5 Myths of Bylaw Drafting – Dominion GovLaw LLP

5 Myths of Bylaw Drafting – BUSTED

By Troy DeSouza, Dominion GovLaw LLP

Each time a bylaw is created or amended, a local government must be sure it has clear authority to regulate or prohibit over the subject matter. Otherwise, a local government can risk having a part or the whole of a bylaw being declared invalid by a court. Poorly written bylaws may still be supported but defending bylaw mistakes in court can be risky and costly. To minimize this risk, local government staff should plan ahead and ensure that draft bylaws are reviewed by a lawyer before they are enacted.


Copying and pasting from other bylaws is an acceptable practice.

Bad idea. While copying and pasting is seen by some as a time and cost saver, relying on other local government bylaws without considering Council/Board intentions, your community’s specific needs, and jurisdiction is ill-advised. Moreover, this practice can lead to increased legal costs in fixing mistakes, public embarrassment, and lack of enforceability in courts.


Confirming statutory or case law authority can be done later.

Not recommended. Confirming authority is an ongoing part of bylaw drafting. Each time a bylaw is amended, you must ensure your local government has clear authority to regulate or prohibit over a certain issue (as was a key question in West Kelowna (District) v. Newcombe, 2013 BCSC 1411 for the issue of water lot zoning). Otherwise, you risk having a part or the whole of a bylaw being declared invalid.


Errors or omissions in a bylaw will be upheld in court.

Possibly, but it may cost you. Every word in a piece of legislation should have a specific purpose and will be interpreted as such.1 While poorly written bylaws may still be supported (as was the case in Okanagan Land Development Corp. v. Vernon (City), 2012 BCCA 332), defending bylaw mistakes in court is risky and costly. Time and effort are better spent at the start crafting a well-drafted bylaw.


Format and layout are not important.

Not really. The way a bylaw is structured is a key part to its readability. If the layout renders the content too confusing to be reasonably understood, a court may find those sections of a bylaw unenforceable. As statutory interpretation expert Ruth Sullivan explains, legislative structure should be “methodical and follow a conventional order or reflect an intelligible plan.”2 More importantly, you want to make your bylaws understood by the public.


Section revisions can be done in a day.

Nice try. Small revisions may seem straightforward, but one revision can easily invalidate another part of a bylaw without careful review. As legislative drafting expert Paul Salembier says, “Good drafting takes time.”3 A team approach is best where staff legislates the intentions of elected officials with input from the public and with assistance of those skilled in legal drafting.

1 Ruth Sullivan, Statutory Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Toronto, ON: Irwin Law Inc., 2007) at pages 164 to 168.
2 Ruth Sullivan, Statutory Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Toronto, ON: Irwin Law Inc., 2007) at page 167.
3 Paul Salembier, Legal and Legislative Drafting (Markham, Ontario: LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2009) at page 479.
German Shepherd barking aggressively.

Municipality Cracks Down on Nuisance Dogs

Sunny Uppal

On December 6, 2022, GovLaw prosecuted, on behalf of a municipality, a dog owner for repeatedly failing to take effective measures to prevent her dog from being “At Large.”

A dog owner typically breaches an animal control bylaw whenever the dog owner fails to take effective measures to prevent their dog from being “At Large.” A dog is normally considered “At Large” when a dog is not under the owner’s control by being either:

  1. securely contained/tethered on its owner’s property;
  2. securely confined within a building or escape-proof enclosure; or
  3. in the care and control of a person who is able to exercise direct control over the dog (and is exercising direct control over the dog).

The dog owner had repeatedly failed to take effective measures to ensure her dog was under her control. The municipality had received approximately 20 complaints of the dog being “At Large” since 2019. The dog had been reported as being “At Large” on other people’s properties, fields, streets, and alleys, and in one instance was even reported as being stuck in a fence.

The municipality proceeded with prosecuting the dog owner after having made countless attempts to get the dog owner to voluntarily comply with its animal control bylaw. It issued the dog owner eight municipal tickets, sent her compliance letters, and had telephone/in-person conversations with her prior to prosecuting her.

At the prosecution, Judge D. Fleck signed off on a Consent Plea Order that provided that the dog owner was:

  • no longer allowed to have the dog;
  • to be fined a total of $800, and
  • to complete 50 hours of community service by August 31, 2023.

