This is the last Halloween fireworks will be legal in Vancouver
Ban on consumer fireworks starts Nov. 1, new rules aim to reduce property damage, injuries
If setting off fireworks is part of your Halloween experience, this will be the last year to do it legally in Vancouver.
The sale and use of consumer fireworks — the kind set off by families in their backyards, or revellers wanting an extra spark on Halloween night — will be illegal in Vancouver starting Nov. 1.
The ban is welcomed by Patricia Mitchell and her brother Bruce.
Their home on Woodland Drive in East Vancouver was severely damaged by a fire that was started by fireworks five years ago, the day before Halloween.
"It's been a nightmare, it's just been a nightmare," said Patricia about having to sell the home after a legal battle with their insurer over having it rebuilt. The case is still unresolved.
Mitchell says fireworks are not safe or appropriate in a densely populated city like Vancouver.
"I'm happy the law has changed," she said.
Fireworks can be bought and sold this year under the current system.
It requires vendors to obtain a city permit to sell fireworks between Oct. 25 and Oct. 31. People buying the fireworks must also obtain a permit, which requires the user to learn about safe use.
Fireworks can only be set off on Oct. 31.
In 2019, a motion for an outright ban, brought forward by Coun. Pete Fry, was passed. Fry said a majority of councillors agreed that fireworks were a nuisance and a source of potential harm rather than a fun activity.
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) says the permit system wasn't effective enough.
"We just can't move forward having a system that year after year does result in injuries and a significant amount of property damage," said Jonathan Gormick, public information officer for VFRS.
A city report said VFRS spent $20,000 of its budget over a one-week period each year trying to enforce the permit system.
On average each year, VFRS issues five tickets to vendors who are selling fireworks illegally. The fines this year are $1,000, up from $500 last year.
Vancouver police say they don't track tickets issued related to fireworks, but they are not something regularly handed out.
Gormick says the outright ban will make it easier for bylaw officers, police and firefighters to enforce fireworks rules because any possession or use will be illegal. There will be no need to check for permits.
Still, this year, starting Oct. 25, Gormick says firefighters from the VFRS fire prevention division will, one last time, begin their week of sweeps of retailers, checking for permits and safe storage.
"Retailers selling without authorization, improperly storing, selling non-compliant items, or selling to those without a permit and proof of age will face fines, inventory seizure, and potential prosecution," said a release.
Fry says the city is ready to move on from the legal sale and use of fireworks and that other municipalities with bans have seen a reduction in fireworks-related incidents.
"It's one of those relics of a bygone time that is ready to be retired," he said. "There's no place for it in a dense urban environment."
Organized fireworks displays, such as those seen at festivals, will still be allowed.
'We're a no fun city'
Coun. Melissa De Genova voted against the ban. She believes it will push fireworks sales further underground.
She argued that the permit system worked because it helped educate people about safe use. She's also doubtful that those continuing to use fireworks illegally will be caught and fined.
"I think not only a ban sends a message that we're a no fun city but I think that people are going to be very disappointed when they see that this actually isn't enforced."
Phatboy Fireworks sets up temporary stores around Vancouver to legally sell fireworks for Halloween. Parm Cheema, who speaks for the company, says it will be the last year for Phatboy to operate in Vancouver.
"It's over," he said about what the ban means for the company in Vancouver. Phatboy will still do business in other parts of the country such as Ontario.
Cheema doesn't agree with the Vancouver ban, saying that it will result in more illegal sales, and more dangerous use of fireworks in Vancouver. He said sales through the permit system helps educate users and regulates sellers.
'Take that risk'
De Genova also believes people will continue to buy fireworks online or go places where they still can be legally sold such as the Musqueam Indian Band in Vancouver.
The community, which isn't governed by Vancouver bylaws, often has firework vendors around Halloween.
Band member and former council member Wade Grant said fireworks are a tradition in the community and there has not been significant damage or injuries from their use.
He agreed with De Genova that just because it's illegal, fireworks use won't disappear in Vancouver.
"There's always people that want to take that risk," he said.
The following Metro Vancouver cities still allow residents to set off fireworks on Halloween:
- New Westminster
- District of North Vancouver
- Port Coquitlam
- Port Moody
- West Vancouver
It has been illegal to sell or discharge fireworks in the City of Surrey since 2005.