This week at General Committee we once again had in front of us the matter of “Power of Entry”, specifically how and when a By-law officer can access your property without your permission. When this matter was first put forward via a notice of motion over a year ago, I was looking for staff to create a policy that would require a warrant for bylaw to enter onto a resident’s property for those limited occasions when access is not or has not been granted or for situations where staff are unable to contact/reach the property owner. I also asked for staff to list those instances where a delay in access would pose a safety concern or a danger to a person or property and thus should be exempt from the requirement of a warrant.
Over the past year since that motion was first put forward, Council has had before it 2 reports on the matter; neither of which, unfortunately, fully addressed Council’s direction. Council in the majority have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity in the proposed policy surrounding when, how or even why a by-law officer can enter onto private property without consent. Personally, I am in favour of requiring By-law officers to obtain a warrant for those limited occasions when they need to access a property and have been unable to obtain consent. I believe that as much getting a warrant would help protect the rights of residents and property owners I also believe this will help protect bylaw officers. A warrant would provide clear grounds for a bylaw officer to be on a resident’s property, and thus would lessen the conflicts that could otherwise arise.
The draft policy that Council had before it was a step in the right direction. However, it was not yet what Council in the majority was looking for. Some elements were inconsistent while others needed some clarity. For example, if you have a fence and a lock on the gate then ultimately bylaw will require a warrant to enter, but not if you don’t have a fence … Some members felt that the implication of this was that the policy afforded some residents more right to privacy than others. The Town policy on right of entry needs to be equal for all residents. There’s also the issue of liability. What happens if a by-law officer injures him/herself while on your property? Who is liable? I asked staff to clarify the matter of liability in their report to Council.
Seeing the need for some changes, Council voted to defer the matter until Staff can respond via redrafted policy. While I am not usually a fan of deferring matters – and certainly not more than once! – I do think it’s important we have a policy that all of Council will get on board and support. And at the end of the day, we will have a policy that will protect the property rights of our residents while at the same time clarifying the responsibilities of our by-law officers and how those responsibilities may be discharged.