This matter is significant as it is an example of an instance in which the Court relied on section 263.1 of the Community Charter [SBC 2003] c-26 to grant an Order. Section 263.1 of the Community Charter, [SBC 2003] c-26 allows the Court to grant Orders requiring an individual to remedy the harm that has been caused as a result of the commission of the individual’s offence.

Photograph of "Ethics" dictionary entry.

5 Myths of Conflict of Interest for Candidates and Elected Officials

By Troy DeSouza, Dominion GovLaw LLP


Local government legislation provides a bright line for conflicts of interest involving elected officials.

Not really. Some conflicts of interest are clear; most are not. Legislation is a starting point to identifying a conflict. However, answering the question requires looking at the statutory and common law, facts, perception of conflict and pecuniary interest (Schlenker v. Torgrimson [Saltspring Island Local Trust Area] 2013 BCCA).


As an elected official, am I in conflict on issues I ran on as a candidate?

No. Political opponents often allege conflict for a political advantage. Having a political platform and acting to advance those issues is unlikely to constitute a conflict of interest. A political accusation is not a legal conflict of interest.


My spouse works for a company that provides services to my city. There should be no conflict as that was disclosed during the election.

A conflict may still exist. However, for some municipalities, it may be a hardship to cease such a relationship. A municipal lawyer can advise on how best to mitigate this situation and remove the potential for conflicts, i.e., decision-making, without ceasing the relationship entirely.


The city’s legal counsel advised that there may be a potential for a conflict of interest, so I must declare one.

Not always. Opinions obtained by the municipal corporation are legal advice for the corporation. Elected officials are strongly advised to obtain their own independent legal advice that directly answers the municipal concern in a confidential manner, and which is protected by solicitor-client privilege. Such an opinion accounts for an elected official’s objectives, public policy goals, risk and ultimately identifies ways in which a conflict may be mitigated.


As an elected official, I cannot afford to pay for independent legal advice.

Yes, you can. GovLaw provides a cost-effective conflict of interest phone/email advice for elected officials in British Columbia.  Contact us at 1-250-590-1840 or out our website at www.govlaw.ca.

BC Court of Appeal & Supreme Court signage

Provincial Court Municipal Prosecutors: An Alternative to the Provincial Crown

Anita B. Szabo, K.C.

Frustrated with street-level crime not being pursued by Provincial Crown? Tickets having limited effect? Working with GovLaw to conduct an information prosecution may be the solution. These Provincial Court local government prosecutions mandate court appearances by the accused and can result in significant fines and court orders.

A crime reduction strategy using bylaws should be part of every local government’s toolkit. Replacing the Crown with your own municipal prosecutor is part of that solution.

Local governments have reduced crime by applying the proven “Broken Windows” crime reduction strategy. Getting effective compliance orders using information prosecutions instead of the Provincial Court is a key part of that strategy.

The trend towards relieving busy Crown Counsel is clear. Recently, CN Rail won the right to privately prosecute northern BC rail blockade participants.

Why Govlaw?

GovLaw has 20-plus years’ experience managing your prosecutions seamlessly along with the rest of our capable lawyers and support staff. Our team has expanded with an experienced former Crown Prosecutor, Anita B. Szabo, K.C.

Contact Anita B. Szabo, K.C. at (250) 590-1840 or office@govlaw.ca today.

Group of college-age partygoers outside a house.

Payback on Prosecutions

Troy DeSouza

It has been a busy summer, but good news for local governments on prosecutions. A special shout-out goes to Judicial Justice Burgess in Kelowna for some very helpful decisions. The Provincial court has provided added value to local governments who are looking for a compliance tool that provides effective results, decent cost recovery and does not require Council or Board approval. That tool is prosecutions by way of long form information (“LFI”).

In June, in the City of Kelowna v. Ackerman, the accused, was an owner of a million-dollar residential property that was being used as an unlawful short-term rental (“STR”). Mr. Ackerman had been operating this STR for over three years without a business license and routinely ignored the $500 bylaw notice tickets that were issued for noise. A $500 ticket was a drop in the bucket against a $5,000 dollar take for a 2-day STR rental! Judicial Justice Burgess saw through this scheme and granted a total fine award to the City in the amount of $18,000 plus a prohibition on the unlawful use.

In July, in the Regional District of Central Okanagan v. Sisett, RDCO received Reasons for Judgment for an MTI conviction on a dangerous dog owner. While Judicial Justice Burgess could only issue the maximum statutorily prescribed penalty of a $1,000 fine, he indicated in his reasons that had the government proceeded with an information prosecution (ie. LFI) he would have awarded an additional $6,030.72 to the victim dog owner as restitution for the payment of her vet bills! This case is currently on appeal, but we are confident RDCO will prevail.

