Victoria city council sends new version of plastic bag ban to province for approval

A woman carries a plastic bag at a market in Montreal on June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Victoria city council is giving its embattled plastic bag ban another try.

Councillors unanimously voted Thursday to send a revised version of the ban to the provincial government for approval, in the hopes of finally getting it locked into place after the B.C. Court of Appeal struck it down last year.

The new version of the bylaw addresses the court’s concerns that the main purpose of banning plastic shopping bags is to protect the environment, rather than regulate businesses.

Because of that, the bylaw requires approval from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy under the Community Charter — the provincial law that functions as a constitution for municipalities.

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Mayor Lisa Helps praised staff for turning around a new version of the bylaw just one week after the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the city’s appeal of the earlier court decision.

While she expressed hopes Environment Minister George Heyman would approve the city’s bylaw, she also voiced her desire for the province to enact its own wide crackdown on single-use plastics.

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“Hopefully local government after local government won’t have to ban straws and cups in an ad hoc way,” she said.

Click to play video: 'B.C.’s capital banning single-use plastic bags July 1st'
B.C.’s capital banning single-use plastic bags July 1st

When asked for comment on council’s decision, the ministry sent Heyman’s statement from last week in the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, in which he promised to announce a provincial plastic initiative “in the coming weeks.”

In the meantime, Heyman said he “would be pleased to review an application from the City of Victoria” on banning plastic bags.

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The city enacted its original bylaw in January 2018, banning merchants from giving out plastic bags, and requiring them to make paper or reusable bags available to customers.

Retailers were initially required to charge a 15-cent fee for paper bags and $1 for reusable bags — which climbed to 25 cents and $2, respectively, on Jan. 1, 2019.

The ban was challenged in court by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, but was initially upheld in B.C. Supreme Court.

The revised version of the bylaw specifies plastic bags will still be allowed to wrap seafood specifically, rather than “certain foods,” while eliminating provisions for a gradual introduction of the ban.

It also includes a single fine provision ranging from $100 to $10,000 to “provide flexibility for the courts to impose a fine that is truly appropriate to the circumstances.”

The City of Vancouver is enacting its own plastic bag ban, which it says is modelled on Victoria’s.

The city is governed by its own charter, rather than the Community Charter, and has the power to create its own bylaws and impose taxes without provincial approval.

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— With files from Simon Little

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