To the editor:
At a time when the city faces difficult decisions of budget and taxes, I continue to be disappointed and frustrated with the dismissal of the public outcry over the no-sit bylaw that was passed on Dec. 5. The bylaw that bans sitting or lying on Kelowna sidewalks is not only discriminatory, but it is unconstitutional. Similar bylaws have gone through time-consuming and costly reviews in the courts, including the Supreme Court of B.C. Invariably, these bylaws are found to be a violation of constitutional rights and freedoms.
When this was brought to council’s attention, they didn’t pause to learn more. They could have acted with courage and humility, acknowledging that there may be good reason to take a second sober look at what they had perceived to be a benign decision. Rather than taking this responsible pause, they have taken the public outcry personally, emotionally defending all of the other things that the city does to respond to issues of poverty and homelessness. The problem is that all that other stuff doesn’t change the reality that the bylaw is a discriminatory and unconstitutional action that will eventually be overturned in court.
I am a keen supporter of our downtown businesses. I love our downtown! It is a vibrant, inviting place. I understand that downtown business owners and their staff have concerns about people sitting or lying on sidewalks. Their feelings of discomfort and intimidation are real. These feelings are not overcome by sweeping the so-called problem out of sight. It is our ethical and moral duty as a society to protect the rights of all citizens. Poverty is uncomfortable to witness; but it is far more uncomfortable to endure and it certainly does not disappear just because we see less of it in our vibrant downtown. When people who are already living on the margins of society are pushed even further to the edges, they are extraordinarily vulnerable to violent crime and their fragile ties with services that could offer pathways off the streets are broken.
I’m disappointed that the mayor and council is more willing to risk an extraordinary cost burden to the taxpayers of Kelowna than they are willing to admit the possibility that they made an honest mistake. If the city manager and mayor can be emotionally moved by the thought of raising taxes to cover the catch-up necessary to make Kelowna the “best mid-sized city in North America” then surely they could be moved to reconsider the implications of a decision that elevates the needs of some over others, and that conveys a message of divisiveness and exclusion.
I would like to see our mayor and council take compassionate leadership on this complex issue, looking to the excellent evidence-informed approaches that have helped other communities come together to respond to their shared concerns.
Katrina Plamondon, Kelowna