A ban on smoking dogs! Council contemplates new bylaws for a new downtown

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
September 6th, 2012

As Columbia Ave. gets a fresh coat of concrete—complete with impromptu doggie prints—Coun. Jody Blomme raised the twin issues of public smoking and downtown dogs at Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

“We are nearing the end of downtown construction, we have to think about how we’re going to use the downtown now,” she said, addressing the ban on dogs downtown.

She continued, “Another issue that’s been brought up to me a number of times is that of smoking in the new Harry Lefevre [Square]. We’re hoping [it] will be a lot more central place than it has been up until now and that people use it more. That brings up the issue of smoking in outdoor gathering places for some people—maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.”

Blomme put a motion on the table that staff research what other communities have done to address smoking in public places and the “dog issue.” She expressed particular interest in innovative or “non-bylaw” ways of dealing with these problems.

Coun. Kathy Moore expressed support for a motion that Kamloops will put forward at the next meeting of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) “to ban smoking in public places.”

But, Moore said, the motion at the UBCM, if it goes forward, then goes to the province and “takes forever and ever.” She argued, “Meanwhile, we have a shiny new downtown right now, and I’d like to see us have a fresh start.”

“Also, as we head towards the skatepark,” she added, “these are the kind of areas you want to be family-friendly and you want everyone to be able to enjoy their space and breathe freely.”

Coun. Jill Spearn—”not a smoker,”she said, “but I used to be”—took the position of “devil’s advocate,” and appealed to the “bigger picture.”

“I understand smoke and second-hand smoke,” she said, arguing that restrictions on smoking in public were mostly “common sense,” like not smoking amongst a group of people.

“But we have to be mindful of all sorts of people in society,” she said. “There is a generation of people who are alive and well—or not well—who are smokers. You can impose rules and impose rules, but you have to think about the greater good, democracy, and the public right.”

She said we may not have the right to say, “Oh my goodness, you have an addiction habit so you cannot come downtown to Harry Lefevre Square.”

Spearn clarified, “I’m speaking on behalf of some people who are on the fringe of society. They’re smokers because they’re addicted, not because they want to light up in Harry Lefevre and blow it beside you.”

Technically, council is not yet debating either of these issues, but Coun. Cary Fisher offered his opinion about dogs during Members’ Reports.

“The problem here is there’s a bylaw: you’re not allowed to have your dog downtown,” Fisher said. He argued that if we changed it to a leash bylaw, “then we’d have a leash issue, with people not leashing their dogs.”

“If you have a bylaw you don’t enforce, you have an issue,” he said. “You have liability issues for the city.” The issue arises due to conflicts with elderly people, or people who are intimidated by dogs, he said.

“My new house is on a trail, and not one person leashes their dog,” he continued. “They get to the trailhead and ‘poof,’ dogs are flying all over the place!”

“Luckily I have a dog of my own,” he said. “I let him go to visit the other dogs, which is nice, especially if they’re not mean dogs.”

He concluded, “We either allow them downtown, because they’re coming down anyway, or we randomly enforce [the ban] and throw out some huge fines; it’s one or the other.”

During the recess immediately after the regular meeting, a few councillors discussed the dog prints now preserved for posterity in some of the fresh concrete downtown.

Spearn commented, “There are remedies around [the dog issue] that other communities use, we just need a presentation about what that looks like.”

This returned Fisher to the topic. He said, “It’s simple though. In Vancouver, with a leash law, you can walk your dog anywhere. If he bites someone, they just euthanize him. Done. Around here, find a couple people with an unleashed dog downtown. Fined! And done: nobody will have a dog downtown.”

During the meeting, Blomme had clarified, “I’m definitely not saying I’m in favour of banning smoking or banning dogs. I’m strictly saying we need to have this discussion. The conformation of downtown is changing, the dynamic is changing. I want to see other alternatives presented.”

Blomme’s motion passed.

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