To Occupy or not to Occupy, this is the question…

Ron Bolin:  Nov. 30, 2011

A recent article in the Nanaimo Daily News, “Occupy camp turns down city proposal”, Nov. 30, 2011, raises some issues which demand clarification.  Foremost is the nature of city bylaws.  In the above story our Mayor is quoted as saying that: “the city must enforce the bylaw that prohibits tents in city parks.” He went on to state that:  “We are not going to compromise on the bylaw . . . to ignore it would start anarchy”.   For better or for worse this is poppycock.  Legally, the city is under no obligation to enforce its own bylaws, even in the face of complaints.  This was first pointed out to me by our City Manager and was later confirmed by a panel of judges which was convened in the Courthouse on Law Day earlier this year.  To say that I was flabbergasted, naïf that I am, would be a gross understatement.  I later came to learn that not only does the City not always enforce our bylaws; they may, at times, actively ignore infractions on their own recognizance or even on instruction from Council.

Citizens who believe that they will always be protected by existing City bylaws should be forewarned.  Your complaint may legally fall on deaf ears for any number of reasons.  This ambiguity in the legal structure can offer solace against the use of bylaws for abusive purposes.  It also opens a perilous path for active non-enforcement.   Bylaws are not a shield; they are a weapon of choice.

A number of years ago when I worked in the Planning Department at the City of Edmonton I found myself in discussion with the Director of Bylaw Enforcement about the fees for various city permits.  In reviewing the list of permit charges I ran across one which was $1000 per day.  Intrigued, I asked him what this was for.  He answered with a straight face that it was, “for gypsies and other people whose faces we do not like.”  I took this as an isolated and unofficial interpretation, but it stuck with me as an isolated statement until the circumstance described above.

While I may agree that it is time for the occupiers to leave the plaza while the broader legal issues of public occupation are settled, and that they should immediately clean any walls or space that has been defaced, I admire the manner in which they have generally conducted themselves.  Their point has been clearly made:  Many of our institutions have failed us and need to change.  I hope they will find creative ways to keep this message before our eyes.  It is not only they that have been injured; it is the rest of us as well.  Whistling through the graveyard will not only NOT revive our dead institutions, it will also disguise the bell that is tolling for us all.