The B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of the Canadian Plastic Bag Association (CPBA) in regards to the City of Victoria’s plastic bag ban, finding the bylaw invalid.
The municipal bylaw came into effect on July 1, 2018, regulating the issuance and sale of single-use plastic bags. Businesses were instructed to instead offer paper or reusable bags for purchase, or else face heavy fines.
The CPBA challenged the bylaw in a petition for judicial review in January 2018, and in May 2018, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of the City.
However, a new B.C. Court of Appeal decision found that the City’s definition of the bylaw’s purpose was not consistent with its after-effects.
The City said that the main purpose of the bylaw was to regulate businesses, something which is in a municipality’s jurisdiction. However, the court found that the dominant, underlying purpose of the bylaw was to protect the natural environment, which falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
The court came to this conclusion after citing that much of the bylaw’s influences came from the work of the environmental organization, the Surfrider Foundation.
Therefore, in order for this bylaw to have come into effect the City needed to seek approval from the Ministry of the Environment, which it did not, making the bylaw invalid as of immediately.
“While the City’s intentions in passing the bylaw were no doubt reasonable, we must give effect to the clear instructions of s. 9(3) [of the Community Charter] requiring the minister’s approval,” wrote Court Madam Justice Newbury in her decision.
Council must now reconvene to make decisions about its next steps.
Deborah Curran, executive director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria, said there are several available options.
“It’s not that the City of Victoria is shut out from regulating single-use plastic bags,” Curran said. “They can retool the bylaw to make it look more like a business regulation, they can go to the minister for approval and they could also talk with the province about getting the direct authority — allowing them to have the jurisdiction to put the bylaw into effect.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she was disappointed about the turn in the decision.
“This was not the decision we were hoping for but we fundamentally believe that the City does have the ability to regulate businesses and their sustainable practices, so we’ll be reviewing the decision and looking at all of our options,” Helps said. “We don’t need rules to have good behaviour. My hope is that the community will continue the path that we’ve worked and walked together since the bylaw came into effect.”
Other municipalities which have adopted similar bylaws, such as Ucluelet and Tofino, will not be affected by this decision.
In early June, the federal Liberal government announced aims to ban single-use plastic items including bags, straws, cotton swabs and cutlery as early as 2021. However, Helps said that the City is not likely to wait for federal legislation to come into effect.
“That would be a bit of long wait, and as we all know there’s a federal election coming this fall,” Helps said. “My hope is what has become business as usual in Victoria will continue while we sort out the next steps. “
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