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Laid-off Langley bylaw officer loses Human Rights challenge

Two of Langley Township’s four bylaw officers were recently laid off, due to a lack of work. The two, Robert Joy (left) and Paula Blanchard (centre), along with current officer Mike Twolan (right) say there are plenty of complaints coming in to the Township.  - file photo
Two of Langley Township’s four bylaw officers were recently laid off, due to a lack of work. The two, Robert Joy (left) and Paula Blanchard (centre), along with current officer Mike Twolan (right) say there are plenty of complaints coming in to the Township.
— image credit: file photo

When the Township of Langley laid off two of its four bylaw enforcement officers last year, the official explanation was a lack of work.

“We just aren’t getting the number of complaints to investigate,” said senior bylaw officer Bill Storie.

“It was a tough decision but the numbers just didn’t support the amount of staff we had.”

A slightly different version of events surfaced when one of the laid-off officers, Paula Blanchard, filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The Nov. 8 Tribunal decision rejecting the complaint revealed the layoffs were ordered after what the lawyer for the Township described as “significant acrimony” within the Bylaw Enforcement Department over work scheduling, specifically the Township’s demand for more flexibility in assigning hours.

An independent mediator was brought in to settle the matter and an agreement was reached in July of 2008 to allow for “non-standard” work scheduling.

When the municipality tried to impose late-night shifts in 2009, a complaint was filed by Blanchard, a member of  Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 403.

She told the Township because she is a mother of three children, the noon to 9 p.m. shift would be very difficult for her.

In 2010, the Township restructured the Bylaw Enforcement Department to have bylaw complaints handled directly by the municipal division responsible, effectively reducing the amount of work handled by the department, after which the layoff notices were issued.

Blachard’s application to the Tribunal said she was discriminated against on the basis of her “family status.”

The complaint was rejected because it was filed more than the maximum allowable six months after the layoffs were ordered.

Blanchard said she had 10 new property complaint files put on her desk the same week she was laid off, as did Robert Joy, the other officer who was laid off.

“We hear every day from the public we need more officers, not less,” she told The Times after the layoffs were announced.

She said Aldergrove is always busy and with all the densification in Willoughby, there will by a litany of construction and parking complaints that won’t be dealt with.

She said roads have been narrowed by three feet in the new Yorkson subdivisions with no parking signs on one side.

Neither of the laid-off officers found other jobs within the municipality.

At the time, CUPE local 403 president Paul Albrecht said these were the first layoffs he has dealt with in the 17 years he has been with the Township.

“This really did come out of the blue,” Albrecht said.

“There were no signals of slowing down. The Township is growing.”

He noted similar-sized Kelowna has six officers.

“Spring and summer are the busy months. Who is going to deal with blueberry cannon complaints, sprinkling and water restrictions, commercial truck issues and homeless camps?” Albrecht asked.

Bylaw officers deal with complaints of noise, traffic, unsightly premises, graffiti, trailers and boats in driveways, sign bylaws, and zoning issues.

When it comes to property complaints, the Township will only respond if the complaint comes in written form.

However, officers are allowed to respond proactively to traffic issues, such as parking at elementary schools, construction site violations, commercial truck and roadway issues, and even mud coming from dump trucks into neighbourhoods.

- with files from Monique Tamminga

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