On April 27, 2011, the Honourable Judge Gould of the BC Provincial Court ordered a man who cut down ten trees without permits, to pay the full minimum fine under the City of Nanaimo’s Tree Protection Bylaw for each tree cut. This amounted to $9,000.00. The defendant had cut down trees on his own family’s property, for development purposes, and also on a client’s property. It was the first time Nanaimo had summoned the defendant before the Court for this type of offence.
Nanaimo’s prosecutor conceded that the defendant’s early guilty pleas should be considered a mitigating factor when imposing a sentence. However, Nanaimo further pointed out that the British Columbia Courts have shown deference to municipal councils’ intentions with respect to their authority to impose hefty minimum bylaw fines for unlawful tree cutting.
In keeping with that judicial approach to tree-cutting offences, Judge Gould agreed that the intent of Nanaimo’s council was that the minimum fine prescribed in the bylaw should be the lowest amount imposed by the Court. Judge Gould indicated that he was obligated to impose that fine to achieve sentencing principles, including general deterrence. This means the Judge believed it is important for the sentence to send a message to the broader community that this kind of unlawful conduct will not go unpunished. Judge Gould indicated that “time to pay” was where the Court could show some leniency, and accordingly gave the defender time to pay.
This case should provide encouragement to municipalities that their tree protection bylaws can and will be enforced by the Courts, including significant minimum fines for first-time offenders, provided the fines are spelled out in the bylaw.