A Halloween fireworks display in Lake Cowichan fizzled last week thanks to poor communication from city hall.
Geoff Baker, of 225 Johel Rd. had his neighbourhood fireworks display halted and a firework seized on Halloween night despite being told by the town earlier that day it would be alright to proceed
Baker said he was surprised and embarrassed when Lake Cowichan RCMP showed up at his home to extinguish the festivities.
“On Oct. 31, during the day, I visited the Lake Cowichan administration office to get my permit,” wrote Baker in a letter to the Gazette. “They informed me that the permits were only for CVRD areas and that Lake Cowichan was not affected and I did not need a permit.
“At the time I was a bit confused but since I had put in the effort to double-check with the municipality office I thought it would be OK,” said Baker. “We started the fireworks at the end of Johel Road at about 9 p.m. Everyone was having fun and enjoying the display. We were very safe and had children and grandparents in attendance. Then the police showed up.
“There was two officers and they began to inquire about who was setting off the fireworks. I told them it was me as I had nothing to hide and figured we were doing everything legal. They informed me that I did need a permit and that what we were doing was, in fact, illegal.
“I informed them about my visit with the [Town] Lake Cowichan office and how we did not need a permit. They disagreed and proceeded to lecture me about how I need to make sure I am aware of the local bylaws.”
Town of Lake Cowichan’s chief administrative officer Joe Fernandez admitted a gaff on the town’s part.
“That’s all true,” said Fernandez in confirmation that Baker entered the office to seek a permit. “It’s a mistake on our part this time.”
Sgt. Wes Olsen of the Lake Cowichan RCMP said Baker set off the fireworks on public property, inviting family and neighbours along, thus marking his as a display event. Display events involving fireworks in Lake Cowichan require a permit at least 10 days prior to Halloween.
At display events, fireworks supervisors are required to be on-site, and normally these are members of the fire department Olsen said. He also confirmed RCMP officers seized a Roman candle firework from Baker — a banned firework even if a permit is obtained.
“We found someone who was letting off an (illegal) firework and seized it from him,” Olsen said. “We didn’t seize it unlawfully. He didn’t have a permit.”
Baker contacted the Gazette after a second visit to the town office confirmed what he was told the first time.
“The next morning I immediately went back to the Lake Cowichan municipality office and asked about the permit situation. The woman who original told me I did not need a permit was there and she sympathized with me about the situation.”
He has since been made aware of the mix-up, but the entire situation has let a bad taste in his mouth.
“All of this happened in front of my entire family and neighbourhood. I was extremely embarrassed and felt like I had just been harassed by the local police,” he said.
Olsen said Baker was not fined under the bylaw, although he could have been.
“It’s a $1,000 fine if he wants to go down that road,” said Olsen. “The town’s bylaw regarding fireworks is confusing for the public and is difficult for the police to enforce. That’s why on the night of Halloween we chose to not fine anybody and just use our discretion and educate on the bylaw.”
Baker said he has since received an apology from the RCMP.