Vernon council sides with province over Penticton homeless shelter controversy | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon council sides with province over Penticton homeless shelter controversy

Vernon city hall is pictured in this June 2020 file photo.
May 25, 2021 - 4:57 PM

The majority of Vernon city council agreed the Province of B.C. had the right to step in and overturn Penticton’s city council’s efforts to close a homeless shelter.

Vernon’s council essentially made that declaration by defeating a motion by councillor Scott Anderson to send a letter to the province asking that “paramountcy not be invoked to overrule municipal decisions.”

Paramountcy is the term used for the province’s right to overturn a municipality’s decision, which it did in April after Penticton city council unanimously voted not to renew a temporary use permit for that city’s winter shelter.

READ MORE: Paramountcy should be a power of last resort, says UBCM president

“When a city council wilfully and unanimously determines that any population group, let alone a marginalized population group, is not worthy of safe shelter, the province must step in,” councillor Kelly Fehr said, referring specifically to Penticton. “When a city council is just too ignorant or just does not care that wilfully taking people’s shelter away puts many of those who have significant trauma and mental health issues puts them at significant risk of violence, stigma, sexual assault, etc. – when that happens, someone must stop them.”

Anderson argued the discussion should not focus on the Penticton issue but on the general principle that city councils are elected to make decisions and the province should not overturn them unless they break the law.

“We can, sort of, make motherhood statements about one side, then you have other sides, like the seniors’ residence next door, who also have the right, I would think, to ask for city council’s protection,” Anderson argued.

But the majority of council didn’t agree.

“I’m very grateful that this government has the fortitude to stand up for people that don’t have a voice when their own city council disregards them,” Fehr said. “It can happen in big communities too but in small communities, when you have an election, you may not always have the best qualified and able people running for council.

“To say hey, Province of B.C., we think it’s wrong for you to ever step in when a council really messes up, I’m not willing to make that statement. We’re all able to make mistakes. Someone needs to watch out.”

The majority of council defeated Anderson’s motion but since it was during an on-line meeting and Mayor Victor Cumming did not indicate the vote count, it’s not known at publication time how close the vote was.

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