Sleeping in cars will remain illegal in Victoria for the time being as city staff investigate implications of making changes to bylaws.
Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Chris Coleman had proposed council approve an exemption to the city’s streets and traffic bylaw so that tickets would not be issued to people sleeping in cars parked on the street when the city’s vacancy rate falls below three per cent. It is currently about 0.5 per cent.
Helps said Thursday it had become clear that the issue was more complex than simply amending a bylaw and could have implications on staff time and resources. Councillors agreed to defer consideration until staff report back at the next quarterly update in May.
“I think what we want to make sure is that we’re changing the right section of the right bylaw in the right way,” Helps said in an interview.
Data gathered by Coleman and Helps show the number of tickets for sleeping in vehicles has been increasing. Eighty tickets were issued in 2014, 62 in 2015 and 176 in 2016. The data show spikes in tickets issued in February, October and November as well as in June and July.
City clerk Chris Coates told councillors that there are two sections of the streets and traffic bylaw that cover sleeping in cars — one that deals with night parking and includes RVs and campers, and another that deals with sleeping in vehicles.
“It seems from a broader perspective likely more comprehensive and appropriate to capture both of those elements,” he said.
Helps told councillors it might be straightforward.
“At first it didn’t seem [to be a big body of work]. It may not be. It may just be making sure there’s cohesion amongst the parks, the streets — all the bylaws,” she said.
Coun. Ben Isitt said the city should simply delete sections of the bylaw relating to sleeping in vehicles.
“My view is that no one should have to sleep in a vehicle in the city of Victoria — but I also believe if they have to, they shouldn’t be criminalized,” Isitt said.
Coleman said the intent of the proposed change was never to allow people to park their RVs along Dallas Road. It might be that certain areas would have to be exempted from any changes, he said. “We need to find out what other options have been used in other areas.”
Isitt said he didn’t want staff to undertake “a long, convoluted policy-making expedition.”
He said city staff shouldn’t be knocking on car doors, waking people sleeping in their cars.
“My preference is that our bylaw is silent on the issue of people sleeping in vehicles, because then there’s no enforcement of that,” he said.
“I think the only doors we should be knocking on are the legislature and the House of Commons, demanding action by those partner levels of government that in a wealthy country like Canada there’s in a right to shelter and we need programs and funds in place to guarantee that right.”