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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sober second thoughts on Halifax smoking ban

Council asks for staff report on exempting tobacco from new public smoking restrictions. Cannabis not so lucky.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2018 at 11:52 AM

click to enlarge Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin inside City Hall. - RILEY SMITH
  • RILEY SMITH
  • Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin inside City Hall.

After banning darts and breaking hearts, Halifax may ease off its public smoking prohibition—for cigarettes, at least.

City council asked this week for a staff report on filtering out tobacco from the new public smoking ban that was created two weeks ago when HRM amended its nuisance bylaws.

Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin brought the idea forward at Tuesday’s meeting, despite having voted in favour of the original bylaw amendments on July 17.

Having spent the past few weeks reflecting on the controversial decision to outlaw all smoking and vaping on municipal property unless done in specially designated smoking zones, Austin said he came to the conclusion that Halifax needs to revisit the matter.

The current bylaw, says Austin, will be a nightmare to manage and enforce.

“We’re going to go through all this process of designating these areas and for what?” asked the councillor on Tuesday. “This feels very bureaucratic. It feels like micromanagement of the public space and I just can’t say what the underlying practical purpose of doing it is.”

Smokers in violation of the new bylaw face potential fines ranging from $50 to $2,000 for flagrant abuse. Those tickets will be largely complaint-driven, handed out during the days by municipal bylaw officers and during the night by Halifax Regional Police. Or at least, that was the plan.

“I can tell you we’ve talked to many police over the last couple weeks and they think we’ve lost our minds to think they’re going to be running around giving people $25 or $50 or whatever-dollar tickets for smoking on one side of the sidewalk when the other side of a sidewalk is a designated area,” said councillor Tim Outhit.

Austin's new motion aims to refocus the ban solely on smoking cannabis in public, which was the original reason this whole clusterfuck came to council in the first place.

But by removing tobacco from the ban, some councillors worried it will be impossible to tell who's smoking cigarettes and who's lighting up a joint—let alone prove that case in court.

“There will be no evidence,” said councillor Shawn Cleary. “If we go ahead with this, we would have to logically extend it to cannabis and allow all smoking in all the public right-of-way because you can’t have one without the other.”

Austin’s motion eventually passed 11-5, with councillors Shawn Cleary, Russell Walker, Lisa Blackburn, Steve Craig and Bill Karsten voting against.

Karsten, in particular, took issue with Austin's arguments, which he says have been raised “each and every time there's been a limitation to where people can smoke in public.”

Each and every time people thought the sky was falling, said the councillor, and it didn’t. The Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage representative told his colleagues he was proud HRM had taken this bold step in eliminating smoking.

He was less pleased, however, with how the ban has been talked about online and in the media.

“I’m going to pull my hair out if I hear the word ‘ban’ again, okay?” said Karsten. “Because what we did is not a ban. It is not a ban. It’s an evolution of still allowing smoking but in designated areas.”

The city has already produced 1,000 new designated smoking areas signs for enforcing its ban. Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé says not all of those will be used for the initial rollout, however.

The bylaw changes are currently scheduled to come into effect for October 1, allowing a two-week adjustment period before cannabis becomes legal nationwide on October 17.

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