Fireworks permits are about to go the way of the dodo in Tofino.
The district has lit the fuse to blow up its permit process and ban fireworks outside of five specific days.
Back in November, Tofino’s council had grown weary of the endless string of noise complaints stemming from unexpected fireworks displays around town.
District staff explained fireworks could not be set off without a permit but it was tough for residents, and bylaw enforcement officers, to know which displays were permitted and which weren’t. After hearing this, council decided to nix permits altogether by restricting fireworks to specific days of the year and they waited on a report from staff to determine which days those would be.
That report came in during a recent regular council meeting where Tofino’s Fire Chief John Gilmore presented a draft bylaw that listed Canada Day, America’s Independence Day, Halloween, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day— July 1, July 4, Oct. 31, December 31 and Jan. 1—as the nights to light the sky.
Anyone caught setting off fireworks outside of those five days would face a $200 fine.
“It is expected that by focusing firework displays to these days that it will improve the ability of both Bylaw Enforcement Officers and the RCMP to enforce the control of fireworks displays outside of the permitted days,” Gilmore wrote.
He added that permits would not be required on the five permitted days.
“This provision simplifies the bylaw and will reduce staff time,” he wrote.
Coun. Duncan McMaster asked why July 4 was included and Gilmore responded that many Americans visit Tofino to celebrate their country’s Independence Day.
“Then I want Guy Fawkes day,” McMaster said sparking laughter from his fellow councillors.
“I’m serious…this is British Columbia, if you’re going to have July 4, you’ve got to have Guy Fawkes Day.”
Coun. Ray Thorogood suggested letting the Americans have their fun.
“I hear what Coun. McMaster is saying, but we get a lot more Americans up here for that period of time. Let them celebrate,”he said.
Coun. Dorothy Baert said she was fine with the five days.
“If somebody wants Guy Fawkes Day, or something, I suppose they can always come to council and petition for a change to the bylaw,” she said.
Coun. Greg Blanchette suggested banning all private fireworks displays.
“It’s like open season on those five days; anybody can do anything at all…Why don’t we just ban fireworks by anyone at all except for the district, which can put on big fireworks displays like the stuff we have out over the harbour,” he asked.
“All of these little homemade settings off of stuff, ban them entirely. I don’t see that they add a whole lot to anybody’s celebration of any of these days.”
Osborne said that wasn’t council’s intent when it started the process in November.
“When we had our council discussion before, we understood that there are families who like to do this and that it’s a fun activity and I didn’t ever get the sense from council, in that first go round, that we wanted to completely eliminate it altogether,” she said.
“We were looking for an easier way to enforce it and to prevent this proliferation of loud noise…I think to go so far as to say that only the district of Tofino can do it might be perceived as a bit of a fun-killer.”
“I understand the concerns of residents but I also, as a traveler, have really enjoyed that kind of sense of celebration that happens at particular periods of time,” she said.
Blanchette asked if exceptions could be made for celebrations outside of the five permitted days.
“We might want to put an escape hatch in here that somebody could get a special permit from council for a one-time very significant event,” he said.
“If the Rolling Stones came to town and wanted to do a pyrotechnics stage display, I would like to see us be able to say yes to that, or some huge Treaty settlement in the area that we wanted to celebrate.”
District CAO Bob MacPherson said bylaw amendments could allow for these sorts of exceptions if the district knew far enough ahead of a specific event.
Blanchette also asked about movies being filmed in town.
“If a movie needed some kind of fireworks-type special effects, [would] that fall under this and require an exemption,” he asked.
MacPherson suggested movie crews would need to request the same sort of amendment that the Rolling Stones would.
“I hadn’t considered movie pyrotechnics,” he said. “The only way they would be able to do something like that would be to seek an amendment to the bylaw.”
Osborne suggested moving ahead with the five-day strategy and revisiting it if problems occur.
“We could probably think of any number of exemptions to add,” she said.
Council unanimously agreed.
Under the soon-to-be-extinct permit process, a fireworks permit required a $50 deposit that was returned if no cleanup was required by the district; meaning nixing the process won’t nix any revenue.
After the meeting, MacPherson told the Westerly anyone with a current fireworks permit would have that permit honoured.
“We’d try to find a way to honour permissions that we’d already given,” he said. “I’m not aware of any that have been issued in the last little while that are going to get caught up in that though.”