Rising numbers of violent bear-spray incidents has led to a clampdown in Chilliwack.
City council approved a special bylaw Tuesday (March 2) restricting the sale of capsicum-based bear repellent and pepper spray to Chilliwack’s outdoor and sporting goods stores only.
“This is a long time coming,” said Coun. Bud Mercer.
Local RCMP officials said the intent of any changes is to “eliminate the sale of it for unlawful purposes.”
Coun. Chris Kloot praised the draft bylaw during the council discussion: “This is certainly the right move,” he said.
It was Chilliwack RCMP who reached out to the City of Chilliwack bylaw enforcement personnel to report the alarming number of violent incidents last summer involving bear spray, particularly in the downtown core.
There were 42 cited in August alone, with a huge spike overall in the number of bear-spray-related incidents between May and August 2020.
“The possession of bear spray in and of itself is not illegal, however, it becomes a public safety issue and can become criminal when it is being used for purposes other than its intended use — as a bear repellent,” according to the staff report in the March 2 council agenda.
Prior to this, product could be sold anywhere under the existing law, with no restrictions, and no requirements for training or reporting.
The staff report spells out the problem: “In Chilliwack, it is clear that bear spray is now frequently being used in the City as a weapon, for criminal, nuisance and nefarious purposes.”
Council in turn decided to pass a bylaw to proactively control “the sale of pepper spray and bear spray” in Chilliwack – based on a recommendation from the public safety advisory committee, after hearing from RCMP.
“Between May and the end of August of this year, the RCMP noted an overall increase of 65 per cent in incidents involving bear spray when compared to the same period last year,” according to the report.
RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Krista Vrolyk told council that officers are seeing bear spray regularly used for illicit purposes like robberies, assaults and threats. Since it’s not prohibited to buy, some of the illicit use was “falling through” the cracks.
“That’s where the spirit of this is coming from, it’s in the interest of public safety,” she said.
Coun. Jeff Shields said he thought “this is fantastic.”
Staff will be assessing how much bear spray product is still on local retail shelves, and will be reporting back on the matter before the next council meeting.
Specifically the bylaw “restricts the sale of capsicum-based bear repellent products to outdoor and sporting goods type stores; requires that purchasers of bear repellent produce identification to the vendor at the time of purchase, and complete and sign a ‘notice to purchaser’; and requires that vendors maintain a record of all sales transactions involving bear repellent, including a copy of the completed ‘notice to purchaser.’
Vendors will be prohibited from selling the product to anyone under 18, and prohibits vendors from displaying or storing it in areas accessible to the public.
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