View Royal council seeks revisions to proposed cliff-jumping bylaw

image.jpg

A proposed bylaw that would have made cliff-jumping illegal at Thetis Lake Park has been sunk, for now, by View Royal Council.

“There were some measures in the bylaw that council wasn’t comfortable with so it was referred back to staff for some amendments,” says View Royal’s Mayor David Screech, adding he doesn’t expect to see the bylaw back before council anytime soon.

In early May, View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst tabled the draft bylaw out of frustration. The proposal would have required people to pay for the cost of rescues related to illegal and reckless behaviour like cliff-jumping in Thetis Lake Park.

For decades, the chief says, his department has attended far too many calls related to seriously injured or dead people, most of whom were impaired. Call volumes are especially high in the summer.

The intention of the proposed bylaw was to deter bad choices and prevent the financial and human costs associated with these preventable tragedies.

“The purpose of the bylaw was to act as a deterrent,” says Hurst. ”It’s just another tool in the box for us to use to somehow hold some people accountable. We’re not going to hold everyone accountable, but we can only educate so much … This is about trying to keep people safe.”

View Royal’s mayor says council had several concerns about the proposed bylaw. Councillors worried that the threat of criminal charges could make people hesitant to call for help when they need it. They also took issue with the bylaw’s one-metre height restriction for cliff-jumping, wondering if it was reasonable.

Though the proposed bylaw didn’t pass, the mayor is sympathetic to the fire chief’s concerns.

“I do understand the fire department’s angst and how fed up they get with repeatedly going to calls out there that could be avoided if people would simply follow the rules,” says Screech.

Cliff-jumping is dangerous and can have serious consequences, especially in locations where the ledge is 30 to 40 metres above the water. In some spots, jumpers have to clear both the sloped cliff and shallow water at the lake’s edge to make a safe landing in the water.

Hurst has seen more than his share of injuries: everything from cuts, bruises and abrasions to broken bones and backs, life-altering injures and death.

“ I not only have an obligation to make sure people are safe when they’re interacting in View Royal, I also have an obligation to my staff not to expose them to the traumas associated with a fatal or serious-injury cliff accident,” he says.

Not only is there a emotional and physical cost to people, there is a huge financial cost associated to these incidents. A single call to a cliff -jumping injury and subsequent rescue can cost thousands of dollars in fire, police and ambulance resources. It can also tie up personnel, preventing them from attending other emergencies.

“Is it fair that others have to pay the price for someone else’s bad behaviour?” says the chief. “If you knowingly jump off the cliffs and it’s a known hazard and you’re impaired, is that my responsibility to pay that bill? Someone has to bear that cost.”

Even though the bylaw didn’t pass, the Capital Regional District – which runs the park – is stepping up with more park rangers seven days a week, enhanced bylaw enforcement around drugs and alcohol; and more education around the dangers of cliff-diving and other park regulations.

West Shore RCMP have also committed to stepping up patrols in the park.

There are still no plans for lifeguards at Thetis Lake.

Hurst is encouraged by the CRD’s decision to add extra resources to the park this summer, which he expects to be very busy.

“This is about educating people and it’s about explaining the dangers,” says the fire chief. “We can’t stop all the behaviours, but we can try and control the reckless behaviour where it’s drug- and alcohol-induced.”

He says if they can eliminate the alcohol and drug factor, perhaps that will reduce the incidents of people falling off the cliffs or jumping off the cliffs impaired and making bad decisions.

“Hopefully we have a safe and enjoyable summer at Thetis,” says Hurst.

Stepped up education and enforcement will begin in the coming weeks.