Federal agency continues crackdown on unleashed dogs at Greater Victoria beaches

Federal agency continues crackdown on unleashed dogs at Greater Victoria beaches
WatchMore municipalities across the south island are scrambling to get their city bylaws in line with the federal government, when it comes to dogs off-leash on the beach. Kori Sidaway reports.

Greater Victoria’s coastline is a treasure enjoyed by many. But as our population grows, so does our impact. And some say our four-legged friends specifically have become a problem.

“Basically we’re asking people to leash up for the beach to allow these areas to sustain wildlife,” said Jacques Sirois, chair of the group called Friends of the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

It may come as a surprise to some, but much of Victoria’s waterfront is under federal protection for migratory birds. The sanctuary stretches 28 kilometres from Cadboro Bay all the way up to Portage Inlet. Esquimalt Lagoon is also a migratory bird sanctuary, as is Shoal Harbour which includes 144-hectare of sheltered bays and extensive intertidal mudflats in North Saanich and Sidney.

READ MORE: City of Victoria staff recommend banning off-leash dogs from Gonzales Beach

The protections were made almost 100 years ago, in light of declining bird populations.

“In 2021, we’re still talking about declining bird numbers and now it’s getting to be quite serious,” said Sirois. “They feed at low tide at the beach, and when you’ve got loose pets running around the beach, they can’t feed.”

Within federal regulations it’s clear, dogs can’t be off-leash. But until recently, it hasn’t really been known.

“I wasn’t aware, it’s not clear to me,” said Christie Johnson, whose three-year-old pup Barkley’s favorite place to swim is the beach along Esquimalt Lagoon, and was surprised to find out the area was protected.

It’s news to municipalities too, who the feds are now cracking down on to make sure their bylaws are in compliance.

“I know there’s going to be people upset, I’m a dog owner myself. But at the same time the federal laws are there for a reason and need to be followed,” said Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes

Saanich is following the City of Victoria’s lead, preparing to change its bylaws and add signage.

But Haynes says South Island municipalities aren’t going to police it.

“We ourselves are not going to because they’re federal fines. They come from the federal bylaw officers,” said Haynes.

Instead, Environment Canada says they will.

“Penalties for violations start at $400 for individuals. Higher penalties, including prosecution, can be imposed depending on aggravating factors,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada to CHEK in a statement.

A report from Environment Canada on their enforcement plan is due out in the next year or two.

For now, their message is about awareness.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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