In August, in the City of Nanaimo v. Ahlstrom, a Provincial Court Judge granted a warrant to arrest a repeat offender for local government bylaw breaches. Mr. Ahlstrom ran a rotating one-man campsite and would sometimes burn his sites along the way (and this during a horrible fire season in BC!) The warrant, obtained in advance, required the RCMP to make an arrest. Former criminal defence lawyer (I know, I know. But I saw the good in her – like Darth Vader) Jordan McKay attended as municipal prosecutor by phone to place conditions on Mr. Ahlstrom including red zoning out of the neighborhood. Thus the order burnishes the efficacy and applicability of GovLaw’s Catch and Release program by effectively using a Warrant with an LFI for immediate results!

The above three cases provide important roadmaps for local governments in this post-COVID-age where people are, frankly, more resistant to compliance. The Courts are more willing to drop the hammer with greater fines, restitution for victims and prohibitions for future bylaw breaches if you present a good case.

Two male bylaw officers

Kinder, Safer and Effective BC Law Enforcement

Troy DeSouza & Inder Litt

Updating Enforcement

A rethinking of law enforcement has resulted from the use of force protests in the United States combined with concerns for community safety during the recent BC election.  Fortunately, the Province can modernize and update law enforcement without creating more bureaucracy and with minimal cost to the taxpayer.  This requires an approach emphasizing regulatory enforcement that is kinder, safer and effectively gets results.

Law Enforcement Options

The law covers a wide range of offences.  There are minor regulatory offences like parking tickets, at-large dogs or smoking in parks.  Criminal offences, like violent crimes under Canada’s Criminal Code need to be enforced by municipal police or the RCMP.  In the middle are regulatory offences which are routinely enforced by bylaw enforcement officers (”BEOs”) employed by local governments throughout British Columbia.

The Province has recognized the experience of BEOs in dealing with complex and diverse laws.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Province expanded BEO authority through Ministerial Orders related to health and consumer protection.

Regulatory law includes enactments, orders, bylaws, and resolutions from local governments, health authorities, provincial ministries and other public bodies.  Breaches of regulatory laws are offences which may escalate to criminal offences.  These offences can be committed by individuals, property owners, or businesses.

Regulatory Enforcement

BEOs can reduce or prevent crime using regulatory enforcement tools.  Regulatory tools are administrative, civil or even quasi-criminal.  They are targeted towards compliance rather than the criminal process extremes of either heavy-handed jail sentences or weak revolving door results.  Regulatory enforcement is also kinder and safer as it mostly does not require the use of force.  Instead, compliance is obtained through enforceable orders.  Finally, regulatory enforcement in local government has broad civilian oversight with 187 elected local government Councils or Boards throughout BC.

Regulatory enforcement allows the police to focus on serious crimes while BEOs target the “B” team.  The extra support provided to police with more “boots on the ground” would reduce the strain on already stressed police departments and other public authorities.  More importantly, the annual cost of a BEO is typically half that of a fully-trained police officer – $90,000 vs. $185,000.

A Case in Point

The Willow Inn in Prince George, BC

The Willow Inn, Prince George, BC. | Citizen photo by Brent Braaten

The City of Prince George used bylaw regulatory enforcement in conjunction with the RCMP to effectively reduce crime. The City suspended business licenses of multiple motels, inns, and rooming houses whose poor management and clientele increased crime. As one RCMP officer noted, “these [motels] were one-stop shopping for all your criminal needs”. While police and other public authorities had many concerns with these motels, they worked in isolated “silos” with limited compliance tools.

BEOs at the City coordinated a team approach using “administrative” regulatory powers to suspend the business license, effectively shutting down the motels.  The City’s regulatory authority from a municipal Council was faster, cheaper and a more effective result than the Courts.

Provincial Action

To enhance community safety, BEOs should obtain clear authority and expanded jurisdiction.  For instance, the Provincial Court held that BEOs were “peace officers” in decisions like Turkko and Woodward.  However, provincial legislators have not yet codified this with amended legislation.  This leads to difficulty in compliance if and when BEOs are not taken seriously.

