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Impact of court decision striking down Victoria shopping bag bylaw

January 24, 2020

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the City of Victoria’s appeal of a B.C. Court of Appeal decision.  The Court of Appeal decision had struck down the City of Victoria’s “Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw”.

The essence of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision was that the City of Victoria did not have authority to make a bylaw as the substance of the bylaw was environmental protection, and the B.C. legislation governing local governments does not provide local governments with that authority.  The judgement noted that the City could, but did not, seek the approval of the Province for the bylaw.

Current Status/Impacts:

The City of Victoria’s bylaw is not in effect and until the City of Victoria takes further action, there is no legal requirement to follow the bylaw.  The original court application was filed by the “Canadian Plastic Bag Association”.

Bylaws in Courtenay, Cumberland, Qualicum Beach, Rossland, Salmon Arm, Sooke, Squamish, Tofino and Ucluelet are largely the same as the Victoria bylaw.  It is therefore likely that a court would make a similar decision regarding those bylaws.  Sooke had already said it would wait for the result of the court decision before enforcing their bylaw.  RCC expects similar statements from the other local governments.

Richmond and Saanich have already passed bylaws and submitted those to the Province for approval.  RCC’s expectation is that the Province will hold off on a decision until the Province decides on whether to enact a harmonized province-wide shopping bag law.

Other British Columbia communities considering bylaws (including the City of Surrey and North Okanagan Regional District) will likely await a decision by the Province before proceeding.

The City of Vancouver is governed by a different law than other local governments in British Columbia.  Therefore, while there is a possibility that the Victoria decision could have impact on Vancouver’s bylaws, it is uncertain whether the court decision is relevant to the City of Vancouver.

There may be impact upon local governments in other Provinces if courts in those Provinces conclude that they acted beyond their authority – which is what the court essentially decided in the Victoria case.

Next Steps:

  1. RCC will continue to advocate for harmonization at the highest level possible (national or provincial) of legal restrictions surrounding shopping bags, and against the aspects of local government bylaws which have significantly negative retail business and consumer impacts.
  2. RCC will continue to work with our partner industry associations to ensure common responses where possible.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Greg Wilson, Director, Government Relations (British Columbia) at gwilson@retailcouncil.org or 604-736-0368.

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