Local Government Bylaw Enforcement
Local government bylaw enforcement refers to actions that may be taken by a municipality or regional district to ensure members of the community comply with local government bylaws.
Bylaw Enforcement Activities
Local governments have authority to regulate, prohibit and impose requirements, by bylaw, in relation to various matters. To enforce those rules, local governments may engage in a range of bylaw enforcement activities such as:
- Educating the public about regulatory rules
- Conducting inspections to ensure that rules are being followed
- Mediating between members of the public
- Leveraging voluntary compliance with the rules where possible
- Seeking formal consequences for bylaw contraventions where compliance is not forthcoming or harm has been done to the community
When undertaking bylaw enforcement, local governments must make choices about when to take enforcement action. Most bylaw investigations are initiated after a complaint, although some bylaws are subject to ongoing inspections for compliance.
Local governments often establish bylaw enforcement policies to guide their staff and clarify for the public the general approach taken to bylaw enforcement in that community. The Office of the Ombudsperson has developed a guide to help local governments develop, adopt and implement best practices that encourage fairness in bylaw enforcement.
Inspection & Personnel
Local governments may conduct an inspection for specific purposes including to determine compliance with their bylaws. Inspections may include entering onto or into property. That entry may typically take place only at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner after taking reasonable steps to advise the property owner or occupant. Inspection of a private dwelling is more restricted. Local governments may also apply to the provincial court for an entry warrant if reasonable requests are refused or to enter into a private dwelling.
Most bylaws require enforcement by individuals with specialized training, knowledge or experience. Bylaw enforcement is carried out primarily by employees and officers of a local government who are appointed by name or job classification as bylaw enforcement officers. Police officers and special constables under the Police Act may also be bylaw enforcement officers. The Licence Inspectors' and Bylaw Officers' Association of British Columbia is the professional association to which many bylaw enforcement officers belong.
The Community Charter provides that contravention of a local government bylaw that regulates, requires or prohibits is an offence. The local government may use multiple approaches to address a contravention, by seeking voluntary compliance or taking other direct action to stop the contravention from continuing, asking the courts to prevent the continuing contravention, and by seeking an administrative or court-issued penalty for what has already occurred, or both.
Local governments can pursue a number of "self-help" remedies for bylaw contravention. For example, local governments may encourage the person responsible for the contravention to voluntarily rectify the situation. If the contravention involves a property owner failing to take action regarding their property as required in a bylaw, the local government may enter onto the property to take the required action and add that cost to the property taxes for the property.
In relation to certain hazardous situations or declared nuisances, a local government may order a person to rectify the situation, or take action to eliminate the hazard or damage and recover the costs from the person. Where compliance with a bylaw is a condition of a licence or permit, a local government may suspend the licence or permit until the person complies.
Ultimately, where efforts at getting voluntary compliance or taking action are not sufficient, a local government must decide whether the contravention of its bylaws justifies administrative or legal action to stop the activity from affecting the community or deter future instances of the behaviour or activity.
A local government may apply to the Supreme Court of British Columbia for an injunction or court order to enforce, prevent or restrain a bylaw contravention or contravention of local government legislation.
Under the Local Government Bylaw Notice Enforcement Act, local governments may establish a bylaw notice adjudication system. This administrative system is an alternative to the provincial court for resolving minor local government bylaw contraventions such as parking tickets.
Municipal Ticketing & Offence Act Prosecutions
Local government may establish penalties for bylaw contraventions by bylaw, most typically as monetary fines. In order to have a penalty imposed, a local government may pursue prosecution for a summary conviction in Provincial court or pursue an administrative penalty.
Prosecutions in provincial court can be initiated by local governments by the swearing of one of two documents that advises the court of the alleged contravention:
- A municipal ticket information under the Community Charter - Part 8 - Bylaw Enforcement and Other Matters
- A long-form information under the Offence Act
The key differences between these approaches lie in the formality of the process and the size of the potential fine.
Municipal Ticket Information
Municipal tickets are intended for minor to medium bylaw contraventions, with a maximum possible fine set by regulation (currently $1,000).
A municipal ticket is completed by a police or bylaw enforcement officer, and may be immediately personally served on the person alleged to have contravened the bylaw. A municipal ticket information may be resolved without court appearance by paying a fine and admitting guilt, or it may be disputed in court. A paid municipal ticket information is typically not drawn up as a conviction.
Long-Form Information (Offence Act Prosecutions)
Prosecutions under the Offence Act are intended for serious bylaw contraventions - the maximum possible penalty for municipal bylaw contraventions is $10,000 and 6 months imprisonment.
Prosecution under the Offence Act begins with the police or bylaw enforcement officer swearing a long-form information in front of a provincial court justice, who then issues a summons for the person alleged to have contravened the bylaw to appear at court. There is no opportunity to simply pay a fine to end the proceeding - the justice must hear the case and decide.
Due to the greater seriousness of matters prosecuted under a long-form Information, the proceedings are more formal, and all parties are typically represented by lawyers. Certain matters, such as an offence related to the discharge of a firearm, may only be initiated by long-form Information. Such matters are sufficiently serious that it is in the public interest for the person alleged to have contravened the bylaw to be heard by or admit guilt in front of the court.