At Committee of the Whole on Tuesday morning, city staff introduced a proposed amendment to the parks access bylaw that has potentially serious repercussions for the city’s homeless population. The proposed amended bylaw, which will be put forward for three readings on Sept. 18 and is meant to address not-insignificant public concern about the use of public spaces, restricts “temporary shelters” during daylight hours on public land. It does not restrict those shelters between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., allowing overnight use of public land.
The troublesome thing about this bylaw amendment is that while it spells some of the terms out in great detail (for instance, the actions prohibited between the specified hours), it leaves others to interpretation. What exactly is “maintaining” a shelter? For that matter, what is a shelter? What is “temporary?” While it may seem to be common sense, these terms are not explicitly defined in the bylaw – leaving a lot up to the interpretation of the city in enforcing the bylaw. That could cause issues down the line, like inconsistant enforcement. For this bylaw to be effective, it needs to be highly specific, devoid of wiggle room or ambiguity. A specific bylaw gives both bylaw services a clear model to follow when working to enforce the city’s bylaws (and rightly so – bylaws should be enforced) and people maintaining temporary shelter a clear idea of exactly what is expected of them when using public lands.