Vic­to­ria should have sought pro­vin­cial ap­proval be­fore plas­tic bag ban: court

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Camille BAINS

VIC­TO­RIA — Bri­tish Columbia’s top court has quashed a by­law pro­hibit­ing sin­gle-use plas­tic bags in Vic­to­ria, say­ing the city failed to get the ap­proval of the prov­ince’s en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter.

The B.C. Court of Ap­peal said in its writ­ten rul­ing Thurs­day that the by­law is in­tended to reg­u­late busi­nesses from pro­vid­ing plas­tic check­out bags but its aim was to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, and the ef­fects of the by­law are felt by busi­nesses.

The Cana­dian Plas­tic Bag As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of plas­tic bags, fought the by­law, ar­gu­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in B.C. don’t have the author­ity to reg­u­late the en­vi­ron­ment or the right to block a prod­uct and fi­nan­cially im­pact man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Un­der the by­law, which went into ef­fect a year ago, busi­nesses are pro­hib­ited from of­fer­ing or sell­ing plas­tic bags to con­sumers and must charge at least 15 cents for pa­per bags and at least $1 for reusable bags.

In an ear­lier de­ci­sion, a B.C. Supreme Court judge up­held the by­law, rul­ing that cities have the power to reg­u­late busi­ness trans­ac­tions as part of their re­spon­si­bil­ity to man­age waste.

The Ap­peal Court rul­ing said the en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter’s ap­proval will “now pre­sum­ably be sought” by the city, which passed a by­law with “rea­son­able” in­ten­tions in­volv­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues that con­cern Bri­tish Columbians.

“One can un­der­stand that the prov­ince might wish to have the right to ap­prove, or withhold ap­proval of, mu­nic­i­pal by­laws re­lat­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in or­der to en­sure that a patch­work of dif­fer­ent mu­nic­i­pal laws does not ham­per pro­vin­cial en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­grams,” Jus­tice Mary New­bury said in the rul­ing.

Mon­treal also banned plas­tic bags last July while other cities, in­clud­ing Van­cou­ver and Hal­i­fax, have been mulling sim­i­lar by­laws.

The Town­ship of Esquimalt, near Vic­to­ria, has also com­mit­ted to a ban on sin­gle-use plas­tic bags but said Thurs­day in a state­ment it will con­sider its next steps in keep­ing with the rul­ing.

Vic­to­ria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city will re­view its op­tions as it con­tin­ues ef­forts to phase out sin­gle-use items and elim­i­nate un­nec­es­sary waste.

“The court de­ci­sion doesn’t un­der­mine the sound­ness of the by­law it­self, it only deals with the process re­quired for its adop­tion,” Helps said in a state­ment, adding the by­law was de­vel­oped af­ter ex­ten­sive in­put over two years from busi­nesses and the com­mu­nity.

“Vic­to­ri­ans care deeply about this is­sue and they told us that sin­gle-use plas­tic bags do not align with their val­ues.

“Busi­nesses and res­i­dents have em­braced the tran­si­tion to reusable bags. It’s been a tremen­dous suc­cess,” she said.

“We are in­spired by other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ ef­forts to phase out sin­gle-use check­out bags and plas­tic waste and we must work to­gether to take this is­sue for­ward to pro­vin­cial and na­tional lead­ers to de­velop com­mon, high and shared stan­dards. This is­sue af­fects us all lo­cally, re­gion­ally and glob­ally.”

More than 17 mil­lion plas­tic bags that would have “choked the landfill for hun­dreds of years” have been elim­i­nated from the com­mu­nity and nearby beaches, the city said in a state­ment.

A spokesper­son for the Cana­dian Plas­tic Bag As­so­ci­a­tion was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

CP FILE PHOTO

A woman car­ries a plas­tic bag at a mar­ket in Mon­treal. Bri­tish Columbia’s top court has quashed a by­law pro­hibit­ing sin­gle-use plas­tic bags in Vic­to­ria, say­ing the city failed to get the ap­proval of the prov­ince’s en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter.

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