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Squamish camping bylaw — so far, so good: District of Squamish

No tickets issued, but the Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group reports disruptive interactions.

Midway through the first season of the District’s controversial camping bylaw, municipal staff are trumpeting that an educational approach to enforcing the regulations has resulted in no tickets being issued.

On July 27, the District’s acting general manager of community services told council that the educational approach to enforcing the bylaw is generating high levels of voluntary compliance.

In a presentation, Dan Pagely listed a number of the accomplishments made since the bylaw came into force in late May.

“Levels of compliance are evident in the lack of formal written warnings and tickets that have been issued,” reads a staff report to council.

“Anecdotal evidence of interactions by Tourism Squamish Destination Stewards with residents about enforcement have also been positive.”

In the report, staff write the educational approach has yielded constructive conversations when infractions are found, as well as high levels of voluntary compliance.

The new bylaw introduced a number of regulations.

Camping in parks is banned. However, people without homes are allowed to set up temporary shelters in parks, with some exceptions. The regulations also target vehicle dwellers, as it prohibits people from staying more than one hour in a parked vehicle during evenings.

The bylaw is intended to be primarily complaint-driven.

Pagely told council that in late May, after the bylaw was adopted, authorities received three complaints of illegal camping and one regarding sleeping in a vehicle.

In June, there were seven complaints of illegal camping and 11 regarding people sleeping in vehicles.

Finally, in July, there have so far been 14 illegal camping complaints and five involving people sleeping in vehicles.

Back when the bylaw was being debated, councillors said the intent of the bylaw was not to target well-behaved local vehicle residents, but rather problematic visitors.

Coun. Chris Pettingill wondered if municipal staff were keeping track of whether bylaw officers were being called in to deal with locals or visitors.

Pagely said that authorities haven’t been making a distinction between the two, but, judging by bylaw officers’ conversations with people, they appear to be dealing mostly with outsiders.

However, in an interview with The Chief, an organizer with the Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group said the bylaw has been targeting local vehicle dwellers as well.

“A bylaw officer told me himself that, ‘No, this bylaw is for everybody — it’s for locals and residents,’ so there’s a lot of contradictory information,” said Thomasina Pidgeon.

Pidgeon added that while there have been no tickets issued, there are still consequences for vehicle dwellers.

“It doesn’t matter to me if there’s a ticket released or not; the whole thing has been stressful from the get-go,” said Pidgeon. “Going to stay on public land and just living with this fear that we’re going to have an encounter, and when we do have an encounter and kind of dealing with those feelings afterwards of being treated like we’re doing something wrong when all we’re doing is trying to go to sleep.”

The amount of bylaw encounters with vehicle dwellers has gone up, she said.

The District told The Chief it has increased the number of bylaw enforcement patrols across Squamish to help support its visitor management plan. 

“While bylaw and community patrol officers are out doing their work, they are knocking on vans and providing education to folks. Prior to a conversation happening, it isn’t possible to discern whether a person is a local resident or a visitor. The bylaw officers are providing the same resources to all those sleeping in vehicles— visitors and locals — as the goal of the effort is to steer people to where the resources are. Education remains our primary approach and no fines have been issued to date," reads an emailed statement from the District.

The District has also created online guides, including a camping availability calendar and a washroom locator map.

“The influx of seasonal visitors to Squamish has the biggest impact on our community and our efforts remain focused on supporting this group with education and resources,” the District spokesperson said.

”The goal is to move camping visitors along to campsites where there are facilities such as garbage, washrooms and fire rings  — when there are no bans. Additional portable washrooms and garbage containers have also been added at busy recreation hotspots in the community.”

Pidgeon also shared a statement written by the Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group.

The statement reads: “The Vehicle Residents of Squamish (VRS) has received an overwhelming number of reports from local vehicle residents of bylaw interactions that have attempted to displace them from public land.”

It says that vehicle dwellers have been directed to campgrounds with no vacancies, the Wal-Mart parking lot or further out of town.

“In order to have a good sleep, many vehicle residents have gone further into hiding,” the statement continues. “This is causing undue stress and is not a solution. This is inhumane and wrong. This creates an unwelcoming atmosphere like we are criminals in our own town that should be shunned and swept away. From our experiences, nothing, absolutely nothing, about these exclusionary policies is working.”