Greater Victoria biologist Jacques Sirois feels banning unleashed dogs from Saanich beaches would help preserve the region’s natural environment.
Coun. Karen Harper submitted a report last month calling for a review of Saanich’s policies that permit off-leash dogs on beaches – which she pointed out were more than 20 years old.
The topic was up for discussion in a Feb. 24 council meeting that was dominated by public input.
Sirois, on Oak Bay resident and member of the Friends of the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, was one of the dozens who spoke at the meeting. While many residents spoke against the bylaw review, several agreed with Sirois that it would be beneficial.
It’s a complicated issue that has a long history and requires a “reasonable conversation about how we deal with our beautiful public spaces” and change local beach culture, he explained.
The “pristine natural areas” are what draws people to Greater Victoria and need to be taken care of, Sirois explained. He pointed out that while there are many threats to local beaches such as littering and pollution, dogs have become an increasing problem over the last 30 to 40 years.
Situations involving pets make people very emotional, Sirois said, noting that he’s been a dog owner and understands. However, he emphasized that Saanich’s current off-leash dog bylaws contradict the federal government’s policies for migratory bird sanctuaries. The Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary (VHMBS) – established in 1923 – is one of three in the region and spans five municipalities from View Royal to Saanich.
The VHMBS protects the diverse wildlife in the area and prohibits loose pets but has been “largely forgotten in recent decades,” Sirois explained. This, he feels, is because it’s not well-enforced and because there are five local governments in the area making their own bylaws for beach use.
Sirois was pleased to see that Harper understood the complicated aspects of the issue. For him, supporting the bylaw review is not about being anti-dog, but rather about protecting and “celebrating the natural environment.” He feels it’s a necessary part of the restoration process, and that the creation of official dog parks would help maintain the natural areas.
“Give the beach a chance,” he said.