Lack of enforcement for illicit fireworks

Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley are working on fireworks reform to crack down on illegal use, but they might be missing the full picture.

By Joti Grewal | June 28, 2022 |5:00 am

Boom. Bang. Crackle.

Those sounds have increasingly ignited a debate across the Fraser Valley.

Fireworks.

The subject evokes strong emotions. The occasional fireworks display might be a welcome celebration to many, but others worry about their effects on animals, the environment, and humans with traumatic memories of war. In the Fraser Valley, no combustible chemicals can be legally ignited without a permit but plenty of people do anyway.

Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley Township have been working on fireworks reform to crack down on illegal use. But data obtained by The Current reveals the cities might be missing the complete picture.

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Earlier this year, Langley Township approved a plan it hoped would better regulate firework use. Staff will increase patrol in hot spot neighbourhoods during holidays like Canada Day, Halloween, and New Years, as well as educate the public on rules about firework use. A dedicated email address will collect complaints from residents.

Despite increasing complaints about fireworks, the Township issued only one permit last year to set them off, council heard in November. Complaints about fireworks have risen by 80% since 2019, staff said.

The data suggests enforcement hasn’t followed. In 2021, the Langley RCMP fielded 235 complaints related to fireworks in the township. None of those calls resulted in charges and in only three incidents were items seized. No tickets were issued.

Those trends are not unique across the region.

In Abbotsford last year, police received 203 complaints. No bylaw tickets or fines were issued, and police seized items only 14 times.

In Mission, there were 105 fireworks complaints in 2021. No fines given and RCMP seized items just twice.

RCMP did not respond to our data request for fireworks in Chilliwack. But the city said they received just three complaints last year. The fire department, however, responded to six cedar hedge fires during Halloween, which resulted in $80,000 in damages—a significant increase from the past decade, the fire chief reported during a December council meeting.

Aside from the lack of enforcement, another trend became clear during The Current’s quest for data: gaps in tracking.

Despite the few calls to Chilliwack bylaw officers, it is likely the number of incidents reported was greater.

“It is possible that most of the complaints went to the RCMP, just due to the fact that fireworks are usually discharged in the evening outside of regular office hours,” City of Chilliwack spokesperson Jamie Leggatt told The Current.

Inconsistent record-keeping trend is a feature in other municipalities too. Complaints outside of regular municipal hall hours were typically directed to police. To get a clear picture of fireworks-related complaints and enforcement The Current requested data from each municipality and its police department.

Mission RCMP said there is no one keyword used to track fireworks files. There were five “most common” words used to generate the fireworks data police shared with The Current, but it still required further manual review. The analyst’s search for ‘fireworks’ also produced files about “shots fired.”

Those calls may likely increase this weekend with the return of in-person Canada Day celebrations. The cities will hope their own shows will satiate the public demand for things blowing up in the sky. But if history is any indication, people will want to blow things up on their own. Punishment, after all, is unlikely to follow.


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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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