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Squamish asking UBCM for help with concern about fake public hearing submissions

A second resolution asks that funding levels match demand for provincial parks

Officials in Squamish are concerned about fake or dishonest public hearing submissions being used to sway development and policy decisions.

The municipality is sponsoring a resolution at the Union of BC Municipalities convention about the issue next month.

The gathering of local B.C. governments will take place in Whistler from Sept. 10 to 14.

The resolution asks that the Local Government Act be amended to “assist local governments with the ability to verify the legitimacy of a submission where there is strong reason to believe that the submissions are false and dishonest and made to undermine the integrity and purpose of the public hearing process and UBCM work with the province to understand best practices.”

Members across the province will be asked to vote for or against the resolution.

District spokesperson Christina Moore said that in Squamish, there have been “no proven cases” that involve falsified public feedback.

“But even if there were,” she said, “The current legislation wouldn’t allow us to discount or dismiss those submissions. They would still need to be considered by council.”

Both Moore and the UBCM Resolutions Committee noted that technology has helped more citizens participate in the public feedback process.

On major decisions like the recent Official Community Plan in Squamish, council considered comments from sources that included email correspondence, online submissions, and screenshots from Facebook.

“There are currently no tools within the Community Charter or Local Government Act legislation to allow local governments to validate electronic submissions to public hearings, if and when concern or suspicion arises due to the quality of submissions,” said Moore.

“The District believes that provincial legislation needs to catch up in order to ensure that local governments have access to tools by which to validate citizen submissions.

The Lower Mainland Local Government Association endorsed the resolution in May during their annual general meeting. That group includes 33 local governments including Metro Vancouver, Squamish-Lillooet (SLRD) and the Fraser Valley.

 A second resolution will address increased visits to provincial parks.

A different resolution, sponsored by the SLRD, seeks a solution to the over-stressed parks in the corridor.

The resolution says the “success of recent provincial tourism marketing strategies” are responsible for a number of negative impacts, including increased wildfire risk, parking issues, and wildlife concerns.

The parks mentioned are Joffre Lakes, Strawberry Point, and Porteau Cove.

The resolution demands the province increase funding for staffing, maintenance, and enforcement in the parks.

It also suggests the province “investigate the development and addition of new recreation assets” to spread out the increased demand.

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