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District aims to give bylaw enformcement more teeth

Measures triggered by growing trend of unpaid fines and repeat offences
Following a trend of unpaid fines and repeat offences, the District of Kitimat is considering a bylaw amendment to give enforcement more teeth.

Council is deliberating a staff recommendation to update the Municipal Ticket Information (MTI) Procedure Policy, aiming to enhance bylaw enforcement and address a trend of declining voluntary compliance. The proposed changes also include exploring the adjudication system, which, while requiring more initial work, keeps control of the process local rather than relying on the provincial court system.

The district currently uses the MTI system to issue fines for municipal code infractions. This system allows local governments to prosecute minor to medium violations directly. However, if an offender disputes an MTI ticket, the case must be taken to provincial court in Terrace, which increases costs and time for enforcement officers.

Historically, the District has rarely used MTIs, potentially leading to a perception of leniency in bylaw enforcement.

“The community has shown a decreased propensity for voluntary compliance,” staff noted in their report. “It’s imperative that we adopt a more robust enforcement mechanism.”

Councillor Mario Feldhoff supported this stance, stating, “It may cost the district a little more to bring these bad actors to account, but so be it. We need to support staff confronting repeat offenders so they can’t hide and slither away... to make them realize there are rules in this community.”

Council appeared unanimous in stressing that taking residents to court is not their primary aim but acknowledged the need for these tools as deterrents and legitimate options in extreme cases. Councillor Gerry Leibel recounted instances of residents being bitten by off-leash dogs, emphasizing, “I would like to see the bylaw have more teeth than the dogs.” However, he also advocated for enforcement officers’ discretion for first-time offenders, particularly newcomers who may be unfamiliar with local bylaws.

Staff pointed to the draft bylaw, which gives officers the latitude to first seek voluntary compliance before issuing an MTI. Mayor Phil Germuth expressed his approval, saying, “I kind of like having the bylaw enforcement officer making that call on their own.”

The District's fines for infractions are currently low, which staff suggest may encourage repeat offences as “the cost of doing business.” Staff recommended adjusting these fines and suggested a public awareness campaign to inform residents about the MTI process, including how to dispute tickets and the consequences of non-payment.

Deputy CAO Kiona Enders noted that an escalator clause, which increases fines for repeat offenders, is built into penalties for dogs at large and could be incorporated into the new bylaw. Councillor Graham Pitzel supported this idea, asking if a similar clause could be applied to the new policy to ensure law-abiding citizens are spared steep fines for rare offences.

The alternative adjudication system, also under consideration, allows disputes to be handled by a local adjudicator rather than the provincial court. This system has a lower maximum fine of $500 but keeps the process local and more efficient.

Council directed staff to provide more information on the adjudication system, potentially using both systems in conjunction for a more comprehensive approach to bylaw enforcement. 

About the Author: Quinn Bender

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