LETTER: Squamish camping bylaw is discriminatory

 

As a resident of Squamish since 2001, I strongly oppose the proposed Bylaw No. 2679, which will make it illegal for residents and visitors to camp or sleep in a tent or vehicle overnight on a temporary or permanent basis in any public place within the District of Squamish.

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My family work, go to school, pay taxes, and vote in Squamish.

We also live in a self-contained van. Van-dwelling is on par with my choice to lead a more economical, ecological, sustainable and minimalist lifestyle.

It uses far fewer resources than typical houses and is within my economic means. Reducing financial demands allows me to work less so I can spend more time in nature, with my daughter, in my community, and on my passions. In my case, less is more. Even if I could afford Squamish housing prices, this would not be my choice. Living the life that I choose with the freedom to move is essential to the quality of my life.

This bylaw directly punishes both resident and visitor. It discriminates against those who sleep in their vehicles out of necessity, and who choose this lifestyle. It opens the door for discrimination from both by

law enforcers and the public. This bylaw is unconstitutional and infringes on basic freedom and rights.

This bylaw makes no differentiation between wild-camping and van-dwelling. Dwelling in a “self-contained unit” on a roadside or parking lot must be distinguished from staying in a tent as their impacts vary. There are two views here: residents fed up with the negative impact on wild spaces (myself included), and residents uncomfortable with different lifestyles. This distinction must be recognized.

As an environmental steward and passionate “Leave No Trace” advocate, labelling van-dwelling as an ‘ecological and social hazard’ is incomprehensible. My water and electrical use (propane converted) compared to a BC residence: 10 litres versus 312 litres/day and 64 kWh versus 900 kWh/month. Living with such a small environmental footprint can teach others what is possible.

Given the many developments in Squamish, I question whether the District’s intention is to protect eco-sensitive areas impacted by campers, or merely to silence complaints and deter a minimalist lifestyle choice that Squamish lacks the mindset to support.

Since 2001, our Crown land camping “dispersed” sites have significantly diminished and gentrified, forcing van-dwellers to centralize.  Meanwhile, the two exempt areas are inadequate. One requires a 4X4, one is unsafe, and both would quadruple my daily driving. They also lack appropriate waste management. 

The District fails to mention the increasing number of user groups from car camping construction workers, to tourists, bikers, hikers, climbers, ATVs, weekend partiers. Are these groups familiar with leave no trace practices? There is a chance here to educate, yet this bylaw simply closes doors.

As a climber, I am disappointed in the ‘cautious support’ that the Squamish Access Society has shown for this bylaw. Supporting the criminalization of those facing social-economic challenges and alternative lifestyles, all in the name of access, is a slap to the face to decades of climbing culture.

This bylaw must be amended to something more humane. Solutions: remove vehicle camping from the bylaw. Implement composting toilets in hotspots rather than relocating the issue. Leave no trace signage to educate. Implement a “right to roam,” or “locals pass”, where users can camp under leave no trace principles (free online training). In some places the ‘right to roam” is considered essential and basic; in others, they’re protected by law.

My lifestyle of van dwelling encourages a strong connection to place.

It exposes me to different experiences unlike that of staying in a hotel or campground.

Yet when my daughter and I are peacefully sleeping and abruptly woken and told to relocate, I feel most unwelcome in the town I call home. My lifestyle is an ecologically responsible lifestyle choice. To be unjustly criminalized because of irresponsible wild-campers or residents uncomfortable with alternative lifestyles is wrong.

There is a chance here to embrace a counter-culture while addressing the issues caused by irresponsible campers. But approving a bylaw that closes the entire district of Squamish to sleeping in a vehicle, is elitist, discriminatory and unconstitutional.

It’s the complete opposite of what “Hardwired for Adventure” stands for.

Thomasina Pidgeon
Squamish

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