The Province can update and modernize law enforcement options by:

  • Amending the Police Act to include bylaw officers as peace officers;
  • Expanding BEO authority to other legislation such as the Safe Streets Act, the Trespass Act, Motor Vehicle Act, the Provincial Offence Act and other statutes that protect the public or their property;
  • Encourage local governments to allocate targeted funding to police/RCMP detachments that work with bylaw departments on regulatory prosecutions and crime reduction strategies; and
  • Create a Community Safety Officer statute that qualifies trained BEOs to enhance community safety and livability and, align BC with other provinces who provide a regulatory middle ground in law enforcement.

Regulatory enforcement encourages cooperation, coordination and collaboration among law enforcement agencies.  BEOs provide a kinder, safer but effective law enforcement option.  Provincial leaders should recognize the use of force protests and concerns for community safety for what they are:  an opportunity to modernize and update law enforcement in BC.

About the Authors

Troy DeSouza, Managing Partner at Dominion GovLaw LLPTroy J. DeSouza is a lawyer at Dominion GovLaw LLP and past Member of the Military Police Complaints Commission (“MPCC”), a federal civilian tribunal reviewing military police complaints.Inder Litt, President of LIBOAInder Litt is the former President of the Local Government Compliance & Enforcement Association of BC (“LGCEA”).

Important Notice RE: Legal Services During COVID-19

RE: Legal Services During COVID-19

This is to update you on how legal services have been affected or adapted to serve your needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to monitor the situation closely and follow the latest direction from our health authorities.


The Honourable Chief Justice Hinkson has suspended regular operations of the Supreme Court of British Columbia at all of its locations. In Provincial Court, all bylaw matters between now and May 4, 2020 have been adjourned.

File Action

Necessary legal file work for local governments continue. From legal opinions to Court action, we are making the most of this time to maintain, catch-up and be proactive to move matters forward.

GovLaw Team Access

Almost all of the GovLaw team is working from home. To ensure no disruptions to our services and prompt response, emails continue to be actioned and our office telephone lines are connected to the corresponding cell phone line of the person you wish to reach.

We are obligated to do our part as a firm to minimize the contagion. Nevertheless, we maintain our confidence to effectively serve the needs of local governments during these challenging times.

Yours truly,



Troy DeSouza
Direct email: Troy.DeSouza@GovLaw.ca

Read Emergency Program Act, Ministerial Order No. M082 [PDF file]

Expanded COVID-19 Enforcement Role for Bylaw Officers

The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced today that he was enabling municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the Provincial Health Officers orders for business closures and gatherings in line with offences under the Public Health Act. The key parts of the order are summarized as follows:

Bylaw enforcement officers specifically designated under the order and regulations include local government corporate officers, BEO’s under section 36 of the Police Act, licensing inspectors, building inspectors, animal control officers or other persons acting in another capacity on behalf of a municipality, regional district or local trust committee for the purpose of enforcement of one or more of its bylaws;

To the greatest extent possible without unduly compromising any other bylaw enforcement objectives of the local authority, each local authority must ensure that the local authorities bylaw enforcement officers provide assistance as may be required to enforce public health orders to include:

  • Monitoring facilities and areas closed to the public;
  • Provide warnings, information and advice to businesses and members of the public with respect to the health orders;
  • Provide health officers with information in respect of potential contraventions; and
  • BEOs are not authorized to detain individuals or issue a fine or penalty.

This announcement acknowledges the expertise and critical role bylaw officers have to play in our communities during this public health emergency. The goal should be to utilize all professional law enforcers to bend the curve on identified cases and deaths with the coronavirus so that communities can get back to normal sooner.

The Minister’s directive requires cooperation and coordination with local governments and our health authorities. GovLaw recommends the following action be taken:

  • Senior staff should enquire and coordinate with their Health Authority counterparts on the enforcement of the Provincial Health Officers directive and the Public Health Act;
  • Primary enforcement should focus on public gatherings and business closures as directed by the Minister; and
  • Evidence can be gathered for health officers and charges prepared to proceed as a “long form information (LFI)” prosecution in Provincial Court. A filed and served LFI can quickly send a message of responsibility and action required by individuals to reduce the coronavirus risk.

For more information, we provide the following links for your benefit.

Ministerial Order No. M082
Official News Release

Take care,

Troy DeSouza

Abandoned house with graffiti

“If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself” – A Plug for Remedial Action

Jarrett Plonka

In the local government world, this is not always possible or practical. However, with remedial action requirements, you can get it done yourself. And you can recover the cost of the work!

