it easier for consumers to make sense of what is allowed and what isn't. 

Not only do municipalities vary in terms of allowing fireworks, they also vary in terms of what kinds of fireworks are allowed and whether a permit is required, where to purchase that permit and at what cost. 

Not a 'burning issue'

But even though many municipal leaders in Metro Vancouver agree fireworks can be a hazard, there's not much drive to ban them completely across the region. 

"I think it could go one way or the other. Would I be happy if there were a policy for Metro Vancouver? Sure," said City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto. 

The City of North Vancouver bans the sale and setting off of fireworks, but the neighbouring District of North Vancouver does not. 

Mussatto admits a few stray fireworks get set off here and there, but says fireworks aren't really an issue. 

"Is it a big problem in our city? No. Is it something that is a burning issue? No. Have the RCMP let us know it's a big issue? No."

Similarly, Metro Vancouver chair and Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore doesn't see the need for a regional ban. 

"A lot of communities ... use fireworks to bring the neighbourhood together on Halloween," Moore said.

"There's definitely some benefits to it."

Moore also points to the fact that regardless of where people buy fireworks, they still risk hefty fines if they don't follow the bylaws in their municipality. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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