Tofino’s municipal council moved forward with new fireworks restrictions last week despite a clear doubt about whether they would ever be enforced.
The new restrictions will not take effect immediately and will require further approval from council in the coming weeks. The town’s current fireworks regulations allow displays to be lit on Canada Day, American Independence Day, Halloween, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Those remain the only days where fireworks are permitted, but during their June 22 regular meeting council voted 4-3 in favour of mandating a permit process where anyone wanting to light a display on one of those holidays would need to submit a safety plan to the district for approval.
“Requiring all individuals or organizations to participate in a permit application process allows District staff the opportunity to be aware of the desired location for the fireworks and determine if the applicant has a suitable plan for managing the crowds and garbage prior to issuing the permit,” read a report from the town’s fire chief and manager of protective services Brent Baker.
Baker had also recommended that permits not be given to anyone without a valid Fireworks Operator Certificate issued by Natural Resources Canada, but council did not include that in their final decision.
Coun. Tom Stere called the proposed certificate requirement “extremely restrictive,” and questioned whether the district has the capacity to enforce any new fireworks regulations.
“We can put all the rules in the world that we want, but it’s the ability to enforce them,” he said.
Coin. Duncan McMaster said he didn’t see a point to imposing any new restrictions that would likely not be enforced.
“I’ve always been told by legal experts that a law that is not enforceable is a bad law. Your messaging is a pipe dream, look at the messaging we’ve done on beach fires and where that’s gotten us, it’s taken us forever. If you can’t enforce it, why bother?” he said. “I think we’d be better off lobbying the ACRD and the province to control fireworks and accessibility. I’d rather see more effort put into that than yet another bylaw that we’re not going to enforce.”
Coun. Britt Chalmers supported the new fireworks permit process and countered McMasters argument by suggesting the town’s new beach fire regulations have been well received so far.
“After years of not getting it, I think we finally did that, so with that momentum, why don’t we carry it forward on something else that’s an issue?” she said.
Coun. Al Anderson agreed.
“I don’t subscribe to the (idea that) an unenforceable bylaw is not worth having. There’s certainly tons of laws on the books that are minimally enforceable,” he said. “But, we still have them and I think they have their impact.”
Mayor Dan Law questioned whether the community had been asking for more restrictions and suggested enforcement is what he believes his constituents are calling for.
“I think what the overwhelming request has been for is enforcement. The consistent answer that I’ve heard is that it’s either virtually unenforceable or unenforceable,” he said.
“Every bylaw we create costs money. Even this costs money and time. Personally I find that the argument for increasing restrictions and increasing requirements is a difficult logic to follow, however I’m willing to go for a permit system…Personally I find it a little flawed, but I’m willing to flex only slightly.”
Coun. Cathy Thicke lobbied for an outright fireworks ban.
“I’m in favour of a fireworks-free Tofino. That’s my feeling about it,” she said. “I think about the ethos of Tofino. I think about who it is we want to bring here and the kind of feeling that we want to develop in our community. We talk about a place where we relax and unwind and destress and yet we’re bringing all this city ethos and paraphernalia into our town. Why is it that we need something that is an artificial entertainment…Is the beauty and the serenity of what we see around us not enough? Why is it that we would need to add more and detract from the very beauty that we are upholding in nature?”
She suggested fireworks are an “intrusion” on local wildlife and pets.
“There is no refuge for these animals,” she said.
Thicke’s idea for a complete ban received support from McMaster and Stere.
“I think it would be a very clear message to the community and to the visitors that come here, in my opinion there would be less ambiguity,” Stere said.
Mayor Law, Coun. Jacky Challenger, Anderson and Chalmers voted in favour of the new fireworks permit system, defeating opposition votes from McMaster, Thicke and Stere.
READ MORE: Fireworks permits extinguished in Tofino