The City of White Rock is standing firm in its call for a makeshift church structure on Marine Drive to be dismantled by the end of the week, following a reconsideration hearing Monday morning.
Council voted unanimously for the operations at the Church of the Holy Smoke to be ceased and the structure be cleared by July 31, following an appeal by Robin Douglas, pastor of the marijuana-centred organization.
“All we’re asking is for more time so that we can find a proper home,” Douglas told council Monday, pointing out he and his supporters have “tried to do everything we possibly can to help alleviate any problems.”
Douglas has been operating his church for four months out of a tent structure in the 14700-block of Marine Drive as a gathering place for people to come and smoke marijuana. Following complaints by at least one neighbour and a series of fines levied by the city, council voted July 13 to declare the structure a “nuisance” and order its removal. The city scheduled a reconsideration hearing July 20 to allow Douglas an opportunity to appeal, then, at Douglas’s request that morning – and only after seeking the advice of legal counsel – gave the pastor another week to prepare.
Karen Cooper, the city’s director of planning and development services, told council Monday that she had visited the site earlier that morning and had observed that garbage had been removed and that the two tent structures had been reduced to one.
In recommending a resolution for the operations to be ceased and the structure cleared, Cooper noted the tent’s use was still not in line with city bylaws and safety requirements.
“The main issue is the public safety and the use of the property as an assembly place is in contravention of the bylaw,” Cooper said.
In his submission to council, Douglas alleged the city had used “coercion tactics” in order to have him evicted from the Marine Drive property, including threatening his landlord with fines if he didn’t terminate tenancy.
Douglas attempted to play council a video on his cellphone, in which his landlord allegedly admitted to being threatened with fines, however, Mayor Wayne Baldwin interjected after a few minutes, calling the video “illegible” and attempting to steer the discussion back to Douglas and his church structure.
“We’re here to listen to your reasons why you can’t have the site cleared out by July 31,” Baldwin said.
Douglas responded that he felt the gathering place meets city bylaw standards and has garnered a large amount of support from the community, with the exception of “one or two neighbours who have a problem with it.”
“This is not about the structure, it’s about who we are as a church,” Douglas said.
After council voted to give Douglas a July 31 deadline to have the structure removed, Baldwin commented on Douglas having parked his vehicle in front of city hall in a spot designated for disabled persons.
“Can I suggest in the future that you not park in the handicapped spot as you are right now?” Baldwin said, to which Douglas replied that he had a sticker in his car.
“It’s not evident,” Baldwin replied.
Following Monday’s meeting, Douglas told Peace Arch News he will not comply with the city’s orders to take down the tent, although he will not resist should the city forcibly remove it after the July 31 deadline.
He said he plans to contact the attorney general’s office to find out if there is an appeal process with the province that he can embark on, and also plans to file a complaint against the city under the Human Rights Act.
“I’m done playing nice with the City of White Rock,” Douglas said. “They’ve stepped on the toes of their citizens and they have got to be held accountable for what they’ve done.”