Local shops are staying plastic free. (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria shops avoid plastic bags, despite bylaw being voided

The city is working on getting the bylaw re-established

Despite Victoria’s plastic bag ban bylaw being dissolved, many businesses are sticking to the plastic-free options.

On Thursday the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the City of Victoria’s application for a leave to appeal a BC Appeals Court decision that dismissed the bylaw in July.

In a hearing against the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, the BC Court of Appeals found that the City had overstepped its reach, by writing an environmental bylaw rather than an economic bylaw, meaning it needed provincial approval.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps wasn’t too concerned, saying that despite the ruling in the summer very few businesses have picked up plastic once again.

ALSO READ: Lisa Helps ‘disappointed, not surprised’ by Supreme Court decision to not hear plastic bag bylaw appeal

“[Our] recent scans tell us that our community continues to avoid plastic bags despite these setbacks,” Helps said. “Moving forward, we’re going to continue to look for every opportunity to reduce plastic waste, which includes working with our provincial and national governments to develop high and shared standards.”

Red Barn Market is just one of these businesses; the chain, which has seven grocery stores across the Capital Region is sticking to charging for paper or reusable bags.

“It’s the consumer that dictates that, and our consumers are asking for that,” said co-owner Russ Benwell, adding that charges only cover the purchasing price of the bags. “I think Greater Victoria is very environmentally conscious and our consumers are really happy… we have no intentions of bringing plastic back.”

Victoria intends to send a revised version of its plastic bag bylaw to the province for consideration in coming weeks. The City adopted the bylaw in 2018, banning businesses from giving or selling single-use plastic bags for most items. The bylaw was challenged by a lobbyist group known as the Canadian Plastic Bag Association.

The BC Supreme court originally dismissed the challenge, and saw the bylaw come into effect on July 1, 2018.

However, a decision in the BC Court of Appeal in July 2019 overruled this, citing that the bylaw was invalid because it had been drafted as an economic measure when its main goal was environmental, meaning that it required permission from the province.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she was “disappointed, but not surprised” about the Supreme Court dismissal, and added that there were “other avenues” available to achieve their goal.

City solicitor Tom Zworski wrote a proposed revision of the bylaw, with some minor changes. These include expressly identifying the bylaw as being developed to protect the environment, clarification on which foods are exempt from plastic bags (to include a reference to seafood) and clearly defining a single fine to range from $100 to $10,000 to provide flexibility to future court decisions.

If this version receives all three readings on Thursday, it will be forwarded to the province for consideration in the next few weeks.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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