Comment: Victoria's leash bylaw is unnecessarily onerous on dog owners

A commentary by a retired Crown counsel. 

Victoria’s mayor and council have hit a fly with a sledge hammer. Mayor Lisa Helps may think “there’s nothing for the public to say, except they don’t like it.” Well, I don’t like it, and I do have something to say.

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In their haste to enact the new bylaw regarding off-leash dogs, they have failed to consider that for much of the year, there are no migratory birds in Gonzales Bay.

I have lived near the bay for eight years and can vouch that for most of the year there are no migratory birds present. As for the great blue herons, I have only ever seen one in the bay — one — who visits the bay during the daytime, and she is territorial and does not allow any intruders of her own species. If a visiting heron approaches the bay, there is a squawking and flapping and intruder is chased away.

Most of the time our resident heron stands on the kelp beds and reefs in the bay.

I compare this situation to a traffic zone where motorist see the sign “Reduce speed when children on road,” or a school zone where there are signs “30 km/h, 8 am - 5 pm, School Days.” The only time when children are at risk from motorists is when the children are actually present; drivers are free to drive at the usual default speed the rest of the time.

Council has not only overreached in its eagerness to accommodate those opposed to dogs off-leash, but has been high-handed in failing to consider and consult with dog owners.

It could easily have passed a bylaw that reads something to the effect of, “Dog owners shall leash their dogs when migratory birds are present in Gonzales Bay,” thereby striking a reasonable compromise between dog owners and the interests protected by the federal legislation.

There is no inconsistency between this suggested municipal bylaw and federal law because when migratory birds are not present in the bay, which is for most of the year, the matter is moot.

Accordingly, I ask city council to amend the bylaw with the same alacrity with which it passed the “no dogs off-leash” bylaw, and otherwise exercise discretion in enforcement when migratory birds are not present.

After all, striking a compromise (without offending federal legislation) is the fair-minded, Canadian way of doing things, as it accommodates the various interests involved.

I should add that for many people dogs have been a blessing and a mental-health tonic during COVID; dogs have provided companionship and outdoor exercise during the difficult period of enforced isolation.

I have heard many people say how thankful they are for their dogs. Many people have bought dogs, and puppies abound.

Dogs, like children, need unstructured time to play, run and explore in a safe environment. Pemberton Park is not safe because it is not completely enclosed. I know of various dogs that have run off chasing deer.

Dallas Road is suitable for some dogs, but I know of at least one dog that was tragically run over after it jumped the fence to explore the north side of the road. Gonzales Bay is ideal for people and dogs, and I’m sure that most of us will be happy to comply with a reasonable bylaw when the migratory birds are present.

There is also a question about whether the municipality even has jurisdiction to legislate over the intertidal zone. In Gonzales Bay this covers the entire beach covered with sand, as the high tide reaches the wall and rocks in winter. This would be an interesting argument to make in court by someone who is ticketed under the new bylaw.

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