—Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna mayor says further consultation needed for controversial bylaw

Colin Basran released a statement after a controversial panhandling bylaw was put to council

City of Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran has released a statement after a controversial panhandling bylaw drew criticism this week.

City council gave initial approval to a host of changes to the panhandling section of its Good Neighbour bylaw that imposes fines of $250 on well-meaning people who think they are helping those asking for money on the street.

The recyclable donation ban makes it illegal in the city to give away bottles and cans to someone else so they can claim the refund if done so within 500 metres of a recycling depot.

Other changes would include allowing panhandling—which is legal in B.C.—between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., reducing the distance from an automated teller machine (ATM) where someone can ask for money to five metres from 10 metres, and making it a ticketable offence to follow someone asking for money if the person being asked has refused.

Late Thursday Basran released this statement, provided in full:

“As we head into a long weekend, I wanted to let everyone know that we are listening to what our residents have to say about various aspects of the Good Neighbour bylaw and we will continue to listen to all sides of this discussion.

City council has not adopted the proposed changes to the Good Neighbour bylaw. City council gave first, second and third readings to the proposed amendments of the Good Neighbour bylaw and in doing so asked staff to consider several things prior to bringing the amendments back for final consideration. I think it is important to note that the majority of the regulations in the Good Neighbour bylaw have been sensibly implemented in our community for many years, with very few complaints.

The recommended amendments are proposed to help deal with some very complex issues in our community. The bylaw amendments alone will not rectify these issues. Pragmatic enforcement of laws is just one part of a multifaceted approach to ensure Kelowna is a place where everyone feels welcomed and safe.

After valuable public feedback, I would like to address some of the concerns raised regarding the bylaw amendments. First, it is not our intent to punish those individuals wanting to help vulnerable people in our community.

I will be asking council to direct staff to further study the proposed amendments to ensure holistic solutions are considered prior to bringing the amendments back for council’s consideration. We need to find a balance that allows us to help those most vulnerable in our community while ensuring a safe community for all. What is not readily known to all is that there are recorded instances where well-intentioned generosity has had some very negative consequences.

We know that a vibrant city depends upon a strong and supported arts community. In fact, city council has advocated strongly for the arts over the course of the term and values the contributions of local artists.

City council has directed staff to further consult with Festivals Kelowna and street performers to determine how best to move forward. City council will not be making a final decision on the busking portion of the bylaw until that consultation is completed and there is clear direction on the best way forward.

To clarify, the current buskers program and proposed amendments, a busking permit is currently voluntary. The buskers program is run by Festivals Kelowna. Through consultation with Festivals Kelowna and the Downtown Kelowna Association, several Busk Stops were identified as appropriate places for great street entertainment to take place downtown. There are currently no restrictions on locations for buskers to perform in other town centres and neighbourhoods in our community.

Under the proposed bylaw amendment, it is recommended that a busking permit no longer be voluntary but a requirement of all street performers so the rules and code of conduct are consistent and fair to all participants. This is a common practice successfully implemented in many cities across the country. City staff sought feedback on this from Festivals Kelowna but it has been made abundantly clear that artists and street performers should have also been a part of the consultation process. City Council agreed, which is why we instructed staff to broaden our work with the Arts Community and Festivals Kelowna to ensure the Busking Program will enhance the Arts experience in our City.

Should this consultation have taken place sooner? Perhaps it should have, but it’s important to recognize the need to move forward together. When this consultation is concluded, Council will then decide on a final product and whether to proceed. Much like with most outcomes, not everyone will be fully satisfied with the final result but our fundamental commitment to our residents remains how to best implement a program that benefits the community as a whole.

I also want to remind residents that the current Good Neighbour bylaw along with the proposed amendments does not prohibit someone from using a musical instrument or partaking in other artistic endeavors in public spaces, so long as there is no expectation of receiving payment/compensation.

When it comes to all of our bylaws, issuing a fine is the last resort for a bylaw officer when dealing with a complaint. Each situation is fundamentally unique so we want to make sure our bylaw officers have an assortment of options and actions to deal with these complex situations. Compliance is the foremost objective, therefore, most conflicts are often resolved through dialogue without further legal enforcement.

On those rare occasions when a conflict reported to bylaw enforcement cannot be resolved peacefully, a ticket might be issued. Since 2010, staff received 155 busking complaints and in that time issued four tickets to those who disregarded the wishes of others on the street.

The job of bylaw enforcement is not always easy and council is supportive of our officers who are out there doing the best they can. We hope to inspire a culture of tolerance and social balance that always seeks to resolve conflicts in a sensible, and caring manner.”

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