Every community, no matter how big or small, has one. A problem property. The neighbours complain about it being a nuisance. Building inspectors and bylaw officers have repeatedly raised safety concerns and non-compliance issues with the owners and occupants, but nothing has been done.

Using the remedial action requirement provisions under the Community Charter and the Local Government Act, local governments can require owners, occupiers, or lessees of a property to remedy specific nuisances or hazards. If the person subject to the requirement takes the required action by the deadline, great — problem solved! If not, the local government can go in and do the work themselves.

After the work has been completed, the cost of conducting the work can be recouped from the owner. Both the Community Charter and the Local Government Act allow fees imposed for work done or services provided in relation to land or improvements to be collected via the property tax rolls.

When using remedial action requirements, be careful and diligent. The subject of the requirement must fit within the statutory scheme. Further, one must follow the strict statutory procedural requirements. Notice must be given to all affected parties and the Board or Council must hold a hearing before declaring the subject a nuisance or a hazard and imposing a requirement. Once a requirement has been imposed, the affected parties must be allowed to request a reconsideration hearing.

This procedure is something local governments can do on their own — lawyers are not needed. It’s much more cost-effective than seeking an injunction and will free up bylaw staff and building inspectors to deal with other compliance issues.

Love Me “Tender”

Jarrett Plonka

The City of Toronto recently made the news, this time for all the wrong reasons.

A small park in Etobicoke had a “shortcut” with a slope where people had fallen. The city proposed installing a small flight of eight stairs to eliminate this risk. The City estimated these stairs would cost between $65,000 to $150,000, with construction requiring several months to complete.

A retired tradesman took matters into his own hands, collected donations from neighbours, and hired a homeless person to help him. After one day, he had installed the stairs for a total cost of $550.

For his trouble, this retired senior citizen risked legal action, and bylaw officers barricaded and dismantled the staircase on the grounds that it was unsafe.

To be fair to the City, there were safety issues: the stairs were uneven and not built on a foundation. However, even Toronto’s Mayor admitted that the City’s six-figure estimate for a properly-built staircase was “completely out of whack with reality” – not quite a ringing endorsement of the City’s process!

After a few days of bad press, three city workers built fully-compliant stairs for about $10,000. There was little explanation as to why the original estimate would have cost fifteen times more.

In another case, San Francisco made the news a few years ago for spending almost $700,000 US to build a wheelchair ramp at San Francisco City Hall. For that price, they could have bought a small house with money left over to furnish it! Astoundingly, the City considered the ramp a financial success as they originally budgeted $1.1 million to build it!

The year before that, San Francisco spent about $210,000 to move a bush. Ironically, the City’s motto is “gold in peace….”.

What’s going on here?

Although each case is unique and dependent on its own facts, one commonality is a broken tender process. Therefore, some solutions are to:

1. Get Comfortable with Outsourcing

There are always situations where it makes more sense to outsource projects, products or services. The private sector often offers services that are quicker and less costly.

2. Don’t Buy the Cadillac When the Chevy Will Do

Always ask: What does your department actually need? What requirements will meet those needs? Are all these requirements necessary or are they “extras”?

San Francisco’s $700,000 wheelchair ramp is a great example. One reason for the excess cost was the City hall preferred the wheelchair ramp to be “historically accurate”. This resulted in expenses such as $49,000 spent on “historically accurate brass handrails”, $48,000 spent on architectural historians, and significant design costs. For a wheelchair ramp!

This is not a criticism of preserving a City’s historic character or historic buildings, which are part of any city’s charm. However, this is an example where the City paid a far higher price because it prioritized what it wanted over what it needed.

3, Reconsider Your Tender Parameters

Before starting any tender process, think twice about the parameters for any valid bid. Are the requirements critical, or could they be flexible?

Remember, bid parameters can be set to “nudge” the result in a particular direction and this adds costs.

For example, imagine a local government soliciting bids for a new fleet of work trucks for its public works division. Bid parameters “requiring” trucks with a specific size and horsepower will result in a specific price range.

A small difference in horsepower or size may result in excluding models with a significantly lower price, even if those models would be able to do the job just as well. In other words, bid parameters may have been set to exclude many other options that might satisfy the local government’s actual needs for a lower cost.

Local governments are tasked with more responsibility and costs every year, without new funding or revenue tools. Thus, spend every dollar wisely with a smarter tendering process will help add to the bottom line.