Councillors in Cobourg, Ontario, have voted unanimously to uphold the town's own bylaw regulations amid increasing community safety concerns after a homeless encampment took over the shores of a popular pedestrian beachfront weeks ago.
Mayor Lucas Cleveland said that the decision was made based on a staff report compiled by legislative services in an interview with local media, Today’s Northumberland.
“What we decided tonight is to enforce our bylaws and to direct staff to enforce our bylaws,” the mayor relays. “That goes for bylaws across this town whether it’s the West Beach encampment, whether it’s a[n unsanctioned overdose prevention] tent behind Henley Arcade, you name it. This council has unanimously supported our bylaw staff enforcing our bylaws.”
The remarks come five days after MPP David Piccini echoed similar sentiments. “I maintain my position that you have to enforce bylaws,” Piccini told Rebel News.
Meanwhile, encampment advocates refer to the recent Ontario Superior Court Waterloo encampment ruling, which found eviction without reasonable accommodation to be a Charter rights violation as justification for the illegal occupations to continue.
“The Waterloo ruling is a little different than us,” Mayor Cleveland proclaims. “In the Waterloo situation, they are both the service provider and the group that was evicting. In Cobourg we have a different situation — we have a lower-tier municipality — the town of Cobourg — and an upper-tier of the municipality — [Northumberland] County.”
It’s a convoluted situation, indeed.
While the illegal shorefront occupation is housed in Cobourg, the delivery of community services and support is the responsibility of the upper-tier municipality, Northumberland County, which is the receiver of provincial funds.
Interestingly, Cleveland states that a Cobourg-specific bylaw has been passed to “allow the county to issue permits to [Cobourg’s] parks [department] should an emergency situation present itself.”
“Cobourg is in no way, shape, or form abdicating responsibility to the county,” the mayor says, attempting to quell criticism before it arises.
It’s simply allowing the county — who is responsible for social service delivery — to have at their disposal more tools with which to do their job… if an emergency situation came out with housing and we were unable to house, it would allow the county the opportunity, should they choose to take it, to issue permits within Cobourg.
That means the responsibility of the encampments would be that of the county. They would be responsible for providing the services, for ensuring bylaws are respected. We’re separating what is Cobourg’s responsibility and what is the county’s.
Depending on the situation at the encampment, 72 hours is “commonly provided” for removal of the bylaw infringing occupancy.
Local residents have become hyper aware of safety concerns in and around the burgeoning tent city, steps away from a children’s summer camp, with gun violence at the encampment less than one week ago.
Every Friday night a local “harm reduction” advocacy group called “tweak easy” hosts a nomadic “unsanctioned overdose prevention site” in the downtown core of Cobourg. The group has been criticized for not preventing overdoses and cautioned for trespass, as well as other bylaw infractions.