Edmonton city administration walks back report on shisha smoking in lounges

Edmonton city administration has walked back its findings from a recent report on shisha smoking in lounges, acknowledging the city would not need the province's cooperation to once again allow the practice.

New report reverses position, acknowledges provincial changes don't affect shisha

Edmonton city administration has walked back a report on shisha smoking in lounges, acknowledging the city would not need provincial buy-in to reverse its ban on the practice. (Michel Spingler/Associated Press)

Edmonton city administration has walked back its findings from a recent report on shisha smoking in lounges and now says the city would not need the province's cooperation to once again allow the practice.

Earlier this month, a report prepared for the community and public services committee incorrectly concluded the provincial government would have to exempt shisha from new smoking rules for Edmonton to reverse its ban on indoor shisha smoking.

But Alberta Health told CBC News the legal changes taking effect later this spring don't address shisha and the province is largely letting municipalities handle regulation.

In a revised report posted online Friday, city administration reversed its position.

"Alberta Health has advised that the new amendments do not address the use of waterpipe or hookah and do not preclude municipalities from establishing their own restrictions on the use of waterpipe or hookah," the report states.

"Consumption of shisha that contains any tobacco product remains prohibited in public places."

City councillor Jon Dziadyk is vice chair of the committee, which will debate the report at its meeting Wednesday. He said he received an email Friday about the new report that did not say how it differed from the previous one.

"I appreciate the new information but this should be a core competency of the city, to know the difference between the municipal bylaws and the provincial rules," said Dziadyk, who said he has never seen something similar happen during his time as councillor.

"To me, it is unclear if the wider community that was interested in the report coming out, if they are aware that it has been revised now."

In an emailed statement, a city spokesperson said administration initially believed the provincial law would apply to hookahs and waterpipes but now "understands that each municipality may set their own rules in relation to hookah and waterpipe use." The statement did not address how administration made the mistake.

An email to media flagging the revised report said it contained changes "based on comments from Alberta Health Services."

The report echoes the previous report's findings that the city could establish a separate business licence class for shisha lounges and could amend a public bylaw to allow indoor smoking of shisha. Those changes would "effectively reverse" the city's ban.

It also reiterates Alberta Health Services concerns about the effects of waterpipe smoke — regardless of whether it contains tobacco — on air quality and health for people in the lounges and perhaps even nearby units.

Undermines the whole process'

Lawyer Avnish Nanda represents a group of more than a dozen shisha lounge owners who are trying to get the city's ban overturned. He said he found out about the revised report Tuesday when Dziadyk's office contacted him.

"To find out that key, significant parts of the report have changed dramatically, and [there was] no prior indication to us that this would occur, or did occur, I think there needs to be a reassessment as to how the city administration engages in consultation but also prepares reports to city council," Nanda said.

He said this has damaged the trust that council and the public place in city administration to provide critical information.

"When that information is not accurate, or there is no transparency when there are changes if there are inaccuracies found, I think it really undermines the whole process," Nanda said.


Jennie Russell

Investigative reporter

Jennie Russell is a reporter with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Jennie specializes in accountability journalism and her work has been widely credited with forcing transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Contact Jennie at jennie.russell@cbc.ca and follow her on Twitter @jennierussell_.


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