Nearly six months after adopting a controversial program in preparation for the legalization of cannabis, new data shows how underutilized Halifax’s new bylaw is, sparking even more criticism from one of the program’s most virulent critics.
The Halifax Regional Municipality says there are 92 designated smoking areas (DSA) in public areas throughout the municipality, many of which are based in the downtown cores of Dartmouth and Halifax.
DSAs were created when Halifax Regional Council voted to amend its existing Nuisance Bylaw to prohibit smoking of any kind on municipal property except in certain specially designated areas.
Citizens who break the rules of the renamed Nuisance and Smoking Bylaw face a fine between $25 and $2,000.
But data provided by HRM shows that the bylaw has rarely been enforced, if at all. In the 179 days since the amended bylaw came into effect on Oct. 15, 2018, only two tickets have been handed out.
Few tickets, few fines
Neither ticket has been issued by the 10 municipal bylaw officers tasked with enforcing Halifax’s bylaws.
Instead, the Halifax Regional Police say their officers issued the tickets.
Const. John McLeod, a spokesperson for the Halifax police, confirmed that officers have issued two $151 tickets under the amended bylaw since it came into effect.
The first was issued on Nov. 26, 2018 in the 2000 block of Brunswick Street, and the second was issued on Feb. 10, 2019 at the corner of Blowers and Argyle streets.
The municipality has consistently highlighted that bylaw enforcement is based on complaints it receives through its 311 service and says that the municipality expects enforcement to pick up as summer approaches.
As Global News has previously reported, municipal staff were left scrambling as councillors debated whether they should prohibit only cannabis rather than all forms of smoking.
Brendan Elliott, a spokesperson for the municipality, said at the time that “Halifax became the first community of its size in Canada to prohibit all forms of smoking and vaping on public property.”
“There was no template to follow, no best practice to emulate and no rule book as a guide,” said Elliott.
WATCH: Lack of designated smoking areas at Halifax hospitals
Matt Whitman, councillor for Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets, voted against implementing the DSA program and says all that he’s seen so far proves the experiment has failed.
“We overspent, we over-legislated, we tried to kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer and we’re feeling it today. It’s not working,” Whitman said in an interview on Wednesday.
“No one has duplicated what we’ve done in the HRM.”
Cost of the DSA program
Whitman says the issue becomes even worse when you examine how much the municipality spent on getting prepared for the bylaw rollout.
The HRM says it spent $121,800 on purchasing 600 DSA receptacles and attaching “smoking permitted” stickers that it had made in-house.
Elliott has confirmed that the municipality has deployed 92 such receptacles in public spaces, while approximately 100 have been cannibalized for repairs or are used for municipal employees.
That leaves roughly 400 of the receptacles unused and in storage.
A new tender issued by the municipality this week indicates that the HRM is looking to outsource the servicing of its smoking receptacles. Council has budgeted an additional $60,000 for that project.
Council reacts to new figures
Some members of council have defended the program and anticipate its growth in the future.
“Although just over 90 of the receptacles have been installed, as summer approaches, we expect more community groups to ask for them, and it will be good to have them on hand so we are able to fill those requests quickly,” said Lisa Blackburn, councillor for Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville.
David Hendsbee, councillor for Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore, says he’s hoping to get more of the canisters set up at community centres and arenas, “where folks are still smoking too close the entranceways and flicking butts to the ground.”
Hendsbee said that if the DSA canisters are being ignored then bylaw officers should feel free to “ticket away.” He added that he doesn’t believe the program to be fully rolled out yet.
Tim Outhit, councillor for Bedford-Wentworth, offered a succinct response.
“I did not support it and I still don’t,” he wrote in an email.