North

New Yellowknife bylaw manager seeks more collaboration with RCMP, social agencies

Yellowknife’s new municipal enforcement manager says she is moving the division toward a more collaborative approach to enforcing the city’s bylaws, but a city councillor said most of the people he's spoken to want to see more enforcement.

But city councillor says public wants more proactive enforcement of bylaws

Jennifer Hunt-Poitras, a former CBC North reporter, took over as manager of Yellowknife's Municipal Enforcement Division in May. (CBC)

Yellowknife's new municipal enforcement manager says she is moving the division toward a more collaborative approach to enforcing the city's bylaws, but a city councillor says people he's spoken to want to see more enforcement.

Jennifer Hunt-Poitras, a former CBC North reporter, took over as manager of the Municipal Enforcement Division in May. At a city council committee meeting on Monday she told the mayor and councillors her vision for the department includes collaborating more with the RCMP and social agencies, and developing more standards and policies to bring consistency to the division.

But Coun. Niels Konge said people he's spoken to say they want to see the municipal enforcement division take a more aggressive approach to enforcing the city's bylaws, such as taking action when they see violations.

"A lot of people who call me to complain they say, 'Well, MED [Municipal Enforcement Division] are driving around, why couldn't they just do something about it instead of waiting for a complaint?'" 

Hunt-Poitras said the new approach she's taking does not mean ending fines and other punitive measures.

"There's a number of different approaches ... but of course giving tickets, the enforcement piece of that, remains a very necessary tool in our toolbox," she said.

Coun. Niels Konge Konge, seen here in a file photo, said any bylaws that are not or cannot be enforced should be deleted. (CBC)

Enforcing bylaws is complicated: SAO

The city formalized its approach to enforcement last year, introducing its first By-law Enforcement Policy. Under it, MED officers will only enforce bylaws when complaints are made, unless public or officer safety is an issue.

Yellowknife's senior administrative officer said enforcing bylaws is often more complicated than people think. She referred to an example of a trailer parked on Niven Drive for more than the 72 hours allowed by law.

"On the surface that should look very simple, it's a vehicle parked more than 72 hours, move it along," said Sheila Bassi-Kellett. "[There is] a lot of complexity to it that Ms. Hunt-Poitras and her team spent a lot of time on to make sure it was done in a way that met everybody's interests."

An old boat on a broken down trailer has been sitting on the side of Morrison Drive in Yellowknife for more than a year. Under the city's bylaw enforcement policy, it will remain there until someone complains about it. (Richard Gleeson/CBC)

Hunt-Poitras and Bassi-Kellett said when bylaws are enforced it is typically in steps, with the first step being educating the alleged offender. Fines and tickets are a last resort. Bassi-Kellett said is the approach being taken to a recent bylaw requiring masks be worn on public transit. She said that bylaw was necessary to enforce an order of the N.W.T. chief public health officer.

Konge said any bylaws that are not or cannot be enforced should be deleted. He offered an example — the bylaw that requires cyclists to wear helmets. Konge said leaving council meetings, he's often seen children cycling around city hall without helmets.

I don't think we should have bylaws on the books if we're not going to enforce them.- Coun. Niels Konge

"I don't think we should have bylaws on the books if we're not going to enforce them," he said. "If we want to educate people about masks or we want to educate people about bike helmets, then let's do that."

The city's manager of legal services, Kerry Penney, echoed Bassi-Kellet's explanation, saying enforcement is often more complicated than people realize.

"An officer needs to prove many things, and issue a ticket, and potentially go to court," said Penney. "So it's not that it is not legally enforceable per se, it's just that it's quite a bit more complicated."

Penney said the city does not have the resources to actively enforce all of the city's bylaws.

"We do have an obligation, if a complaint is raised, to investigate and look into the complaint. Logistically we will never have the manpower to enforce every section of every bylaw that we have in place."

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