After being on a legal roller coaster for four days, Rossland city council has passed its plastic-bag ban bylaw — even though it could face a challenge in court.
Council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt the bylaw, despite a similar bylaw from Victoria being rejected by the provincial Court of Appeal last Friday.
“My cautious side is concerned if we pass this bylaw, we may be open to legal action,” said councillor Janice Nightingale during the debate. “On the other side, I would like to pass it, as we have a community that is very behind it, including retailers, and I’d love to be a leader on this issue.
“I think it’s a bump in the road and we are getting to that goal anyway.”
The “bump” was a ruling handed down by the B.C. Court of Appeal on July 12, tossing out Victoria’s bylaw banning plastic bags.
The Court of Appeal decision said Victoria’s definition of the bylaw’s purpose was not consistent with its after-effects. The court found that the underlying purpose of the bylaw was to protect the natural environment, which falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. It said the bylaw was invalid.
That ruling sparked a flurry of back-and-forth decisions by Rossland council. At first Mayor Kathy Moore said the city would go ahead with its bylaw, then backpedalled on the weekend, saying the bylaw would be delayed.
After speaking with city legal counsel and staff, they decided to go ahead with Rossland’s version on Monday after all.
“One aspect is our bylaw has an environmental complement to it that would have a hard time in court,” Rossland’s chief administrative officer, Bryan Teasdale, told council. “The second aspect, however, is we are not enforcing the bylaw for six months. We don’t have any enforcement activities on the bylaw until December.
“So our liability is fairly minimal, in my opinion.”
Councillors said they were encouraged by the acceptance of both citizens and businesses to the bylaw. They also received encouragement from the public gallery, and from local Green Party candidate Tara Howse.
“This bylaw on plastic bags is a simple step we can all take and every step accumulates into larger action and encourages greater awareness,” Howse wrote to council. “I fully support and encourage the City of Rossland to move forward with the plastic bag ban.”
Councillors noted other municipalities, including Ucluelet and Tofino, had implemented similar plastic bans.
“It’s a transition, kind of like the transition we had with the legalization of marijuana. It went back and forth but it all sorted itself out,” said Moore.
In the end, the vote was unanimous, with all councillors supporting the bylaw.
Little will change overnight with the bylaw’s passing. Council is giving local businesses and individuals six months to adapt to the change, and it plans education and hands-on campaigns to promote reusable-bag use in the meantime.
Under the bylaw, a business that provides a single-use plastic check-out bag (except under certain conditions), or provides a bag when the customer didn’t want one, or refuses to use a customer’s reusable bag, all carry a $100 fine per offence. It’s about half that for individuals violating the bylaw.
Businesses can be charged up to $10,000 for repeated violations of the bylaw, individuals up to $500.
Letter to the minister
Moore is also pushing for the province to aid municipalities trying to implement plastic bag bans.
She’s written to Environment Minister George Heyman, asking him to allow municipalities to enforce plastic bag bans.
Noting the province has indicated in the past that it supports such a ban, she said in reality municipalities are “being handcuffed by the lack of provincial leadership and spirited legal action by the plastics industry.”
“All we are asking is that you give municipalities the green light to enact and enforce legislation that best meets the needs of our residents and preserves the life of our landfills,” she wrote. “We just need your support to enable us to enforce it, without retribution from the powerful plastics industry.”
Council voted to send the mayor’s letter to the ministry.
Meanwhile, Victoria city council has to meet to decide its next steps in its legal battle.