Seasonal workers a balancing act

Penticton RCMP said they are receiving a number of complaints about seasonal workers.

Penticton RCMP said they are receiving a number of complaints about seasonal workers.

Most of the calls have revolved around Okanagan Lake Park, specifically the rubber walkway near the Penticton Peach, where Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth said there were complaints of people bottle-necking the walkway and spilling out into the street.

“It was a little bit frustrating just on the amount of complaints we were getting,” said Wrigglesworth. “I went over there and for three days. I found one bottle of booze that I dumped out.”

“They weren’t drinking or smoking pot,” Wrigglesworth said.

He said he engaged with many of those camped out in the park and aside from asking that they move their activities away from the main walkway, there were no issues.

“The word gets out and they’ve been great, they really have. I said you still can’t drink over there, you still can’t do drugs over there,” Wrigglesworth said. “I’ve had really good feedback from people. They are not the criminals. We have our criminals with or without the transient population.”

He said the biggest issues is people setting up camps on the park spaces.

“They are working well with us, but sometimes the language barrier, looking a little different, all these little things cause conflict with some people and we’re working on it,” Wrigglesworth said.

The Town of Oliver is looking to bolster the ability of bylaw officers to deal with large groups of people gathering in public parks, a side effect of the seasonal workers who flock to town every year.

The Park Regulation Amendment Bylaw was discussed by council at the July 13 regular council meeting and sent back to be discussed with Parks and Recreation staff again to fine tune what Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes is calling a “tool” for bylaw officers.

Initially the amendment was set to recommend that no more than 25 people be allowed to congregate in a public park without authorization from the Parks and Recreation department. However, Coun. Petra Veintimilla suggested the hard number of 25 should be re-examined and discussed with Parks and Recreation and city management.

While the rules may seem strict Hovanes said it is to give officers some ability to deal with much larger crowds, sometimes made up of seasonal workers.

“It was a tool that (bylaw officers) could use if they absolutely had to. It wasn’t a tool for them to go out there and start counting people every day. You have birthday parties, people out there who are compliant to every bylaw, but they might have 25 people there,” Hovanes said.

He expects the amendment to be passed at the next council meeting on July 27.

“It’s not really that contentious of an issue. The broader thing was we know we have a large seasonal workforce that comes every year,” Hovanes said. “A lot of it is complaint driven. We get a complaint we have to act on it. People aren’t going to be going out there everyday counting to see how many people are in one spot.”

The issue of seasonal workers hanging out in parks is one council has to deal with every year, much like many other communities in the South Okanagan.

“It’s all about tolerance,” Hovanes said. “You get the small percentage that aren’t picking up after themselves and drinking in public with dogs running around then, yes, you do get complaints.”

The time constraints on the bylaw were also changed since the first reading from dusk until dawn, instead of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., which Hovanes said makes things easier for bylaw officers when the sun is up until later hours in the summer.

“You really hope that bylaws are there and people comply with bylaws so we don’t have to enforce them,” Hovanes said. “Ticketing is the last thing we want to do.”

The peak of the cherry picking season has passed and Hovanes said the problems and complaints stemming from public parks were no worse than in years past. He said council is already starting to look to next year for ways to deal with the annual issue.

“We’re going to try to do a better effort in the very beginning to have our bylaw enforcement officers out there. Not so much enforcing but more educating,” Hovanes said. “I think the educational component of it and having our bylaw enforcement officers being more liaisons more than enforcement officers will go a long way.”

“We, like other communities in the South Okanagan, depend on a seasonal workforce.”

Penticton RCMP have also been receiving a number of complaints regarding the seasonal worker population.