Wednesday, May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

Editorial: Empowered to decide

A recent B.C. Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of a local government to refuse approval of a cannabis shop is worth paying attention to. 

The case involved Canna Northwest Enterprise Inc. petitioning the court because the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) did not provide approval needed for the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch to issue a licence for a retail store in the complex at 109 McPhillips Ave. at a June 22, 2023 meeting. Canna had alleged that the LTC made its decision because some community members expressed concerns about the impact of competition on the existing Harvest Moon shop. Concerns about oversaturation of the market were expressed by people affiliated with the competition, and others, both in writing and at the public meeting in June of 2023. But opposition was also expressed based on location by other community members, including a quite pointed statement from a Salt Spring Public Library representative about “vandalism, partying, littering and noise” experienced when a previous cannabis retailer existed in the same spot. The LTC resolution denied the application based on its location, which is said was “not appropriate due to the proximity to schools, the library and a public park.” 

The Canna group submitted a 90-signature petition supporting their application and in the court case suggested that should be given more weight than the smaller number of people opposed. But Justice Anthony Saunders concluded the LTC was not bound by the views of a majority, that its decision was justifiable and met the case law standards of “reasonableness.” He went further in bolstering the rights of elected officials to account for public opinion but not be beholden to it.

These days there is a misunderstanding that democracy works when vociferous complaints — or a court petition — results in a change of policy or decision. But as Justice Saunders points out in his recent judgement, the ultimate accountability arises at election times, when people can express their displeasure with an elected official’s conduct and decision-making in the previous term. Trustees and their counterparts should obviously consider public opinion in between elections, but should not be paralyzed by it when it comes to doing the job they were tasked to do. 

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