The City of White Rock has declared a tent structure that houses a marijuana-focused religious organization on Marine Drive a “nuisance,” ordering it removed within the next 10 days.
City council voted unanimously Monday evening to adopt a resolution brought forth by the city’s director of planning and development, Karen Cooper, regarding the 14737 Marine Dr. property, where Robin Douglas opened a gathering space known as the Church of the Holy Smoke more than three months ago.
The resolution addresses a number of issues with the tent on the property, noting it is an “eyesore” and “out of character with the neighbourhood,” it does not comply with city bylaws or provincial building regulations, and it has been the subject of complaints about smoke, garbage and noise from neighbours.
The motion calls for Douglas to remove the tent structure on or before July 24, and authorizes the city manager to arrange for its removal and disposal if it is not dealt with by the city’s imposed deadline.
Douglas was caught by surprise Tuesday morning when informed of the city’s decision, telling Peace Arch News he was not aware that the issue was being brought to council.
“It strikes me as odd that they would sneak it past without my knowledge or letting us know to defend ourselves in a proper forum,” Douglas said. “I find it incomprehensible that the City of White Rock would take on a free-loving, peaceful movement that has nothing but good intentions and use Hitler-like tactics to destroy them.”
Issues were first raised about the Marine Drive gathering place in early June, when a resident filed a complaint with the city, concerned the makeshift church appeared to encourage drug use.
At the time, Douglas told PAN that the church was meant to be a place for people to gather and smoke cannabis and to “keep pot off the beach and off the street.” Douglas insisted that there was no selling of marijuana taking place, and only those 18 and older were granted entry.
Shortly after the church began to attract attention, Douglas was served a 30-day eviction notice from his landlord, which he said plans to fight with the tenancy branch.
The city had issued at least two rounds of fines prior to passing Monday’s resolution.
Upon hearing about the city’s decision, Douglas said he spoke with his lawyer and plans to file a human rights violation complaint against the city on religious grounds.
“The Charter of Rights in Canada gives you a right to freely practise religion without the fear of prosecution,” Douglas said. “That’s what we’re doing, and we’re being prosecuted for standing up for our religious beliefs.”
– with files from Tracy Holmes