At its Dec. 17 meeting, Nelson City Council approved a new snow and ice control policy in response to a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The policy will provide clear direction from council on what the city’s snow and ice clearing standards are. The policy can be found at https://bit.ly/3pSGhWj.
It establishes five categories of streets and roads, sets out the priority order in which they should be plowed, and describes the standards to which they should be plowed. The policy contains a map and description of all five levels of priority. Roads in the top priority category are bus routes, emergency routes and the downtown core.
Similar priority systems and maps are included for ice control and sanding on roads, sidewalks, and stairs.
A guide document accompanying the policy covers that material in more detail, plus guidelines about parking restrictions and winter closures.
The city developed the new policy to avoid future situations like the case of Taryn Marchi, who injured herself walking through a downtown snowbank in 2015. She sued the city, requiring the city to defend its snow clearing practices in court.
In the original trial in the Supreme Court of B.C., the city argued that it had immunity from liability because it was operating according to its snow clearing policy. The city won, but Marchi appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which overturned the decision, stating that immunity from liability can only stem from a “core policy” that had been debated and approved by city council, which the city’s snow clearing policy had not.
The city, on the advice of its insurers the Municipal Insurance Association, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed with the B.C. Court of Appeal that the city’s policy was not adequate or detailed enough to provide immunity from liability, and ordered a new trial at the B.C. Supreme Court level. That trial has not yet been scheduled.
“The only thing [the Supreme Court of Canada] decided is that there was no core policy immunity based on the policy we had in place, so that does not mean we have lost the case,” said Gabriel Bouvet-Boisclair, the city’s deputy corporate officer, at the Dec. 17 council meeting. “We just don’t have the immunity piece.”
He said that the Supreme Court of Canada did not rule for or against the city, but rather ordered a new trial in which the circumstances and weather conditions of that day in 2015 will be examined.
The old snow clearing policy — the one in place at the time of the Marchi incident — was one page long. The new one fills eight pages and is accompanied by an 18-page guide.
Public works director Colin Innes, who wrote the policy in collaboration with staff from the Municipal Insurance Association, said that because weather is unpredictable, the policy cannot be perfect.
“You can have equipment breakdowns, you can have people who are sick, you can have all kinds of things happen when a snow event occurs,” he said, adding that the policy is an attempt to set standards but not box public works staff into rigid procedures.